Turkey and Armenia to start talks on restoring ties

Negotiations in Moscow will be first attempt to resume links between the two countries since 2009

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Envoys from Turkey and Armenia will meet in Moscow on Friday for a first round of talks aimed at normalising ties after decades of animosity.

The talks are the first attempt to restore links since a 2009 peace accord that was never ratified.

The neighbours are at odds over various issues, primarily the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Armenia says the killings constitute a genocide. Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during the First World War but contests the figures and denies that the killings were orchestrated or constitute a genocide.

During the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Ankara supported Azerbaijan and accused ethnic Armenian forces of occupying Azeri territory. Turkey began calling for a rapprochement after the conflict, as it sought greater influence in the region.

Russia's Tass news agency cited Armenia's Foreign Ministry as saying on Thursday that Yerevan expected the latest talks to lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of frontiers closed since 1993.

With borders shut, Turkey and Armenia have no direct trade routes. Indirect trade has risen marginally since 2013 but was only $3.8 million in 2021, official Turkish data suggested.

Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, said in November that opening borders and renovating railways between Turkey and Armenia would have economic benefits for Yerevan, as the routes could be used by traders from Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last year that the two countries would also start charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan under the rapprochement, but that Turkey would co-ordinate all steps with Azerbaijan.

The flights are set to begin in early February.

Despite strong backing for normalisation from the United States, which hosts a large Armenian diaspora and angered Turkey last year by calling the 1915 killings a genocide, analysts have said talks would be complicated.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Armenia needed to form good ties with Azerbaijan for the normalisation effort to yield results.

Emre Peker, a London-based director at Eurasia Group, said a cautious approach focusing on quick deliverables was expected on both sides due to the sensitivities. The role of Russia, which brokered the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire and is the dominant actor in the region, would be important, he said.

"Talks are likely to pave the way for more discussions in the coming months. But delivering a comprehensive, long-term pact will prove difficult due to the multifaceted nature of the talks and domestic political constraints in both countries," he said. "The bigger challenge will come from the question of historic reconciliation."

The fate of talks would depend on "Ankara's recognition that it must right-size its ambitions", he said.

Updated: January 14, 2022, 9:06 AM