Trouble at Armenia’s Doorstep: Continuing Russo-Turkish standoff may bring South Caucasus into equation

The absence of Russian-Turkish contacts at the top level in the wake of a recent Syrian border incident despite such an opportunity at a global conference in France may herald more tensions in the South Caucasus region where Armenia is Russia’s key political and military ally.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not meet with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the international conference on climate change that commenced in Paris, France, on November 30, though the Turkish leader had reportedly twice tried to call Putin, then sent an official letter of request to meet with him within the framework of the Paris conference.

On November 24, at the Turkish-Syrian border a Russian bomber involved in an anti-terrorist operation in Syria was downed by the air force of Turkey, after which the relations between the two countries worsened dramatically and now appear to be degrading to an open military confrontation. According to experts, over the last 25 years, the Russian-Turkish relations have never been at such a low level.

Suren Manukyan, an expert in Oriental studies who is deputy head of the Genocide Museum in Yerevan, said there were some problems between the two countries, misunderstandings, some competitive relationships both in the post-Soviet period and during the Chechen wars, but there has never been a pre-war situation of such a level.

“It is already been a week that the Russian aircraft was downed, and during that time no meeting, no discussion has taken place between the two sides, which means that Russia and Turkey are determined and they do not want to take a step back. After all, that move could be a precondition for normalizing relations. In my opinion it is unlikely that there will be an open war between Russia and Turkey, but we cannot exclude that, either, by looking at the logic of the development of the events,” says Manukyan.

On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey is not going to apologize to Russia for the downed Russian SU-24 aircraft.

“The protection of our airspace, the land border is our right and duty. No one will apologize for doing their duty,” said Davutoglu.

In this context of events, analysts say Armenia should figure out how it can hold a neutral position and avoid the involvement in the developments, especially taking into consideration the fact that no official announcement from the Armenian side has been made yet. Manukyan says that this is the case when Armenia’s opinion is so obvious and clear that there is no need to declare it one more time.

“If the Russian-Turkish war breaks out, it will be the biggest misfortune for Armenia, because we will willy-nilly find ourselves at the forefront of it. And I think none of us wants it, moreover, that at this stage it’s not our problem, not our war. So, they had better give up that bellicose rhetoric and look at the situation with a sober mind,” says the deputy head of the Genocide Museum.

Referring to the recent discussion in the Russian Parliament on the bill criminalizing the Armenian Genocide denial, the expert in oriental studies says that nearly all states, which have adopted genocide-related bills, with the exception of Paraguay and Bolivia, probably had a benefit of that issue at the moment of adoption.

“The vote will show us many things. We ultimately will determine which faction is working with us, with which faction we have problems, and eventually we will see how many Russian parliamentarians believe in Russia’s strategic relations with Armenia, we will understand that not only the U.S. that links the Armenian genocide issue to its political agenda, but also Russia ... In this sense, it is good that the bill has been put forward,” he concluded.