Will Russia’s position on Armenian genocide interfere with the “Turkish stream” project?


Putin and Serzh Sargsyan at the Armenian Genocide Memorial

April 27, 2015

Pavel Shipilin

Translated from Russian by Kristina Rus

The cycle of betrayal in nature

On April 23, in his greeting to the participants of the event “World without genocide” Vladimir Putin called April 24, 1915 “a solemn date associated with one of the most terrible and dramatic events in human history — the genocide of the Armenian people”.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted quite sharply to this and other statements by Russian politicians, sarcastically reminding us about Ukrainian problems.

Every April 24 Turkey experiences some unpleasant moments — the international community reminds it of one and a half million Armenians brutally killed in the Ottoman Empire. This year is the anniversary: the first recorded genocide was a hundred years ago.

For Russia, which has long been working on establishing a partnership with this rapidly growing power, the situation is ambiguous. Naturally, the question arises: will the “Turkish stream” be affected by this animosity?

According to chief research officer of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, head of the Center for Eastern Studies of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Andrey Volodin: “Politics and economy, including the gas pipeline “Turkish stream”, will follow their parallel, non-intersecting courses”

The fellow at the Center for International Security, IMEMO and the Department of the Near and Middle East Institute of Oriental studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Sotnikov, spoke along the same lines: “We have our own national interests, and they correspond to the fact that, despite the contradictions that we may have in foreign policy, Turkey is our strategic partner, with which we are actively developing economic relations.” 

However, I don’t think the Turkish President just blurted out in frustration. Most likely, the terms of cooperation will be adjusted not in our favor. And here’s why.

It is not the first time that Vladimir Putin expressed sympathy to the Armenian people. In 2013 he visited the memorial complex “Tsitsernakaberd” and laid a wreath in memory of the victims of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. Even earlier, in 2001, he signed the book of honorable guests: “Russia has always perceived the pain and tragedy of the Armenian people as our own. I bow to the memory of the victims of the Armenian genocide”.

Since 1995, Russia is on the list of countries that recognize the Armenian genocide. That is, Moscow’s attitude to the events of a century ago are not news for Ankara.

So it seems to me, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, concentrating attention on the Russian position towards the Armenian genocide, which Turkey denies, made it clear that the conditions for the construction of the pipeline are not final. And named the reason.

In other words, he continues to bargain, and what’s at stake is the price of the issue. And I have no doubt that the new price will be announced – “it would be a sin” not to take advantage of the situation and not to try to increase profits measured in billions of dollars.

I must say, it is not the first time that the Armenian issue has a negative impact on Russia’s development of profitable partnerships. Suffice it to recall the demonstrative support of Yerevan by Moscow on Nagorno-Karabakh, which does not allow us to make a deal with Azerbaijan on joint construction of pipelines to Europe, and agree on a position on the Caspian sea. Ilham Aliyev is just as unsatisfied by us, as was his father.

But if we leave Armenia without protection, Nagorno-Karabakh, is likely to quickly return to Azerbaijan. And not without the help of Turkey, by the way. And perhaps in the near future, these two countries between which there is mutual understanding, will not stop at the disputed territory and will just divide the remnants of Armenia, which once occupied half of present-day Turkey. And this “operation vengeance” will be accompanied with the same cruelty.

Thus, we are talking about three million human lives — that today is the population of a small country sandwiched between two hostile neighbors and permanently threatened. And I think Vladimir Putin takes into account this sad possibility.

But let us return to the “Turkish stream”.

In my opinion, we have little choice: either continue to acknowledge the genocide, obvious to all, and lose several billion dollars, or support Turkey on this issue and receive extra dividends from pipeline construction and other joint projects. The same applies to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Of course, peoples and nations are very forgetful — we are mindful of the recent fluctuations of Armenia on the accession to the Customs Union. Georgians, who escaped the genocide, unlike Armenians, only thanks to the Russian “umbrella”, which stretched over for 200 years, today imposingly discuss the age-old occupation. Just like the modern Ukrainians, who asked the Orthodox Tsar for protection from the Poles 360 years ago.

It’s their problem, they have to live with it and sort it out in their own cognitive dissonance. They will certainly rewrite history, presenting themselves in a favorable light, dance lezginka with visiting presidents and name streets in their honor, teach children to hate the country-liberator.

Because there are countries which dicide their own fate and the fate of others, and there are those nations which are always shopping for the new master. To solve short-term economic or political problems without looking too far ahead.

Russia will survive any betrayal — she is used to it. And in a few decades, when all of us reading and writing this post will be gone, will forgive all: and Georgia, and Ukraine, and even, I suspect, the Baltic States. And will probably again take them under its protection. In order to be betrayed again.

The cycle of betrayal in nature is inevitable and can easily be calculated. With some errors in the timing, of course.

And nevertheless I’m for justice, even if it costs a lot of money and disappointments, which we already anticipate. Although I fully admit that I may be in the minority.


History, including the Armenian genocide clearly played the key role in Armenia’s quick decision to join the European Economic Union and the failure to stage a color revolution there (instead resulting in minor “fluctuations”). The scale of human loss was to high for a nation of 3 million, and continued denial on Turkey’s part does not help Armenia feel any safer. The territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh with Azerbaijahn is another major reason. 

And although Russia’s strategy is “the more friends, the merrier”, in Russia’s aspiration for closer relationship with Turkey and Azerbajahn, Armenia remains the apple of discord, and Russia has to walk a very fine line.

On the other end is American and European relationship with Turkey and Azerbaijan – essential regions in a strategy “to weaken Russia in the European energy market”, as some say, or “to diversify European energy supplies” as say others.

Both Russia and America cannot afford to loose Turkey and Azerbaijan and will pursue closer ties no matter what. But no matter how much America wants to stuff the Turkey into the EU, there is no more room or capacity to process it. 

A renewed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh could strain Russia’s and Azerbaijan’s relationship even more (although Russia tries to maintain an appearance of  a neutral peacemaker) and would tip the balance in favor of the US.

However, Azerbaijan trails Turkey, as the big brother, on major geopolitical issues. In the situation when most countries have to shop around for an economic union to boost their economies, Azerbaijan and Turkey have almost no other options, but to get in line for the Eurasian Union. Turkey waited in line for decades to get into the European Union without success. And Azerbaijan has been disappointed with the pushy style of the Americans and the EU. 

Armenia remains a major obstacle in the cost-benefit analysis of joining the Eurasian Economic Union, but as the EEU continues to acquire new members (particularly among the Central Asian countries) it becomes more attractive to Turkey and Azerbaijan. 

The solution is simple, leave the differences behind, negotiate a compromise on territorial issues, apologize for the genocide, and put economic benefits ahead of old grudges. 

But if history is our guide, human nature can come in the way, and another armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains on the table (especially since Obama alluded to backing Azerbaijan on the issue). The reason why it has been kept relatively under the lid is because it has already went through a hot phase right after the fall of the USSR, but future generations tend to forget lessons learned in the past.  The scale can tip either way, depending on which forces already in play will prevail, and who dominates the information war. 

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