Outcome of Armenian election won’t have bearing on Turkey ties

The presidential election in Armenia, expected to end with the re-election of incumbent Serzh Sarksyan, is unlikely to have a significant impact on the country’s relations with Turkey, experts say. 

“It is hard to say that Sarksyan will follow a new policy in the event of his victory. It seems like he will continue to pursue the same policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and will maintain the same expectations from Turkey for 2015, the centennial of the events of 1915,” Mehmet Fatih Öztarsu, an analyst at Konya-based Strategic Outlook, told.

The presidential election in Armenia will be held on Feb. 18 and will be the first of this year’s presidential races in the South Caucasus.

The Armenian election is being closely followed by Ankara, whose relations with Yerevan have remained strained for years, becoming one of the most important topics of the international agenda.

“The preparations for 2015, the centennial of the so-called Armenian genocide events of 1915, will be during the term of the new president. Sarksyan’s stance over the issue is sharply criticized by the Armenian diaspora, which have criticized him before. It would be wrong to say that Sarksyan is acting alone over the issue. Sarksyan also wants to normalize relations and strengthen economic ties with Turkey. However, the biggest handicap is the matter of the genocide. Therefore, he will support any kind of effort to pressure Turkey in the international arena,” said Öztarsu.

Armenia, a country of 2.3 million with an economy that is struggling with regional isolation and the effects of a war with neighboring Azerbaijan in the 1990s, wants Turkey to recognize what the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire had to live through in 1915 as genocide.

Relations with Turkey have also been fraught after Ankara closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of its ethnic kin in Azerbaijan.

Hasan Selim Özertem, an expert on Caucasia at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), believes that the re-election of Sarksyan could also be read as an advantage in terms of relations with Turkey. “While approaching 2015, Sarksyan could be an advantageous leader to have on the Armenian side. Ultimately, it was during his era that Turkey and Armenia became closer and there was a softening in relations. In his era, there were protocols signed by the two countries,” Özertem told Today’s Zaman.

A historic reconciliation process was launched between Turkey and Armenia in 2009, when the two sides signed twin protocols to normalize diplomatic relations, but the move was not well received in Azerbaijan. The protocols, signed in Zurich, shook Turkish-Azerbaijani relations as the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has yet to be peacefully settled.

The ratification of the protocols stalled after Turkey insisted that Armenia first agree to resolve the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The issue of Armenia’s withdrawal from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the seven adjacent territories is important to Ankara, which has frequently signaled that this step would pave the way for the opening of its border with Armenia.

Özertem also added that Sarksyan is an important and influential figure for stability in Armenia. “The Armenian diaspora places great importance on the year 2015. There are significant projects being carried out by the diaspora. However, the Turkish side is also preparing for 2015, although these preparations are not being shared with the press,” said Özertem.

The presidential election was expected to be postponed after presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikyan, an outsider in the race, was shot in the shoulder on Jan. 31 near his home in Yerevan. However, Hayrikyan’s lawyer has stated that the candidate was not seeking a postponement to avoid the risk of further instability in the former Soviet republic.

There are eight candidates running in the election. Experts believe, however, that no candidate is able to challenge Sarksyan. “Although there are many candidates who have different thoughts and suggestions for Armenian politics, the tradition in the election process in Armenia doesn’t seem to change; the one holding power in their hand is expected to win,” said Öztarsu.

The last presidential election in Armenia was held in February 2008.

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