Back Timeline: 2008-2009 - Next 
Independence Day celebrations in Yerevan in 2006
"Football diplomacy". Armenia-Turkey World Cup Qualifier 2008 in Yerevan.
Photo: Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008

The recent warming in Turkish-Armenian relations began with the February 2008 presidential elections in Armenia.

19 February 2008

Serzh Sarkisian wins the presidential elections in Armenia with 53% of the vote, a first round majority, well ahead of second place candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian. For over a week after the election Ter-Petrossian's supporters, disputing the official results, hold large protests in Yerevan. These are violently broken up by police on 1 March: eight people are killed, and a state of emergency is imposed for 20 days, ending on 20 March. The opposition claims the election was rigged to ensure Serzh Sarkisian's victory, but international observers attest that the vote met democratic standards.

21 February 2008

President Abdullah Gül congratulates Serzh Sarkisian on winning the presidential election. "I hope your new position will offer an opportunity for the normalization of relations between the Turkish and Armenian peoples," Gül says in his message to Serzh Sarkisian.

26 February 2008

Erdogan refutes Armenian claims of genocide in 1915.

"Against the nonsense they fabricate and disseminate in the world public opinion, we tell them the following: Talk after looking right into the mirror. If there was genocide, it was you who perpetuated its most violent form. […] The character of this nation does not let it commit such crimes."

21 April 2008

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan sends a letter to Yerevan saying Turkey wants to normalize ties between the two countries. As he tells a news conference:

"Turkey wants to see peace, stability, security and prosperity in its region, but as you know our relations with Armenia do not fit into that formula. We have problems, and the only way to solve these problems is through dialogue."

27 April 2008

Turkish and Armenian PMs exchange letters. Prime Minister Erdogan expresses hope that with the election of Sarkisian Turkish-Armenian relations "will enter a new period, which would contribute to peace, stability and welfare in the region." Armenia is ready to start dialogue with Turkey on improving relations if Ankara does not set preconditions to talks, Sarkisian writes in his response. "I confirm the readiness of the government of Armenia to engage in constructive dialogue and establish relations without preconditions," he writes. In the same breath, however, Sarkisian gives a cold shoulder to Turkey's proposal to establish a committee of historians to study the events of 1915.

5 July 2008

Sarkisian invites the Turkish president to visit Armenia on 6 September to watch the World Cup qualifying match between Armenia and Turkey.

9 July 2008

In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Sarkisian writes:

"The time has come for a fresh effort to break this deadlock, a situation that helps no one and hurts many. […] I take this opportunity to propose a fresh start – a new phase of dialogue with the government and people of Turkey, with the goal of normalizing relations and opening our common border. […] Establishing normal political relations would enable us to create a commission to comprehensively discuss all of the complex issues affecting Armenia and Turkey. We cannot expect tangible progress without such structured relations. Only through them can we create an effective dialogue touching upon even the most contentious historical issues."

Sarkisian cites the economic fallout of keeping the border closed. "Strategic projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the projected Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad bypass Armenia, while the existing railway between Turkey and Armenia remains shut."

18 July 2008

Ali Babacan confirms that Turkey and Armenia have held a series of secret meetings in Bern in May and July. (Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Ertugrul Apakan and his deputy Ünal Çeviköz headed the Turkish delegation.) Babacan and Sarkisian downplay the significance of the talks, however, the Armenian Prime Minister saying, "There was no secret or reason to be surprised. Such contact between Armenian and Turkish diplomats never stopped. They have always taken place."

Ali Babacan. Photo: World Economic Forum
Ali Babacan. Photo: World Economic Forum

25 July 2008

The presidents of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan inaugurate the 76-kilometer Turkish section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad project. (The Iron Silk Road will not only link Turkey's rail network with that of Georgia and energy-rich Azerbaijan but will also connect Central Asia and China to Europe. With an estimated cost of $450 million, completion is expected in 2010. The railroad will carry one million passengers and 6.5 million tons of freight per year.) Speaking in Kars, a Turkish city near the Armenian border, Gül makes it clear that the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project, which excludes Armenia, is part of the normalisation package with Yerevan. "The project", he said, "is open to all countries in the region who want to contribute to good, neighbourly relations, peace and prosperity".[72]

(Speaking in September, Transportation Minister Binali Yyldyrym was to be even more explicit. "The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway," he said, "is by no means a project excluding Armenia."[73])

8 August 2008

The war in Georgia erupts. The war in neighbouring Georgia – and its implications for Turkish / Russian / Western interests in the Southern Caucasus – helps bring home the importance (and the urgency) of normalizing relations with Armenia (and, in parallel, of attending to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh). The fighting in Georgia "showed we need to come up with a fresh approach to resolution of conflict in the Caucasus," including Armenia, Ali Babacan will say a month later.[74]

Russia's intervention in Georgia made Turkey's regional interests – political and economic – seem very vulnerable, all of a sudden. The war made a number of things clear, as far as Turkey's regional interests are concerned: Russia was capable of using force in the Caucasus; Georgia, particularly given Sakaashvili's adventurism, was vulnerable to destabilization and Russian aggression, possibly calling into question its capacity to protect present and future pipelines. Commentators began to worry about the future of projects like the Nabucco or Trans-Caspian pipelines. The Georgia events increased the understanding of vulnerability of oil and gas routes, a Russian diplomat told ESI.[75]

13 August 2008

During a trip to Moscow, Erdogan proposes the formation of a Caucasian union – the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform – to strengthen economic ties between the countries in the region and to contribute to the peaceful solution of problems.

14 August 2008

Armenia decides to unilaterally suspend its visa regime with Turkey to facilitate the arrival of Turkish fans for the upcoming football match.

20 August 2008

Ankara decides to loosen its air space quota for Armenia to allow easier access for humanitarian aid to war-torn Georgia.

22 August 2008

Georgia and Russia welcome Turkey's proposal of forming a Caucasian platform but decline to sit at the same table, dealing a blow to Ankara's hopes to contribute a solution to the region's problems. "We are ready to discuss with Turkey all kinds of regional initiatives but at this stage there is no possibility that we would enter any cooperation mechanism with Russia as long as the occupation goes on and a single occupying soldier stays on my soil," says Georgia's Ambassador Grigol Mgaloblishvili.

30 August 2008

President Gul accepts Sarkisian's invitation to watch the World Cup qualifier in Yerevan.

Serzh Sarkisian
Serzh Sarkisian

7 September 2008

The Turkish and Armenian delegations, headed by the two foreign ministers, hold talks regarding Turkey's proposal for a new regional forum in the Caucasus, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and other regional issues. Babacan tells Nalbandian that Turkey supports the Minsk process for the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and adds that his country favors the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries in the region.

10 September 2008

President Gul says opportunities had emerged to solve the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "I've seen in Yerevan that the Armenians are willing to pull out from the Azerbaijani territory," he tells journalists during his trip to Baku. In Baku, following a meeting with President Ilham Aliyev, he notes that "In Azerbaijan I saw the same frank, honest and sincere desire for a solution and respect to opponent that I observed in Armenia earlier. There is a significant opportunity to resolve a long-standing problem." "We agree that we should make efforts to try to resolve the issue… If this opportunity is missed, who knows when a new opportunity will arise?" he says. "Everyone is aware that a settlement will lead to comprehensive cooperation from which all will benefit."

21 September 2008

"I generally said that I was not against the establishment of commissions between the two countries… First, let our joint border be opened and diplomatic relations constituted, then we can establish commissions, sub-commissions and sub-sub-commissions for any issue," says Sarkisian.

The decisions taken by the commissions are not final. Commissions can only make recommendations for decision takers and governments, Sarkisian says.

"In fact, if you remember a similar commission to this was formed in the past with the efforts of the United States and this commission concluded a 'genocide had taken place'. What happened then? Has something changed? Did anybody accept it? No. Nobody accepted." 

22 September 2008

Ali Babacan meets with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov in New York.

Elmar Mammadyarov. Photo: NATO

23 September 2008

"The recent crisis in Georgia urged all the countries in the region to re-evaluate policies and also have a stronger feeling of urgency," Babacan says.

24 September 2008

It is impossible for the Nabucco pipeline to pass through Armenia, says the head of the Azerbaijan President's Public Policy Department.

"Azerbaijan has stated on a many occasions that it would not cooperate with Armenia before the returning of territories occupied by Armenia, the restoration of Azerbaijan's sovereign rights over these territories and the establishment peace in the South Caucasus."

26 September 2008

Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers hold a trilateral meeting on Friday in New York. Before the meeting, Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats meet to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to reports, Turkish and Azerbaijani officials "seriously mulled" Armenian participation in the Nabucco pipeline project "as part of a comprehensive Karabakh peace pact."[76]

Gul himself appeared to have admitted as much during his 10 September visit to Baku. There is "no doubt", he said on that occasion, "that the liberation of the occupied [Azerbaijani] territories […] would encourage very efficient economic cooperation in the region. Pipelines and transport communications would cover the entire Caucasus region."[77] "Armenia will connect with the West through Turkey," Unal Cevikoz told ESI in February 2009. "Having a link to the West should be a main motive for Armenia."[78]

29 September 2008

"Our policy toward Armenia is very much in line with our overall policy toward our neighbours," writes AKP MP Suat Kiniklioglu. "President Gül's visit to Yerevan should be seen as the beginning of new relationships in the South Caucasus that are complementary to our overall policy in the region."[79]

15 October 2008

Incumbent Ilham Aliyev wins the presidential election in Azerbaijan.

17 October 2008

Turkey edges out Iceland, securing a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Ankara had been lobbying for a Security Council seat for years.

21 October 2008

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposes a renewed role for Russia in mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Dmitry Medvedev. Photo: World Economic Forum
Dmitry Medvedev. Photo: World Economic Forum

23 October 2008

Armenia's economy has suffered losses of $670 million (520 million euros) from the August conflict between Russia and neighbouring Georgia, says Prime Minister Sarkisian.

28 October 2008

"We are in an era in which mutual confidence based relations between Turkey and Armenia have started. A wrong step not only harms cooperation between Turkey and the United States, but also risks such expansions from Turkey," Ahmet Davutoglu tells reporters in Washington, warning that US genocide recognition could undermine Turkish-Armenian reconciliation.

3 November 2008

In Moscow, under the auspices of Dmitry Medvedev, the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia sign a declaration agreeing to continue work toward a political resolution of the NK conflict.

24 November 2008

Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian visits Istanbul to take over the presidency of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC). According to Nalbandian, "The events around South Ossetia have shown how fragile and vulnerable is our region, how weak and undeveloped is its transport infrastructure and how important it is to have open borders."

1 December 2008

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan visits Baku. "The normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations would have a positive impact on the Azerbaijan-Armenia talks over Nagorno-Karabakh," he says following his talks with Azerbaijani FM Elmar Mammadyarov.

4 December 2008

The Turkish-Armenian border could be opened only after Armenia gives up distorting history and restores Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, Turkish Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen says. "We do not oppose developing trade relations, which will have a positive influence on the development of the whole region; however, prior to this historians should solve some issues and Azerbaijan's territorial integrity should be restored."

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan meets separately in Helsinki with Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov to discuss the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

12 December 2008

The Turkish Parliament urges the parliaments of third party countries not to disrupt the process of rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia with efforts to recognize the 1915-dated events as "genocide". "Politicians and parliaments cannot judge history," says Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan

15 December 2008

A group of Turkish intellectuals and academics issue a public apology for the killing of Armenians during the First World War. The text, which as of January 2009 has been signed by around 30,000 people, reads:

"My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers. I apologize to them."

Shortly after the intellectuals' campaign is announced, a group of 146 retired Turkish ambassadors issues a counter-declaration. "Today, Armenian terror has completed its mission," it laments. "We are aware that the second phase of the plan includes an apology and the next step will be demands for land and compensation."

8 January 2009

Azerbaijani media reports that in 2008 weapons and army vehicles had been delivered from a Russian military base in the northern Armenian town of Gyumri to Armenia's defence ministry. Anonymous experts put the approximate value of the transfer at roughly $800 million. While both Moscow and Yerevan deny the transfer, Azerbaijani officials say they have no doubts that the handover took place. Widespread expressions of outrage surface in Azerbaijan, including from Aliyev's allies in parliament.

If the increased momentum towards normalizing relations with Armenia was induced by anxiety over existing and planned energy infrastructure, then it was also spurred by Turkey's anxiety that, just as the situation in Georgia and South Ossetia proved vulnerable to political miscalculation and Russian aggression, Nagorno Karabakh could be next in line. (The recent conflict, said Gul in August, affirms the need for "early measures to resolve frozen problems in the region and … prevent instability in the future."[80]) A repeat of what happened in South Osetia in Nagorno Karabakh would throw into disarray all of Turkey's energy-related plans in the southern Caucasus. August 8, said Cevikoz, "triggered the realization that unresolved conflicts can escalate into hot conflict. […] No one wants to see a repeat of this, including Sarkisian and Aliyev."[81]

16 January 2009

"We have never come this close to a plan regarding the final normalization of relations with Armenia," says Babacan.

22 January 2009

"We are very close to normalising Armenian-Turkish relations," says Nalbandian. "We can take the next step and resolve the issue if Turkey, like Armenia, approaches it without preconditions and opens the border. […] After the border opens, we are ready to form a commission in which we can discuss issues relevant to both countries."

29 January 2009

Turkish PM, Armenian president hold talks in Davos

7 February 2009

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan holds talks with Nalbandian and Sarkisian on the sidelines of the 45th Munich Security Conference.

45th Munich Security Conference. Photo:
45th Munich Security Conference. Photo:

9 February 2009

Babacan meets his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov and President Ilham Aliyev in Baku.

19 February 2009

Following a wave of criticism, Turkey's Ministry of Education decides to halt the distribution of "Sarý Gelin – The True Face of the Armenian Question," a controversial documentary, to all elementary schools. The film meticulously set out the case that Armenians had brought about their own destruction through subversion and rebellion and that Armenian terrorists had massacred Turks throughout history.  Atrocities committed by Armenians in Igdir province in Eastern Anatolia are cited in horrific detail. In one scene Turkish villagers recall: "Children were cooked over the fire […] women were forced to eat their husbands."

6-7 April 2009

President Aliyev refuses to join the Alliance of Civilizations summit in Istanbul. On 7 April, speaking before the Turkish Parliament, US President Obama says the following, in relation to Turkish-Armenian rapprochement and historical reconciliation:

"Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. While there has been a good deal of commentary about my views, this is really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past.  And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.

We have already seen historic and courageous steps taken by Turkish and Armenian leaders. These contacts hold out the promise of a new day. An open border would return the Turkish and Armenian people to a peaceful and prosperous coexistence that would serve both of your nations. That is why the United States strongly supports the full normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia."

Ilham Aliyev. Photo: NATO
Ilham Aliyev. Photo: NATO

10 April 2009

Prime Minister Erdogan forcefully declares that Turkey would not sign a final agreement with Armenia until an agreement on Karabagh is reached. His position, echoed by other ministers and institutions in Ankara in days to follow, reflects a shift in political rhetoric.

22 April 2009

After intense diplomatic manoeuvring (with the United States playing a leading mediating role), Ankara and Yerevan release a joint statement – at midnight – stating that a road map and "a comprehensive framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations" have been agreed upon.

24 April 2009

In his statement commemorating the tragedy of 1915, President Barack Obama – noting that 1.5 million Armenians had been massacred or marched to their death during 'Meds Yeghern', the 'Great Calamity', a term used by Armenians before the word genocide was coined – comes as close as possible to recognising the massacres as genocide without actually stating the "g-word". Obama's statement fails to please either Turks or Armenians. Around the world, critical commentary brings more publicity to the issue than could have otherwise been expected.

Prime Minister Erdogan, fretting over the politicization of disputed history, expresses distaste for President Obama's "play with words". Leading opposition parties claim that – despite losing ground and infuriating Azerbaijan by signing a document that supposedly de-links the Karabagh conflict from the normalization process – Turkey was still subject to the heaviest wording ever on the events of 1915 from a U.S. President.

27 April 2009

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation leaves the four-party coalition government of Armenia.

7 May 2009

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian meet in Prague, hosted by the U.S. as co-chair of the Minsk Group.

13 May 2009

The border with Armenia will remain closed until Armenian occupation of Azeri territories comes to an end, says Prime Minister Erdogan during a visit to Baku.

"There is a cause and effect relation here. Occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh is the cause here and closing of the border is the effect. It is impossible for us to open the border unless that occupation ends."

[72] "Armenia misses the trans-Caucasus train",  Turkish Daily News, 25 July 2008.

[73] "Armenia not excluded in railway project", TODAY'S ZAMAN, 12 September 2008.

[74] "Turkey ready to discuss diplomatic ties with Armenia", Hurriyet Daily News, 6 September 2008.

[75] ESI interview with high-ranking Russian diplomat

[78] ESI interview with Unal Cevikoz

[79]Suat Kiniklioglu, "Turkey's Armenia policy", 29 September 2008.

[80] Torbakov, Igor, "The Georgia Crisis and Russia-Turkey Relations", Jamestown Foundation, November 2008.

[81] ESI interview with Unal Cevikoz

August 2009

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