Turkey’s foreign minister has said the country closed its airspace to Armenian flights in response to a new monument that was erected in Yerevan commemorating a program to assassinate perpetrators of the Armenian genocide.
The monument “glorifies terrorists,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with NTV television on May 3. “In connection with this we closed our airspace for Armenian planes.”
It isn’t clear which Armenian planes are affected. One Armenian airline, Flyone, reported on April 29 that a flight from Paris to Yerevan was forced to land in Moldova because it was unexpectedly refused permission to use Turkish airspace.
"For reasons incomprehensible to us and without any visible grounds, the Turkish aviation authorities canceled the permission previously granted to the Flyone Armenia airline to operate flights to Europe through the Turkish airspace,” the chairman of the airline’s board, Aram Ananyan, told the news agency Armenpress at the time.
Ananyan further explained to RFE/RL that the extent of the ban wasn’t clear, but that it didn’t appear to apply to the Flyone flights between Istanbul and Yerevan. The flight tracking website FlightRadar24 indicated that those flights have operated normally for the last several days. Armenia’s General Department of Civil Aviation did not respond to a query from Eurasianet by press time.
The ban comes while Armenia and Turkey are pursuing a fitful process of rapprochement, three decades after Turkey broke off relations during the first war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Ankara and Yerevan have reached tentative agreements to reopen their land border to third-country nationals; Armenian officials say it could happen by this year’s tourist season. The rapprochement process appeared to get a boost following the massive earthquake in southern Turkey in February: Armenia sent a rescue team and Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan visited them and Cavusoglu. Cavusoglu thanked Armenia for "extending a hand of friendship" and hopes were raised that out of the disaster, better relations might result.
But the process now appears to have taken a step backwards.
Cavusoglu suggested that Armenian officials he spoke with had tried to distance themselves from the monument, but that he didn’t believe them.
“They [his Armenian interlocutors] say that it was the mayor’s office who put up the monument, that they are not under our control. I think this statement doesn’t correspond to reality, they are not demonstrating good will,” he said in the interview.
“If they continue in this spirit we will have to take additional measures,” he said.
The monument was inaugurated on April 25, the day after Armenians traditionally commemorate the genocide. It is dedicated to Operation Nemesis, the effort in the late 1910s and early 1920s by Armenian militants to assassinate Ottoman officials responsible for the Armenian genocide a few years earlier. Up to one and a half million Armenians were killed in the genocide.
Turkey continues to deny that the killings amounted to a genocide, and following the erection of the monument the foreign ministry issued a statement objecting to it.
The monument is “incompatible with the spirit of the normalization process between Türkiye and Armenia, will in no way contribute to the efforts for establishment of lasting and sustainable peace and stability in the region. On the contrary, they will negatively affect the normalization process.”
While the Turkey-Armenia process has appeared to be on the back burner in recent months, relations between Armenia and Turkey’s ally, Azerbaijan, have been much more eventful. Negotiations between Yerevan and Baku are intensifying even as the situation on the ground in Karabakh, the territory at the heart of the conflict, gets more tense. On April 23, Azerbaijan established a border post on the only road connecting Armenia to Karabakh, and pro-government media have been increasingly openly celebrating that it could lead Armenians to flee the territory.
It has raised the specter of another round of ethnic cleansing in the region; after Armenia’s victory in the first war between the two sides in the 1990s, over 600,000 Azerbaijanis were forced to flee the territory Armenian forces occupied.
The threat of Armenians now being forced out of Karabakh hung heavily over this year’s genocide commemoration events.
Operation Nemesis represented “a record of the fact that throughout history, crimes do not go unpunished regardless of how the international community treats it,” Yerevan Deputy Mayor Tigran Avinyan said at the monument’s inauguration ceremony, Armenpress reported. “What Nemesis did was understandable for everyone, it was fair for everyone, but our goal should be to prevent possible crimes, to create mechanisms to bring criminals to justice. That should be our main message."
The Turkish foreign ministry statement also hinted at the Azerbaijan-Armenia process, noting that Operation Nemesis also had targeted “Azerbaijani officials of the time.”
The speaker of Armenia’s parliament, Alen Simonyan, was scheduled to travel to Ankara on May 3 to attend a meeting of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Parliamentary Assembly, a regional body based in Turkey of which Armenia is a member. In his comments, Cavusoglu said Turkish authorities were making an exception for the plane Simonyan was traveling on.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.