Adopting a Feminist Approach to Armenia-Turkey Normalization

Adopting a feminist approach in foreign policy or peace processes is usually perceived solely as increasing the number of women participants of the process. Although equal representation is an important aspect, it is not the only one. In this article, Dr. Pınar Sayan goes through a few feminist principles that can be adopted for the normalization process between Armenia and Turkey.


black and white picture of the nature

Author's note: My thoughts are with the victims of the earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria on February 6, 2023. While Turkey still mourns its losses, the solidarity demonstrated after the earthquakes will not be easily forgotten by many. In such an act, Armenia sent a rescue team and humanitarian aid to Turkey using the Alican/Margara border crossing point that has been closed for almost three decades. Once again, a disaster reminded us how important it is to have cooperative relations among the neighbors. This article, written before the earthquakes, focuses on that topic from a feminist perspective.

Armenia and Turkey do not have official diplomatic relations for three decades. While historical enmities are undoubtfully present, the official reason for the lack of diplomatic relations as well as the closure of the borders was the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. Turkey unilaterally decided to close its borders with Armenia to support Azerbaijan in 1993. While supporting Azerbaijan, Turkey still preferred a diplomatic solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict until the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020. With a visible change in its foreign policy, Turkey gave diplomatic and military support to Azerbaijan during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War for a military solution of the conflict.[1] When the war brought more favorable outcomes for Azerbaijan, Baku gave its consent to Turkey to engage in a normalization process with Armenia.

However, as stated by Turkish officials frequently, normalization between Armenia and Turkey is dependent on the normalization between Armenia and Azerbaijan.[2] Therefore, the trajectory of the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan determines the process between Armenia and Turkey. Considering that border violations and violence continue between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Turkey’s aforementioned support to Azerbaijan, it is not realistic to expect a genuine normalization between Armenia and Turkey. Hence, new geopolitical realities after the war, on the one hand, opened the way for a renewed normalization process between Armenia and Turkey; on the other hand, they increased the level of distrust against Turkey in Armenia. Given these circumstances, how can we bring a feminist position to the process?

Unpacking normalization

Let’s begin with unpacking what “normalization” means. At the official level, normalization encompasses two major steps; establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of borders. Both of these are in line with feminist objectives, but none of them are conducted through feminist principles such as inclusivity, intersectionality, gender equality, commitment to peace, reflexivity, empathy, etc., at the moment. Since 2021, Armenia and Turkey have been engaged in direct talks. Turkey appointed former US Ambassador Serdar Kılıç, and Armenia appointed Vice-President of Armenian Parliament Ruben Rubinyan as the special envoys. In addition to the direct talks among the special envoys, foreign ministers, as well as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, have held meetings. So far, the negotiations brought three concrete measures; the re-launching of charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan; the removal of all barriers to open airspaces to air cargo; and the opening of borders to third-country citizens – the latter is yet to be implemented.

Lack of diverse voices in the process

The problem is that, unlike the normalization efforts in the previous decades, current talks are taking place only at the top levels. There is no peace process between Armenia and Turkey; there are only secret, top-level negotiations. The main consequence of that is the lack of diverse voices. While the official normalization process is necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure normalization among societies. First, normalization should not take place at the official level solely. It should entail normalization among societies, which would include overcoming the enemy image and distrust; increasing economic, cultural, and social interactions; establishing and maintaining relations, etc. As societies are not an active part of the process, this kind of multilayered, comprehensive approach has not yet been taken. Related to that, the heads of states and governments, foreign ministers, special envoys, and probably many of the diplomats and bureaucrats involved are men. Having said that, although the representation of women at the negotiation table is important, it is not sufficient. The governments could make such changes cosmetically, that is, without any change in substance.

This article is part of the dossierFeminist Foreign Policy and the South Caucasus. It is based on reflections from an online workshop conducted by the Heinrich Boell Foundation in October 2022 with decision-makers, civil society representatives, and academics from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Germany.

Adopting a feminist approach to Armenia-Turkey normalization

In this context, adopting a feminist position not only at the official but also at the societal level would contribute to achieving and maintaining normalization between Armenia and Turkey. First, it is crucial to acknowledge the asymmetrical power relations between Armenia and Turkey in line with feminist empathetic reflexivity. For the Turkish side, recognizing Armenia’s historical trauma and war trauma and initiating trust-building measures would contribute to the normalization among societies. Mutually refraining from provocative, offensive speech can be a very simple first step in that direction.

The next steps can be followed not only by the Turkish government and society but also by international organizations and international society. So, second, as the process is directly linked to the outcome of the negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia: supporting an equitable, just peace process among them to prevent future grievances and circles of violence would be another contributing factor.

Third, identifying the groups that will experience the greatest impact from the normalization and including them in the processes, with an intersectional lens, should be secured. It is very likely for those groups, such as women inhabitants of border regions, to be excluded from the decision-making processes. However, effective mechanisms such as regular consultative meetings with clear timetables and accountability procedures to hear and integrate their needs and concerns should be secured, not only representation.

Fourth, it is assumed that the border opening would bring economic opportunities for both sides. If the decision to open the borders is taken, economic initiatives on the basis of economic justice, climate justice, and gender equality should be encouraged.

Lastly, none of these can be achieved without the involvement of civil societies. Grassroots movements, networks, and professional organizations, in addition to NGOs, must get involved for a more inclusive, comprehensive, and multilayered peace process.

Building a peace process between Armenia and Turkey based on feminist principles will have more chances to create durable, equitable, just peace


[1] The change in Turkish foreign policy regarding the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict cannot be interpreted as an isolated event. Indeed, it reflects the overall militarization of Turkish foreign policy which is undoubtfully connected to domestic, regional and international politics. For a brief discussion on the matter see Gamaghelyan, P. and Sayan, P. (2022). “In Armenia-Turkey Normalization, Where is Civil Society?”, Eurasianet.…

[2] "Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu: We always stand on the side with dear Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan never stands alone." Anadolu Ajansı, 13 September 2022