On May 3, Turkey suddenly closed its airspace to Armenian aircraft. Later, former Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that Ankara had indeed closed its airspace due to the opening of the so-called “Nemesis” Monument in Yerevan (Ntv.com.tr, May 3). On April 25, with the participation of Deputy Mayor of Yerevan Tigran Avinyan, who is a member of the ruling party, and other officials, the unveiling ceremony of the monument took place in the Armenian capital (Armenpress, April 25). The memorial itself was unveiled during a period of steady normalization between Turkey and Armenia as well as peace talks between Baku and Yerevan. However, in response, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry and the Turkish Foreign Ministry, successively, strongly condemned the unveiling of an homage to the memory of Operation Nemesis. In both statements, it was made clear that the monument is a provocative step that is incompatible with the spirit of normalization and will in no way contribute to the efforts for establishing sustainable peace and stability in the region (Mfa.gov.az; Mfa.gov.tr, April 26). For its part, Ankara also demanded the removal of the monument and declared it would take additional measures if that did not happen (Ntv.com.tr, May 3). While it is unclear what “additional measures” means in this context, it could have been in reference to the estimated tens of thousands of Armenian citizens who work illegally in Turkey, as tourism and trade is carried out between the two countries via Georgia.
Yet, instead of taking steps to remove the monument, the Armenian authorities have attempted to avoid responsibility for the decision. Although Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that the monument and its implementation may have been the wrong decision, he added that “one of the shortcomings of democracy” is that the authorities do not control everything and everyone (Armenpress, May 5). The Armenian Parliament Speaker Alen Simonyan, who was in Ankara for the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization meeting on the same day, argued that this decision was made by the local government and that he did not want the installation of the monument to be perceived as a display of Yerevan’s foreign policy or an unfriendly step against Turkey and Azerbaijan (Armenpress, May 5).
Some officials, on the other hand, went further and argued that this decision was a domestic issue and the right move. Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan, in declaring the opening of the Nemesis Monument “Armenia’s internal affair,” added that “no one has the right to interfere in this matter” (Aravot-en.am, May 9). Meanwhile, a statement by the Yerevan City Administration on May 9 insisted that the authorities have no intention of removing the memorial (Armenpress, May 9). Former Yerevan Mayor Hrachya Sargsyan, currently an advisor to Pashinyan, also defended the monument’s installation, stressing that Operation Nemesis “is a historical fact” and that Turkey “should not interfere in our internal affairs” (Panorama.am, May 10). Moreover, the Armenian diaspora and more nationalist Armenians have argued that removing the monument would be “treason.”
In September 2021, the Yerevan city government began considering the idea of building a monument to the participants in Operation Nemesis, which organized assassinations against state officials of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) and the Ottoman Empire who Armenia alleged were the perpetrators of what it considers to be a “genocide.” Interestingly, the decision was made only now, almost two years later, at a time when Turkish-Armenian normalization was progressing. Thus, it has created new tensions in those relations that threaten to reverse the process.
“Nemesis” was an operation created during a meeting of the Dashnaktsutyun Party in Yerevan in 1919 (JAM-news, May 9). Participants created a list of 600 individuals from the Ottoman Empire and state officials of the ADR, including Armenians from both countries, and decided to assassinate them. This decision was made on the basis that those targeted were all responsible for the “genocide” of 1915. As a result, many officials of the ADR from 1918 to 1920 and those of the Ottoman Empire from 1920 to 1922 were assassinated. These included former Azerbaijani Prime Minister Fatali Khan Khoyski; former Deputy Chairman of the Azerbaijani Parliament Hasan bey Aghayev; former Minister for Internal Affairs Behbud Khan Javanshir; former Prime Minister Nasib bey Yusifbeyli (Mfa.gov.az, April 26); former Ottoman Minister for Internal Affairs Talaat Pasha; former Prime Minister Said Halim Pasha; founder of the Ottoman intelligence agency, Teshkilati Mahsusa Bahaeddin Shakir; Trabzon Governor Jemal Azmi; and other state officials.
After Azerbaijan liberated its territories during the Second Karabakh War, the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia gained new impetus and hope grew for the opportunity to establish diplomatic relations and open borders between the two neighbors. Both sides appointed special representatives—Armenia on December 22, 2021, and Turkey on January 11, 2022—for the normalization process, and talks were officially initiated. During one meeting in July 2022, the Turkish and Armenian representatives even agreed to open borders for third-country citizens and holders of diplomatic passports (see EDM, November 2, 2022). Moreover, the dramatic earthquakes that took place in Turkey in February 2023 opened the borders between the two countries for humanitarian aid from Armenia. This created a positive atmosphere for continued normalization of relations between the two countries (see EDM, March 20). Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan also announced that the borders would be opened for third-country nationals and diplomatic passport holders during the holiday season (News.am, March 24).
However, based on the recent developments, both Turkey and Azerbaijan are worried that the emergence of the Nemesis Monument will deepen anti-Turkish and anti-Azerbaijani sentiments, as the memorial seemingly supports this mindset. One of the greatest obstacles to the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey and the signing of a peace agreement between Yerevan and Baku is the perpetuation of historical enmity. The Nemesis Monument serves to support the continued influence of this animosity. Such a move also provides an opportunity for third-party powers that do not want to see Armenian relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan normalized, as they believe such a process would undermine their regional influence. Therefore, such a monument serves the geopolitical aims of these powers, rather than the governments and peoples of the region.
Yet, while the Nemesis Monument threatens to disrupt normalization between Turkey and Armenia as well as peace negotiations between Baku and Yerevan, some recent developments give hope that both processes could get back on track. In a speech on May 28, Pashinyan declared that Armenians should enjoy a comfortable life “now rather than in the remote future” and that this safety and well-being will come “only if relations with neighbors [Turkey and Azerbaijan] are settled and there is peace” (Primeminister.am, May 28). Furthermore, on June 3, the Armenian premier attended the inauguration of Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan for the first time in history, seemingly in a gesture of good faith in continuing the normalization process (Armenpress, June 3). Nevertheless, if events such as the opening of the Nemesis Monument continue to take place, both the normalization and peace processes will be further undermined, inhibiting any hope for sustained progress in the future.