Armenia and Turkey to sign protocols on relations

But implementation of “roadmap” may be again delayed

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Tuesday September 01, 2009

President Abdullah Gul of Turkey, left, grabs President Serge Sargsian's hand during their meeting at the EU summit in Prague on May 7, 2009. With them are Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, center, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, partly obscured on left.

Washington - The protocols "on the establishment of diplomatic relations" and "on the development of bilateral relations" were released on August 31 by the foreign ministries of Armenia, Turkey, and Switzerland, which has served as host to bilateral talks. The release of the documents was quickly welcomed by France, Russia, and the United States.

The protocols are now expected to be formally signed after six weeks of domestic discussion. The timing of the release and the discussion was hardly accidental. The match between Armenian and Turkish national soccer teams is due to take place in Turkey in exactly six weeks.

For his part, Armenia's President Serge Sargsian made his attendance at the match - which would signify continued viability of Armenian-Turkish dialogue - conditional on tangible progress towards Turkey opening its border with Armenia.

But Turkish leaders have explicitly and repeatedly linked such an opening to satisfaction of at least some of Azerbaijan's demands in the Karabakh conflict.

Shortly after the August 31 release, Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told Turkish media that "a longer process is required" for a border opening. Mr. Davutoglu also pledged to "guard" Azerbaijan's interests as part of talks with Armenia, according to an Associated Press citation.

Judging by the published text, establishment of diplomatic relations is also far from imminent. The two protocols would have to take effect simultaneously and only after ratification by the two nations' parliaments. Since the timing for ratification is not spelled out additional delays are possible.

The timing and success of that ratification is likely to depend on how Turkish leaders interpret the course of Karabakh negotiations.

Meanwhile, as in the past Turkey will use reports of "progress" in talks with Armenia to deter the United States and others from recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Long-delayed announcement

The documents made public this week are believed to have been agreed and initialed by Armenia and Turkey last April, weeks before the April 22 statement that set out the two countries' intentions to normalize relations.

But Armenian officials have since charged Turkey with dragging its feet on moving forward with the agreement.

In an interview published just hours before the release of the protocols, President Sargsian sounded pessimistic about Turkey's intentions.

"[Armenia and Turkey] have agreements," the Armenian leader told the Russian-language service of BBC. "And I think it is quite normal and right for the sides to implement their agreements.

"Regrettably, I have not seen a great desire or willingness [by Turkey] to implement these agreements."

The first indications that some kind of development on Armenia-Turkey track was afoot came on August 28, when Turkish leader Recep Tayyib Erdogan phoned his Azerbaijani opposite Ilham Aliyev to discuss the issue. The next day, Mr. Erdogan dispatched two senior diplomats to detail Turkey's intentions to Mr. Aliyev in person.

And as was reportedly the case with the April 22 statement, the release of the protocols is likely to have come with some American prodding.

According to a report by Turkey's Sabah daily, co-chair of Turkey caucus in U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) warned Turkish leaders on August 27 that Congress would likely move on adoption of the Armenian Genocide resolution if Armenia-Turkey dialogue is "hindered."

That warning came a week after Armenia's President discussed talks with Turkey in a phone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on August 20.    

Most controversial points kept out of protocol

While the timeframe for implementation of the agreements remains in doubt, the protocols' content seems to mollify at least some of the key Armenian concerns.

Turkey had long conditioned normalization of relations with Armenia on three issues: mutual recognition of borders, end to Armenian Genocide affirmation campaign and satisfaction of Azerbaijani demands as part of the Karabakh dispute.

Armenian leaders have in turn repeatedly stressed they have no claims on Turkey's territory, have no intention or even ability to end the affirmation campaign and would not make unilateral compromises to Azerbaijan.

In reports earlier this year, Turkish media suggested that Ankara was seeking to have Armenia recognize the 1923 Kars Treaty, signed by Turkey and newly Soviet Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia. The Treaty established existing border and among other things absolved Turkish officials of crimes committed during World War I.

Since 2005 Turkey has also demanded the establishment a so-called commission of historians, acquiescing to which would amount to questioning the veracity of Armenian Genocide.

The protocol on bilateral relations makes no mention of the Kars Treaty or the Karabakh conflict. And it contains only watered-down language on a "sub-commission" that would "implement a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations, including an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations."

Six other sub-commissions would be set up under an inter-governmental commission to discuss everything from political relations to environment along the lines proposed by former President Robert Kocharian in an April 2005 letter to Prime Minister Erdogan.

If in fact ratified and implemented, the protocols would pave the way for normalization of relations "without pre-conditions" as has been advocated by successive Armenian governments.

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