Urging Turkey to move forward
Published: Friday February 12, 2010
The protocols on the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey, announced on August 31, 2009, and signed on October 10, were supposed to lead to the end of the 16-year Turkish blockade of Armenia. But under the protocols, they must be ratified by the parliaments of the two sides before they are implemented. The Turkish side is choosing to continue its blockade by holding up ratification.
If the administration of Armenia's President Serge Sargsyan could sign the protocols, it was because Turkey had agreed to exclude its main demand or precondition for opening the border with Armenia: the resolution of the Karabakh conflict to Azerbaijan's satisfaction. But the Turkish government still insists on that precondition. It says that the Turkish parliament is unlikely to ratify the protocols until the Karabakh conflict is resolved. The Turkish prime minister claims that the parliament makes its own, independent judgment.
In an important speech this week before Chatham House in London, President Sargsyan sought to lay the groundwork for the next stage of the very public negotiations between Armenia and Turkey. He called on Turkey to proceed with the ratification of the protocols but warned that Armenia would "discontinue" the process if Turkey shows that its goal is to "protract" the process.
"Senior Turkish officials repeatedly assert that their parliament is politically independent and its decision is impossible to predict," Mr. Sargsyan said. Moreover, they seek the support of opposition parties as well. But, he noted, his administration has been willing to lose "a key ally in the ruling coalition" - the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which strongly opposes the terms of the protocols - but has "persevered."
"I am confident that President Gül and Prime Minister Erdogan will, subject to the demonstration of political will, find sufficient support within their party, which holds the majority of seats in the Turkish parliament," Mr. Sargsyan said.
He noted that Armenia's Constitutional Court had acted promptly to review the protocols and had ruled unanimously that they were consistent with Armenia's Constitution. He announced that he would immediately submit the protocols to the National Assembly for ratification. He added: "As the political leader of the political majority of the Armenian parliament, I reiterate that I rule out any possibility of the Armenian Parliament failing to ratify the protocols in case Turkey ratifies the protocols without preconditions, as agreed."
Thus Armenia is moving toward ratification, but will "discontinue" the process if Turkey continues to drag its feet and show that its intention is simply to create the pretense that a process of normalization is underway.
President Sargsyan's speech before an influential London audience was a laudable step toward the resolution, one way or the other, of the fate of the protocols. It was laudable because he chose a high-profile forum and because he urged Turkey to act, while remaining firm in his key positions: (1) that the resolution of the Karabakh conflict cannot be a precondition for the normalization of relations; (2) that Turkey must ratify before Armenia ratifies; and (3) that unless there is prompt action, Armenia will withdraw unilaterally from the protocols.
We trust that his administration and its friends will echo this message repeatedly in various other forums in the coming days. Before long, if Turkey continues to "protract" the process, it may be too late to simply talk about discontinuing it.