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Armenia and Turkey set to establish diplomatic relations

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Following media reports earlier today that Armenian President Serge Sargsyan had "chided Turkey" for not seriously seeking to unconditionally open the border between the two countries comes unexpected news. Within the last few hours at time of writing, reports from the BBC, Reuters, AP and others now say that "domestic discussion" in the estranged neighbouring countries over two diplomatic protocols is set to start and will take up to six weeks.

The announcement comes just hours after the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Marie Yovanovitch, had also said she hoped "tangible process" would finally be registered in attempts to normalize relations between the two countries. The border between Turkey and Armenia has been closed since 1993 when the former sided with Azerbaijan in its conflict with the latter over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.

Over 1 million refugees and IDPs on both sides were forced to flee their homes with Armenian forces still currently in control of over 14 percent of Azerbaijan. Baku is therefore reported to be unhappy with increased international efforts to establish diplomatic relations between the two, and especially in the months following last year's much publicized "football diplomacy," until the Karabakh conflict is finally resolved.

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Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D) protest Turkish President Abdullah Gül's visit to Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008

Attempts to re-open the border since the 1994 ceasefire with Azerbaijan, however, have also been frustrated by disagreemeent over the WWI mass killing and deportation of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in what most historians consider to be the first genocide of the 20th Century. In April, during an unprecedented speech in the Tukish National Assembly, U.S. President Barack Obama urged both sides to resolve their historical differences

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Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008

Even so, Obama had already disappointed many ethnic Armenians living in the United States by not officially recognizing the massacres and deportation as genocide, arguing that it is up to both countries to come to terms with their shared past. Now, with Swiss mediation, that looks closer to coming to fruition. Tonight, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Switzerland and Turkey issued a joint statement. 

The Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey have agreed to start their internal political consultations on two protocols – the ‘Protocol on the establishment of diplomatic relations’ and the ‘Protocol on the development of bilateral relations’ – which have been initiated in the course of their efforts under Swiss mediation.

The two Protocols provide for a framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations within a reasonable timeframe. The political consultations will be completed within six weeks, following which the two Protocols will be signed and submitted to the respective Parliaments for the ratification on each side. Both sides will make their best efforts for the timely progression of the ratification in line with their constitutional and legal procedures. 

The normalization of bilateral relations will contribute to the regional peace and stability. The Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey are committed are pursuing their joint efforts with the assistance of Switzerland. link

Of course, the protocols will have to be ratified by the Armenian and Turkish parliaments and some analysts are unsure how the populations of both countries will greet this new development given the politicized nature of the media and among some segments of civil society. Nevertheless, for now, what mainly concerns outside observers is how some internal political forces will respond in a region where nationalist ideology is very much the dominant one.

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Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D) burn the Turkish flag, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008

In Armenia, for example, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashaktsutyun (ARF-D), which opposes establishing diplomatic relations with Turkey as well as any compromise solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, has already left the government coalition over the issue and called for an end to negotiations between Yerevan and Ankara. The nationalist political party has also demanded the resignation of the Armenian Foreign Minister although it did stop short of calling for the president to step down.

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Former president and extra-parliamentary opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian, Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008

Another unknown remains the extra-parliamentary opposition led by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian who some suspect might be ready to exploit such a development despite having favoured establishing relations when in office. However, many diplomats in Yerevan, as well as domestic and regional analysts, doubt that either could pull enough supporters out onto the streets. In recent months, both have been unable to attract more than a few thousand people to protest rallies and demonstrations.

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Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D) Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) march to Tsitsernakaberd, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008

Nevertheless, it also remains to be seen how harsh reaction will be from Azerbaijan as well as from nationalist circles in Turkey, but whatever happens next will have to by 14 October when the Armenian president is due to visit Turkey for a return World Cup qualifying match. Others will also be watching to see whether possible rapprochement will positively impact on the possibility of a framework peace deal on Karabakh if neither side gets cold feet as domestic discussion intensifies. Indeed, some consider that the move could contribute to peace and stability in the entire region. 

Meanwhile, as more details emerge of what could be a historical deal in the making, the protocols are already online in PDF format on the Armenian Foreign Ministry web site.

Top Photo: Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008


Onnik Krikorian | September 1, 2009 1:14 AM | Reply

The BBC has now updated its earlier report.

Turkey and its neighbour Armenia have moved closer to establishing diplomatic ties after decades of bitter mistrust on both sides.

They are to hold six weeks of domestic consultations on the move after which their parliaments will vote on it, their foreign ministries announced.


According to Reuters news agency, the Turkish-Armenian border - closed by Turkey in 1993 - will re-open within two months of the protocols coming into force. link

Onnik Krikorian | September 1, 2009 3:51 AM | Reply

There's probably not much need to post more links to news items on this latest and unprecedented development, but this is at least reading as some analysts and observers consider that normalizing Armenian-Turkish relations will contribute to the establishment of peace and stability in the region as I wrote in the last but one paragraph.

Turkey wants to go beyond establishing ties with Armenia and normalize relations across the South Caucasus, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Reuters on Monday.


"This is a process and at the end of it, not only Turkish-Armenian, many borders will be opened," Davutoglu said in an interview as he traveled from Damascus to Nicosia on a tour of the Middle East.

Davutoglu also spoke of opening the border between Armenia and Turkey's Muslim ally Azerbaijan. He did not specify any other borders.


"This is a process and at the end of it, not only Turkish-Armenian, many borders will be opened," Davutoglu said in an interview as he traveled from Damascus to Nicosia on a tour of the Middle East.

Davutoglu also spoke of opening the border between Armenia and Turkey's Muslim ally Azerbaijan. He did not specify any other borders.

[...] link

In fact, there is some substance in the notion that normalized Armenian-Turkish ties would contribute to finally ending the long-running conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh. Indeed, some consider that if it hopes for a framework peace agreement were to fail the chances of a new war withing the next five years are more likely.

What still remains to be seen, however, is how Azerbaijan will react to the news, although many suspect it would have been informed about the protocols beforehand. Indeed, according to other news reports, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev met with Turkish diplomats late last week and has also discussed Armenia-Turkey relations with the Turkish prime minister.

On August 28, Ilham Aliyev had a phone conversation with Turkish Premier Erdogan. The latter told Aliyev of the Armenian-Turkish relations development, while Azerbaijani President spoke of the current situation with Karabakh peace process. Erdogan informed about the visit of Turkish delegation to Baku. Presumably, Turkish officials arrived in Baku to align positions on Armenian issues. Both countries are under the pressure of world opinion in terms of attempts to link Karabakh peace process with Armenian-Turkish rapprochement.

Returning to Turkey, Sinirlioglu said the journalists they had explained Aliyev Turkish position on Armenian-Turkish rapprochement and Karabakh conflict settlement.

It is noteworthy that after the phone conversation, Turkish side had to send a delegation to Baku to clarify thoroughly Turkish position to Azerbaijani President. Obviously, Turkish side is concerned about non-constructive Azerbaijani policy, while Ankara has to settle relations with Armenia based on ‘roadmap’ agreed upon through international mediation. link

As the article says, discussion is one thing, but accepting it is another. It remains to be seen what Azerbaijan's official stated position will be. However, it is likely to come later today. I'm sure there's plenty to wait for in terms of the media and political forces in Armenia and Turkey too...

Onnik Krikorian | September 1, 2009 9:31 AM | Reply

Incidentally, according to the protocols, the border would be opened within two months of its signing. Therefore, it cannot be excluded that the first, which establishes diplomatic relations, could be ratified, but not the second, which develops relations and implements all the other necessary aspects of normalization, i.e. open border, establishment of commissions on key issues.

The stumbling blocks in the case of the second, and the most likely to create problems in Armenia and Turkey, are the historical commission and the reaction of Azerbaijan. This might also explain Sargsyan's disappointment with Turkey because of Azerbaijan and how it would relate to the second protocol, although it's likely some political forces here would also object to the historical commission.

As for the first on establishing diplomatic relations, but not an open border, it would likely anger nationalists in Armenia because demands for territorial reparations in case of genocide recognition would be ended (as opposed to exceedingly unlikely as they are now). Let's see how things develop although comments from the Turkish MFA still indicate a border opening linked to NK/Azerbaijan.

The joint statement released by the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries said the two countries would start consultations to sign two protocols — one to establish diplomatic ties, the other to develop relations. The talks, with continued mediation by Switzerland, are to last six weeks.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, however, that opening the border was out of the question for now. "A longer process is required for that," he was quoted by Turkey's NTV television station as saying Monday.

He also said Turkey would "guard" Azerbaijan's interest during its reconciliation with Armenia, saying "our aim is to establish stability in the Caucasus," according to NTV. link

Could be intended for domestic and Azeri consumption, but the main obstacles to normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey lie with the second protocol. Still, let's wait and see. Interesting times...

What do you think?