Monday, 12 October 2009

Armenia-Turkey protocols

Armenia-Turkey Protocols signed in Zurich

Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu signed the Protocols envisaging normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations on Saturday. The ceremony took place in presence of Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, Armenia’s Ambassador to Switzerland Charles Aznavour and Turkey’s Ambassador to Switzerland Oguz Demiral, Slovenia's Foreign Minister, Chair of CoE Committee of Ministers Samuel Zbogar.

Leading figures in the international community have voiced optimism over the signing of two landmark protocols for restoring ties and opening the shared border on Saturday by Armenia and Turkey, with the UN secretary-general urging the parties to swiftly ratify the protocols. The Turkish and Armenian parliaments must now approve the deal, in the face of opposition from nationalists on both sides and an Armenian diaspora which insists that Turkey acknowledge the killings of Anatolian Armenians during World War I as genocide.
“The secretary-general welcomes the signing today in Zurich of the two protocols aimed at normalizing the relations between Armenia and Turkey,” a statement issued by a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon read. “This historic decision constitutes a milestone toward the establishment of good neighborly relations and the development of bilateral cooperation between both countries. The secretary-general is confident that this development will also contribute to peace, security and stability in the South Caucasus,” the statement said.
In a joint statement, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn called the signing “a courageous and far-sighted step forward.” “The signature of the protocols confirms the desire of both Turkey and Armenia to turn a page and build a new future. This opens new perspectives for the solution of conflicts, notably in Nagorno-Karabakh,” the EU statement said.

The ceremony, scheduled for around 8 p.m. Yerevan time was delayed when the Armenian delegation objected to a statement that the Turkish side wanted to add to the proceedings. It is believed that the statement was intended to link the Nagorno Karabakh settlement to the rapprochement process – a condition the Armenians have objected to from the start of negotiations.

The signing ceremony resumed around 11:15 p.m. Yerevan time (8:15 p.m. in Zurich) at the University of Zurich. Neither side issued a statement following the signing as had initially been planned, an idea apparently scrapped as a consequence of the dispute that led to the signing delay.Against the support came a lashing from the powerful Armenian National Committee of America saying: "The Obama Administration's attempts to force Armenia into one-sided concessions . . . is short-sighted and will, in the long term, create more problems that it serves."

Also on Friday, multiple thousands in Yerevan streets voiced the disdain of political parties at home and other Diaspora organizations – most sympathetic to Armenia’s oldest party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaksutsyun. As they have since the protocols were announced August 31, the Dashnaks led the largest anti-government rally seen since February 2008, when oppositionists crowds swelled daily, prior to further events that led to Armenia’s worst violence on March 1, 2008 when 10 were killed and more than 200 injured in street warfare.Opposition to the protocols has centered on two main concerns believed to be implied in the documents.First: The establishment of a historical commission to debate events of 1915-18 in Ottoman Turkey is widely feared at home as legitimizing Turkey’s claims that the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians has been mischaracterized as “genocide” by the Armenians (and 22 governments that have passed legislation recognizing it), when in fact according to the Turks they, too, suffered at the hands of the Armenians in collateral impact of World War I.Second:

The protocols call for “recognition of territorial integrity” of borders, a condition that has a two-prong impact.
One: It could imply that Armenia must concede its “occupation” of land internationally-recognized as belonging to Azerbaijan around the Armenian enclave of Nagorno Karabakh.

Two: It could mean that, by recognizing Turkey’s current border it would negate legal claims currently in debate by Genocide survivors who have called for reparation and indeed for compensation for land they say was stolen from their ancestors in the 1915-18 displacement of Armenians from what is now Turkey.In any case, ink on the pages put these protocols into the machine of diplomatic process that is next to see them ratified or rejected by parliaments of both countries. With ratification expected, the result would mean that within two months borders between Armenia-Turkey would be opened for the first time since Turkey closed them in 1993.