Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 4 14:08:32 UTC 2009

By Haroutiun Khachatrian and Shahin Abbasov 9/01/09

After years of mud-slinging, Turkey and Armenia appear ready to
restore diplomatic ties, but the initial reaction within Armenia
suggests that the process could meet with strong political opposition.
Watching closely from the sidelines, Turkish ally Azerbaijan,
meanwhile, states that it expects Turkey to keep its word -- no
diplomatic ties with Armenia until territories bordering the disputed
region of Nagorno Karabakh are returned to Azerbaijani control. Late
on August 31, the foreign ministries of Armenia, Turkey and mediator
Switzerland announced plans for two protocols for the normalization of
bilateral relations between Armenia and Turkey "within a reasonable
timeframe." The draft protocols are expected to undergo internal
political consultations during a six-week period and then be signed
and "submitted to the respective Parliaments for . . . ratification."
The opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, closed since 1993, is
expected to take place two months after the protocols enter into

In September 1 comments to Armenian diplomats, Armenian President
Serzh Sargsyan hailed the protocols, underlining that they do not
contain any conditions which Turkey set previously for restoring ties
with Armenia -- namely, the withdrawal of forces from territories
bordering Nagorno Karabakh. The United States and France have
expressed their support for the agreement. No official reaction from
Russia is yet available.  In a September 1 interview with the Turkish
television station NTV, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was
similarly upbeat. "We know that normalization will be a prolonged
process, but every such process starts with an initial step, which, in
this case, is the recognition of borders," said Davutoglu. Davutoglu
termed such recognition "the most important aspect of good relations
between two neighbors."

None of Armenia’s political parties has so far published its official
position on the Turkish-Armenian protocols, but Davutoglu’s emphasis
on border recognition alone has proven cause for worry among
opposition parties. Many fear that such recognition would reconfirm
the loss of Armenian territory to Turkey under a 1921 agreement
between Ankara and the Soviet Union. Other worries also persist. Giro
Manoyan, international secretary for the nationalist Armenian
Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun), worries that the protocols
do not exclude the possibility that Turkey will attempt to link the
restoration of ties with Armenia to the Karabakh settlement process.

Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu commented that "[t]he protocol on
normalization of relations doesn’t mean that we renounce our
principles on [a] Karabakh conflict resolution," expressing hope that
international attention would "focus on the Karabakh problem
henceforth." Vladimir Karapetian, the foreign affairs advisor for
former President Levon Ter Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress
bloc, shares Manoyan’s unease. The requirement that the protocols be
ratified after their signature means that Turkey’s parliament could
delay the normalization process indefinitely by linking the protocols’
ratification to a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, he

Armenian legislation does not require ratification of documents for
establishing diplomatic relations. Both opposition representatives
also see potential pitfalls in the requirement to create "a
sub-commission on the historical dimension."  "If Turkey is interested
in revealing the historical truth, it would be better to create a
favorable atmosphere for discussing the genocide problem in its own
country," objected Manoyan. "It can also discuss this problem with
specialists from other countries. But Armenia has nothing to do in
In an interview with the BBC published on August 31, Sargsyan said
that the genocide problem is one where "compromises are impossible."
In his September 1 speech to Armenian diplomats, he said only that
"historical problems" will be discussed within the inter-governmental
sub-commission, rather than a commission of historians, as earlier
proposed by Turkey.

Meanwhile, other "historical problems" still loom ahead. Turkey closed
its border with Armenia to support Azerbaijan during its 1988-1994
conflict with Armenia and ethnic Armenian separatist forces over the
breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh. News of the protocols ranked as
Azerbaijan’s top news item on September 1, and the official reaction
came swiftly. Terming a country’s decision to build ties with a
neighbor its "sovereign right," Ministry of Foreign Affairs
spokesperson Elkhan Polukhov told EurasiaNet that the protocol issue
"directly touches on Azerbaijan’s national interests and the opening
of the Turkish-Armenian border without a resolution of the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is against these interests."

Azerbaijani foreign ministry officials are in "constant contact" with
their Turkish colleagues about the protocol and the Nagorno-Karabakh
discussions, Polukhov continued. Baku, he said, bases its reaction to
the reconciliation news on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan’s May 14 statement to the Azerbaijani parliament "that the
border between Turkey and Armenia will be open only after the full
liberation of Azerbaijani occupied territories."

Elhan Shahinoglu, head of the Baku-based Atlas research center,
believes that Ankara has already agreed with Baku on the issue of its
deal with Armenia.

Two days before the protocols’ publication, on August 29, Turkish
Deputy Foreign Minister Firidun Shirinlioglu and special envoy,
Ambassador Unal Chevikoz, traveled to Baku and met with Azerbaijani
President Ilham Aliyev.

"Therefore, it is likely that Baku agreed. Otherwise, Turkey would not
risk deteriorating relations with Azerbaijan," Shahingolu said. Aside
from close ethnic and cultural ties, the two countries share interests
in strategic energy projects.

If Baku agreed with Turkey’s position, he opined, that could signal
that the Aliyev administration hopes for a breakthrough in the
Nagorno-Karabakh talks by the end of the year.

One senior parliamentarian from Azerbaijan’s ruling Yeni Azerbaijan
Party shares that appraisal.

Aydin Mirzazade, deputy chairman of parliamentary committee for
defense and security, termed the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement talks
and discussions between Aliyev and Armenian President Sargsyan about
Nagorno Karabakh "strongly interconnected," Day.az reported.

Vafa Guluzade, who acted as Azerbaijan’s envoy to the Nagorno-Karabakh
talks under the late President Heydar Aliyev, however, cautions that
"rapprochement without the Karabakh conflict’s resolution will harm
relations between Ankara and Baku."

On one point, however, all three countries -- Armenia, Turkey and
Azerbaijan -- can easily agree. Said analyst Shahinoglu: "It is
difficult to say how the situation will develop, even in the short-

Editor's Note: Haroutiun Khachatrian is an editor and freelance writer
based in Yerevan. Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in
Baku. He is also a board member of the Open Society


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