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Armenia, Turkey Move Closer To Historic Deal


Armenia/Turkey -- Presidents Gul (L) and Sarkisian in Yerevan on 06sep2008

Armenia/Turkey -- Presidents Gul (L) and Sarkisian in Yerevan on 06sep2008

After more than a year of intensive negotiations welcomed and facilitated by the international community, Armenia and Turkey have announced a potentially ground-breaking agreement to normalize their historically strained relations in the coming months.

In a joint statement released on Monday night, the foreign ministers of the two countries as well as Switzerland said Ankara and Yerevan have agreed to start “internal political consultations” on bilateral protocols on the establishment of diplomatic relations and reopening of their border.

“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,” read the statement. “Both sides will make their best efforts for the timely progression of the ratification in line with their constitutional and legal procedures.”

According to copies of the draft agreements released by the Armenian Foreign Ministry, the Turkish-Armenian border will be reopened within two months of the deal’s entry into force. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appeared to reaffirm that in a Tuesday interview with Turkey’s NTV television. “If everything goes as planned, if mutual steps are taken the borders could be opened around New Year,” he said, according to Reuters.

But in an earlier television interview late Monday cited by AFP news agency, Davutoglu said: “At the moment opening the border is not foreseen and it is not the priority.” He also made clear that the Turkish government will not take any steps that “would hurt the interests of Azerbaijan.”

“The opening of the border without the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would contradict the interests of Azerbaijan,” a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Elkhan Polukhov, told AFP, reacting to the latest Turkish-Armenian announcement.

Polukhov said Baku therefore does not expect Ankara to lift the 16-year economic blockade of Armenia which had been imposed at the height out of the Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh. “Azerbaijan's position is based on numerous statements from high-ranking officials in Turkey on the question of opening the Armenian-Turkish border,” he added.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders have repeatedly stated in recent months that Turkish-Armenian relations will not be normalized as long as the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. However, the draft protocols released by Yerevan make no reference to Karabakh, a fact that was emphasized by President Serzh Sarkisian on Tuesday. “As I have repeatedly stated, our ongoing negotiations and agreements reached with Turkey contain no precondition related to the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict or any other related issue,” he said.

Meeting with Armenia’s top diplomats, Sarkisian said the announced documents allow Armenia to make peace with its big neighbor and historical foe in a “dignified manner.” He also defended his decision to agree to a joint Turkish-Armenian study of the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

One of the draft protocols stipulates that such a study will be conducted by one of six panels to be set up by a Turkish-Armenian inter-government commission tasked with tackling a broad range of issues of mutual interest. The panel in question would engage in an “impartial scientific examination of historical documents and archives.” It would comprise experts from not only Armenia and Turkey but also Switzerland and other countries.

Many in Armenia and especially its worldwide Diaspora are strongly opposed to the establishment of such a body which was first proposed by Ankara in 2005. They regard the idea as a Turkish ploy designed to stop more countries from recognizing the 1915 massacres as genocide.

Sarkisian instructed the heads of Armenian diplomatic missions abroad and other Foreign Ministry officials to play an “active role” in allaying these fears. He also denied persistent opposition allegations that his diplomatic overtures to the Turks enabled U.S. President Barack Obama to refrain from using the word “genocide” in his April 24 statement on the 94th anniversary of the slaughter of more than one million Ottoman Armenians.

Sarkisian did not say whether he will accept Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s invitation to watch the return match of the two countries’ national football teams that will be played in the Turkish city of Bursa on October 14. The Armenian leader made clear earlier that he will not travel to Turkey unless Ankara takes “real steps” to mend ties with Yerevan.

In an August 25 interview with the BBC, Sarkisian accused the Turkish government of failing to honor understandings reached by the two sides. “We have arrangements, and I think it is only right that the parties keep to them,” he said. “Unfortunately, I have not yet seen any great desire or aspiration [from Turkey] to keep to these arrangements.”

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