President Serzh Sarkisian formally sent Armenia’s normalization agreements with Turkey to parliament for ratification on Friday after his government approved legal amendments making it easier for Yerevan to walk away from the deal.
The government said in a statement on Thursday that the proposed amendments to an Armenian law on international treaties allow Yerevan “not to become a party” to a particular agreement before its entry into force.
“We are now establishing that before the entry into force of an international treaty Armenia may stop participating in it,” Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian was reported to say during a cabinet meeting. He said the president of the republic would be able to “terminate or suspend the process of signing” such a treaty.
Sarkisian announced his intention to enact such amendments in December in response to Turkish leaders’ continuing statements making the ratification of the Turkish-Armenian “protocols” conditional on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh. He made clear that Yerevan will annul the deal if Ankara fails to implement it within a “reasonable” time frame.
Sarkisian reaffirmed the threat during a visit to London this week. “If, as many suspect, it is proven that Turkey’s goal is to protract, rather than to normalize relations, we will have to discontinue the process,” he warned.
Sarkisian stressed at the same time that Armenia’s National Assembly, dominated by his loyalists, will promptly ratify the protocols in the event of their endorsement by the Turkish parliament.
His press secretary, Samvel Farmanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Friday that the president has asked the assembly to start the ratification process. Foreign Minster Edward Nalbandian has been tasked with “presenting” them to Armenian lawmakers, Farmanian said.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian described the dispatch of the protocols to the parliament as further proof of Yerevan’s “sincere desire to establish good relations with neighboring states.” He said it showed that “we are prepared for the ratification of those protocols.”
“It is a signal to both our domestic public and the international community,” the premier declared at a panel discussion on Turkish-Armenian relations held in Yerevan on Friday.
“But they will not be debated until Turkey’s parliament ratifies the protocols,” Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), clarified in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Sahakian also confirmed that the amendments drafted by the government allow Armenia to withdraw its signature from the protocols. “After all, reasonable timeframes must have an end-point, and if the Turkish side again tries to drag out the process … we will simply be obliged to withdraw our signature,” he said.
“In my view, that reasonable time frame is already expiring,” added Sahakian. “We are just waiting for the glass to be filled to the brim.”
Opposition lawmakers critical of the Turkish-Armenian agreements were less than satisfied with the draft amendments. Armen Rustamian, chairman of the parliament committee on foreign relations affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), dismissed them as “cosmetic.”
“These changes are mainly a political trick with which the authorities are trying to show Turkey that they have such an option and thereby to prod Turkey to ensure a quick protocol ratification,” said Artsvik Minasian, another Dashnaktsutyun lawmaker. He reaffirmed the nationalist party’s strong opposition to an unconditional Armenian ratification of the protocols, saying that would contradict a ruling handed by the Armenian Constitutional Court last month.
The Turkish government likewise claims that the court ruling is at odds with key protocol clauses. It is particularly unhappy with the court’s conclusion that the protocols can not stop Armenia from advocating international recognition of the Armenian genocide.
The Sarkisian administration has insisted all along that the court’s interpretation does not run counter to the letter and the spirit of the deal. U.S. officials have made similar statements.