U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch on Tuesday reiterated Washington’s positive reaction to President Serzh Sarkisian’s decision not to formally annul the Turkish-Armenian normalization agreements despite Ankara’s refusal to implement them unconditionally.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Yovanovitch also described Armenia’s closed border with Turkey as a “historical anomaly” and praised Turks who marked the 95th anniversary of the Armenian genocide on the streets of Istanbul.
“President [Serzh] Sarkisian’s statement makes clear that Armenia has not ended the process, that there is a suspension of the discussion of these protocols in the parliament … and that Armenia is waiting for a time when Turkey is more ready,” she said. “And we really think that that’s the way to go.”
“We applaud President Sarkisian’s decision to keep this process alive because we think that that enables Turkey and Armenia both to work towards a vision of peace and stability and reconciliation,” she added.
In an April 22 televised address to the nation, Sarkisian essentially backed down on his earlier threats to walk away from the Turkish-Armenian protocols if Turkey’s parliament fails to ratify them with a “reasonable timeframe.” He said he and his governing coalition did so at the request of the United States, Russia and other foreign powers.
The Armenian leader discussed the Turkish-Armenian diplomacy with U.S. President Barack Obama on April 12 on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Washington. “If you pull out, you let the other side off the hook,” Obama told him, according to “The Washington Post.”
The U.S. State Department, which had been closely involved in the signing of the protocols last October, swiftly welcomed Sarkisian’s move. Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that they may still be put into effect “over the long term.”
While reaffirming U.S. support for protocol ratification, Yovanovitch declined to criticize Ankara for the current stalemate in the normalization process. “I’m not sure it’s constructive to cast blame on [either party],” she said. “What I would say is that the U.S. position has always been clear: that this process should move forward in a reasonable timeframe and without preconditions.”
Yovanovitch sounded an optimistic note about the future of Turkish-Armenian relations, pointing to contacts between Turkish and Armenian civil societies and ordinary people that have increased dramatically in recent years.
“It’s an extremely important development that needs to continue to be encouraged because sometimes it is the government that leads people and sometimes it’s people that lead the government,” she said. “And I think that people in Turkey and Armenia understand that this is somehow an historical anomaly that in the 21st century there is a closed border in Europe and that that’s not a phenomenon that can continue to exist.”
The diplomat also praised hundreds of Turks who took to the streets of Istanbul on April 24 for the first-ever public remembrance of more than one million Armenians massacred in the Ottoman Empire during World War One. “This year is the first year that there have been not just one but three ceremonies in Turkey marking the April 24 Armenian Remembrance Day,” she said. “And we all remember the ‘I apologize’ campaign from last year.”
Yovanovitch further said that the Armenian authorities have made some progress in addressing the political fallout from the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan. She argued that the vast majority of Armenian opposition members and supporters arrested following the February 2008 presidential election have been set free under a general amnesty declared by the authorities in June last year.
Still, Yovanovitch said the fact that some oppositionists remain in jail is “an issue of concern to us.” “I want to assure you this is a very important issue for us, and I think we’ve made our concerns known through various media, including the [State Department’s recent] human rights report,” she said.