President Serzh Sarkisian indicated late on Tuesday his intention to formally annul the U.S.-brokered 2009 agreements to normalize Armenia’s relations with Turkey, citing Ankara’s continuing refusal to implement them unconditionally.
“Given the absence of any progress towards their implementation, Armenia will declare the two protocols null and void,” he declared in a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York. “We will enter the spring of 2018 without those, as our experience has demonstrated, futile protocols.”
The protocols signed in Zurich in October 2009 committed Turkey and Armenia to establishing diplomatic relations and opening their border. Shortly after the high-profile signing ceremony, Ankara made clear, however, that Turkey’s parliament will ratify the deal only if there is decisive progress towards a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan.
The Armenian government rejected this precondition, arguing that the protocols make no reference to the conflict. The United States, the European Union and Russia have also repeatedly called for their unconditional implementation by both sides.
In his speech, Sarkisian denounced Ankara’s “ludicrous preconditions.” “Turkey’s leadership is mistaken if it thinks that it can perpetually hold those documents hostage and ratify them only on what it sees as the most opportune occasion,” he said.
The Turkish government did not immediately react to the announcement. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for more international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict when he addressed the General Assembly earlier on Tuesday. Successive governments in Ankara have kept that border with Armenia completely closed since 1993 in a show of support for Azerbaijan.
Sarkisian already threatened in February 2010 to scrap the protocols if they are not ratified by the Turks “in the shortest possible time.” But he avoided doing that, saying two months later that he does not want to upset the U.S. and other world powers.
Sarkisian formally recalled the protocols from the Armenian parliament ahead of official commemorations in April 2015 of the centenary of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. He told Turkish journalists afterwards that the move “does not presuppose any legal consequences because I did not withdraw Armenia’s signatures from the protocols.”
Sarkisian’s Western-backed policy of rapprochement with Turkey proved highly controversial within Armenia and especially its worldwide Diaspora. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential pan-Armenian party, pulled out of his coalition government in protest in 2009.
Dashnaktsutyun and some opposition groups in Armenia were particularly angered by a clause in the protocols that called for the creation of a Turkish-Armenian “subcomission” of historians that would examine the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenia. They said that the very existence of such a body could call into question the genocide acknowledged by most Western historians. Sarkisian and his allies denied that.
Some critics also questioned economic benefits of an open border with Turkey for Armenia.
Economists generally agree that cross-border commerce would be good for the Armenian economy. Just how substantial and quick that impact would be is a matter of contention.
A 2015 opinion poll by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), a U.S. non-governmental organization specializing in the South Caucasus, found that only one in two Armenians support the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border. According to the European Union-funded poll, nearly half of respondents felt that it would damage Armenia’s national security. Also, 82 percent of those polled agreed with the notion that Turkey “cannot be trusted.”