Armenia on Thursday formally annulled U.S.-backed 2009 agreements to normalize its relations with neighboring Turkey, citing Ankara’s continuing refusal to implement them unconditionally.
President Serzh Sarkisian signed a relevant decree immediately after chairing a meeting of his National Security Council which discussed and approved his long-anticipated move.
“I am asking the foreign minister [Edward Nalbandian] to notify Turkey about our decision, after which no obligation stemming from those agreements will be legally binding for us,” he said at the meeting. He said he has already sent letters to the presidents of the United States, France, Russia and Switzerland explaining reasons for the decision.
The two 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 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 has rejected this precondition all along, arguing that the protocols make no reference to the conflict. The United States, the European Union and Russia have likewise repeatedly called for their unconditional implementation by both sides.
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.
Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York last September, the Armenian president said he will definitely withdraw Yerevan’s signature from the landmark deal by this spring unless the Turkish side stops linking its implementation to a Karabakh settlement.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry insisted on that linkage in December. “Armenia must put an end to its invasion of Azerbaijan’s territories,” it said in a statement. It blamed Yerevan for the effective collapse of the 2009 accords signed by the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers in the presence of then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Turkish government did not immediately react to the unilateral scrapping of the protocols by the Armenian side. Ankara has kept the Turkish-Armenian border completely closed since 1993 in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, its closest ally.
The signing of the protocols was the culmination of Sarkisian’s policy of rapprochement with Armenia’s historical foe which he began shortly after taking office in April 2008. As part of that effort, Sarkisian and then Turkish President Abdullah Gul paid first-ever visits to each other’s country to jointly watch competitive games between their national football teams.
The so-called “football diplomacy” met with strong resistance from Sarkisian’s critics in Armenia and especially its worldwide Diaspora. They were particularly enraged by a clause in one of the protocols that called for the creation of a “subcommission” of government-appointed Turkish and Armenian experts who would engage in an “impartial scientific examination of historical documents and archives.”
This was a clear reference to joint examination of the 1915 massacres of up to 1.5 million Armenian in Ottoman Turkey which many international historians consider the first genocide of the 20th century. The critics said the very existence of such a Turkish-Armenian body would call into question the Armenian genocide and stop more countries from recognizing it.
Sarkisian insisted on Thursday that signing the protocols was worth it because the international community has no doubts now that the onus is on Turkey, not Armenia, to normalize Turkish-Armenian relations.“Not a single international structure or a state more or less involved in international processes thinks otherwise,” he said.
Sarkisian also made clear that despite walking away from the deal Yerevan remains committed to unconditionally improving its ties with Ankara. “If there are [relevant] proposals tomorrow or the day after, we will be ready to discuss those proposals,” he said. “In the meantime, we will try to develop the way we have developed until now without having diplomatic relations with Turkey.”