Armenian Delay Casts Doubt On Historic Accord With Turkey

Simon Tisdall
Thursday 8 October 2009 21.11 BST

A historic accord to normalise relations between Turkey and Armenia,
long at odds over Armenian claims of first world war genocide, was
thrown into doubt tonightwhen Turkey’s foreign minister refused to
say whether the signing ceremony would go ahead as planned in Zurich
on Saturday.

Ahmet Davutoglu said he remained confident that the accord, which
would also reopen the common border closed by Turkey in 1993, would
be completed. But he added: "I am not giving any dates. Let’s wait
for a statement from the Swiss. As Turkey, we have no doubts the
protocols will be signed."

Concern that the long-discussed pact could be delayed has grown
in recent days after Armenia appeared to backpedal. The country’s
deputy foreign minister, Arman Kirakossian, said he hoped it would
be signed "very soon" but that no decision had been made as to when
and where. That led to speculation that Armenia would seek changes
to the text.

Diplomats said strong opposition expressed at home and by the Armenian
diaspora may lie behind the last-minute hesitation in Yerevan. Serzh
Sargsyan, Armenia’s president, has spent the past week trying to
reassure ethnic Armenian communities in the US, France, Lebanon
and Russia.

But many expressed anger that the pact, which would create a joint
commission of historians to investigate the mass killings of 1915,
could allow Turkey to avoid taking responsibility for what they say
was a policy of genocide by the Ottoman empire in which 1.5 million
Armenians died.

Ankara has consistently denied the genocide charge. At a rally in
Beirut on Tuesday, Sargsyan was confronted by a crowd of 2,000 ethnic
Armenians waving banners saying "We will not forget".

Opposition parties in Turkey and Armenia say they will vote against the
pact, which must be approved by their respective parliaments. Recep
Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, has warned that passage
cannot be guaranteed, since the vote will be by secret ballot.

Another stumbling block is the dispute over the ethnic Armenian
enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, inside Azerbaijan’s borders. Fighting
with Azeri forces erupted there in the early 1990s, and 30,000 people
died. Turkey took Azerbaijan’s side, closing its border with Armenia.

The latest round of talks, sponsored by the US and the EU, to settle
the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute were due to begin in the Moldovan capital
Chisinau yesterday, with Sargsyan and the Azeri president, Ilham Aliev,
in attendance. Diplomats played down the chances of a breakthrough.

Erdogan said this week that progress in the Chisinau talks was not a
precondition for signing the Turkey-Armenia accord. "The agreement
will be signed on 10 October. It doesn’t have anything to do with
what happens in Moldova," he said. But he admitted a positive outcome
would be helpful overall.

International pressure on Turkey and Armenia not to let the chance of
a rapprochement slip is intense. Both are vital links in the chain
of actual or planned western oil and gas pipelines stretching from
central Asia to Europe.

The US and the EU strongly support the pact, which they believe will
help stabilise the volatile Caucasus region. Bringing Armenia in from
the cold, as Washington sees it, would also help diminish Russia’s
regional influence after its war last year with Georgia.

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