After Hitch, Turkey and Armenia Normalize Ties

After Hitch, Turkey and Armenia Normalize Ties

New York Times
October 11, 2009

By MARK LANDLER and SEBNEM ARSU
ZURICH ? Turkey and Armenia signed a historic agreement to establish normal
diplomatic relations and reopen their borders on Saturday, after a
last-minute dispute over wording sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton and other diplomats into frantic efforts to salvage the deal.

For Turkey and Armenia, neighbors sundered by a century of bitterness over
the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, the tumultuous day
illustrated how hard it is to heal the wounds of history.

For Mrs. Clinton, nine months into her job, it was a bracing taste of
down-to-the-wire, limousine diplomacy.

The arduous negotiations between the countries had been actively encouraged
by the Obama administration, and with an agreement in sight, Mrs. Clinton
flew to Switzerland to witness the signing as a show of American support.
Instead, she found herself performing triage.

Sitting in a parked, black BMW sedan at a hilltop hotel here, with aides
thrusting papers at her, Mrs. Clinton worked two cellphones at once as she
tried to resolve differences between the Armenian foreign minister, Eduard
Nalbandian, and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Mrs. Clinton continued her efforts inside with Mr. Nalbandian and then gave
him a ride to the University of Zurich, where the ceremony was to be held.
By her own account, she did most of the talking on the brief trip ?
appealing to him not to let months of talks go up in smoke.

³There were several times I said to all the parties involved, ?This is too
important, this has to be seen through, we have come too far,¹ ² she
recalled. Mrs. Clinton declined to describe the differences between the two
sides.

Shortly after 8 p.m., three hours late, the two men sat down to sign the
agreements, though in a compromise worked out beforehand, neither delivered
a statement. The agreement must now be ratified by the Parliaments of both
countries, by no means a sure thing.

³We recognize how hard it is, and what courage it takes to move forward in
the face of very strong opposition in both countries,² Mrs. Clinton said.

Any easing of tension between Turkey and Armenia was bound to be fragile.
The deal faces particularly fierce opposition from Armenia¹s far-flung and
politically potent diaspora. Many Armenians insist that ties should not be
normalized until Turkey acknowledges that the killing of more than one
million Armenians at the end of World War I constituted genocide.

Most scholars agree that those killings fit the definition of genocide. But
Turkey has vehemently denied that judgment, and the government has supported
prosecution of Turks who have spoken out about the issue.

As part of the agreement, the two countries would pledge to establish an
international commission to research World War I-era archives to clarify the
extent of the massacre. Some Armenians fear this will produce a revisionist
history that dilutes the enormity of the killing.

The countries would have to open their borders within two months after
ratification, and establish the historical commission within four months.

For their part, Turks protest that Armenia has yet to settle an ugly fight
with Azerbaijan, its neighbor and a close ally of Turkey, over a breakaway
Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan known as Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey sealed off its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with
Azerbaijan after Armenian troops occupied some territories around
Nagorno-Karabakh. There are limited charter flights between Turkey and
Armenia, but no scheduled traffic and no substantial trade.

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party holds a clear
majority in the Parliament, has threatened to delay ratification of the deal
until Armenia cedes these territories.

Beyond these distant and current disputes, some Turks argue that landlocked,
economically struggling Armenia has little to offer the ambitious Turkish
economy. Closer ties, they say, will only risk fraying Turkey¹s relations
with Azerbaijan, which is an energy giant.

³We have a lot to sell, but they neither have the money to buy nor a variety
of goods to offer,² said Ali Nail Celik, the head of the Businessmen¹s
Association in the border town of Agri, Turkey.

For advocates of the deal, however, normalized relations and open borders
would radically improve people¹s lives.

Kaan Soyak, co-chairman of the Turkish-Armenian Business Development
Council, said that by efficiently using existing rail lines, the two
countries could become a ³regional business hub.²

The United States, along with France and Russia, played a key role in
prodding the two sides to come to terms. President Obama placed an
encouraging call last week to the president of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan,
while Mrs. Clinton has placed 29 calls to Turkish and Armenian officials
since taking office, and pulled Mr. Sargsyan away from a soccer match to
talk on Saturday.

For the United States, a reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia would
alter the strategic balance in southeastern Europe. It could open new routes
for oil and gas pipelines to the West, as well as a possible alternative
supply line for American troops in Afghanistan, though administration
officials insisted that had nothing to do with their eagerness for a deal.

As Mr. Obama sought an agreement, he had to balance the strategic importance
of Turkey, a NATO ally eager for an agreement to smooth its entry into the
European Union, against the political muscle of 1.4 million people of
Armenian descent living in the United States.

After pledging during his campaign to support a Congressional resolution on
the Armenian genocide ? a perennial source of friction between the United
States and Turkey ? Mr. Obama has kept silent as president.

Mr. Sargsyan of Armenia received a chilly reception when he recently took a
weeklong tour to explain the agreement to the diaspora population in the
United States, France and Lebanon.

Despite noisy street protests, some influential expatriate groups in the
United States ? including the Western and Eastern Dioceses of the Armenian
Church, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Knights of Vartan and the
Armenian Assembly of America ? announced they would back the agreement, in a
joint statement that was released Oct. 1.

Mrs. Clinton said much difficult work remained. But on her way to Zurich¹s
airport for a flight to London, she got a phone call from Mr. Obama
congratulating her on her role in breaking the impasse.

Looking tired but energized by the experience, Mrs. Clinton said, ³It¹s what
you sign up for.²

Mark Landler reported from Zurich, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul. David
Stern contributed reporting from Kiev, Ukraine.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS