Protocols To End Turkish Blockade Are Signed As Turkey Links Impleme

by Vincent Lima

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Thursday October 15, 2009

Yerevan – The foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey on October 10
signed a historic accord that promises to end the 16-year Turkish
blockade of Armenia, even as Ankara insisted that implementation was
unlikely without major Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan. Armenia
has ruled out such concessions as a precondition for proceeding with
the agreement.

Under the terms of the accord, which consists of two protocols and a
timetable, the border would be opened two months after ratification
by the parliaments of the two countries.

The agreement was the outcome of "soccer diplomacy" initiated by
President Serge Sargsyan of Armenia, who seized the opportunity of a
Turkey-Armenia World Cup qualifying match in September 2008 to invite
his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, to Armenia. Taking up Mr. Gul’s
return invitation, Mr. Sargsyan on October 14 went to Turkey to watch
the return match and press for prompt ratification of the protocols.

Foreign Ministers Edward Nalbandian of Armenia and Ahmet Davutoglu
of Turkey signed the protocols in Zurich. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton and her Russian, French, EU, and Swiss counterparts were on
hand to witness the signing. But they were called upon to engage in a
frantic diplomatic intervention as last-minute objections threatened
to derail the signing. The ceremony took place three hours after the
scheduled time.

The diplomats have declined to describe the issues that arose, but
it appears that the Turkish side planned to make a post-signing
declaration that would link implementation of the protocols to
"progress" in the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, and the Armenian
side objected.

Mrs. Clinton told reporters later that Armenia and Turkey each had
objections to the other’s prepared statement to be delivered after
the signing. In the end, no statements were made at the ceremony.

"There was an agreement that the protocols should speak for
themselves," Mrs. Clinton said in a press briefing soon after the
signing. "They have been carefully, painstakingly negotiated over
many months…. People are free to say whatever else they want,
but let the protocols be the statement."

Under the protocols, the sides agree to establish diplomatic relations,
open the border, and "implement a dialogue on the historical
dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the
two nations, including an impartial scientific examination of the
historical records and archives to define existing problems and
formulate recommendations." For this dialogue, an intergovernmental
commission with a sub-commission "on the historical dimension" is to
be established. The proposed sub-commission is controversial because
it could give credence to the Turkish contention that the jury is still
out on whether the events of 1915-17 or 1915-23 constituted genocide.

The parties also confirm "the mutual recognition of the existing
border between the two countries as defined by the relevant treaties
of international law."

Signing statement In a televised address just a few hours before the
signing ceremony, President Serge Sargsyan had presented Yerevan’s
official interpretation of the protocols in what amounted to a
signing statement.

After arguing that there is "no alternative to the establishment of the
relations with Turkey without any precondition," the president strongly
reaffirmed Armenia’s commitment to the universal affirmation and
condemnation of the Armenian Genocide, ruled out any linkage between
the implementation of the protocols and the resolution of the Karabakh
conflict, and warned Turkey against dragging its feet on ratification.

He also took the position that the protocols left the matter of
the border between Turkey and Armenia "to be resolved through the
prevailing norms of international law."

The prepared statement that Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian was
supposed to deliver in Zurich presumably made some of the same points.

According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu of Turkey objected to a reference in the statement to
the Genocide.

Karabakh linkage Turkey closed the border with Armenia in 1993 in
solidarity with Azerbaijan, as Turkish-supported Azerbaijani troops
suffered setbacks in their efforts to thwart the independence of
Nagorno-Karabakh. Since then, Turkey has insisted on the withdrawal
of Armenian forces from disputed territories as a precondition for
opening the border.

The protocols unveiled on August 31 and signed on October 10 make no
reference to Karabakh and Azerbaijan. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan of Turkey has consistently held that Turkey would not open
the border unless that precondition is met. Armenia categorically
rejects any linkage between the two issues.

If the Karabakh conflict is resolved, "our people will quickly
adopt the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations," Mr. Erdogan
announced after a high-level meeting of his ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP) on October 12. "I want to reiterate once
again that Turkey cannot adopt a positive attitude unless Armenia
withdraws from occupied Azerbaijani territories," he added.

In his prepared statement for Zurich, Mr. Davutoglu was almost
certainly going to make the same point. According to Hurriyet, Mr.

Nalbandian found that unacceptable.

International reaction

President Barack Obama reportedly called Mrs. Clinton to congratulate
her on helping the parties find a way to sign notwithstanding their
objections to the statements. Both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have
called for the normalization of relations in a reasonable timeframe
and without preconditions.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the signing a "historic
decision" that "constitutes a milestone toward the establishment
of good neighborly relations." He expressed hope that the protocols
would be "swiftly ratified by the Parliaments of Armenia and Turkey
to ensure full normalization of their bilateral relations."

The Armenian delegation in Zurich included Armenia’s ambassador to
Switzerland, Charles Aznavour.