U.S.-backed Armenian-Turkish pact falls apart

U.S.-backed Armenian-Turkish pact falls apart after neither side moves
to ratify treaty aimed at resolving disputes

2010-04-24 13:39:00

ArmInfo. Armenia said it is abandoning a U.S.-backed agreement with
Turkey to reopen the border between the two countries, until Ankara
drops preconditions and ratifies the deal, Marc Champion says in his
article in Wall Street Journal.

He says that in a televised statement to the nation, Armenian
President Serzh Sargsyan accused Ankara of stalling ratification of
the agreement, which was signed in October. He said Turkey was
treating the process as "an end in itself," whose main goal was to
prevent the U.S. from acknowledging the Ottoman Empire’s 1915 massacre
of Armenians as genocide.

"For a whole year, Turkey has done everything to protract time and
fail the process," said Sargsyan. "Reasonable time frames have, in our
opinion, elapsed. The Turkish practice of passing the 24th of April at
any cost is simply unacceptable."

The Armenian decision came just days before President Barack Obama is
due to make the White House’s annual statement on the April 24
anniversary of the massacres, in which up to 1.5 million people were
killed. The Obama administration has repeatedly argued against a
genocide declaration on grounds that it would torpedo efforts to
secure the border deal between Turkey and Armenia.

The agreement signed in October was designed to cut through a range of
disputes between Turkey and Armenia. Relations were poisoned by the
1915 massacres, the scale of which Turkey has never acknowledged.

In the 1990s, relations suffered further, when Armenia fought a war
over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, a close Turkish
ally, leaving Armenia in control of a swathe of Azeri territory.
Turkey closed the border in protest, in 1993. Armenia and Turkey began
secret talks two years ago to secure a deal that would reopen the
border, establish diplomatic relations, and set up a joint commission
to discuss problems of history, such as the 1915 killings.

A year ago Thursday, the two sides set out a road map for the deal,
and in October, they signed it. Neither side, however, has ratified
the agreement. Armenia has waited for Ankara to move first, while
Ankara – under heavy pressure from Azerbaijan – insisted there should
first be progress on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, an issue
not mentioned in the agreement.

"It is up to them to decide how they want to move with the
ratification process," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
told reporters in Ankara on Thursday. "I have expressed our loyalty to
the protocols on numerous occasions. We will press ahead with the
process on the principle that treaties are binding."

Both sides stand to gain if the border opens. For Armenia, it could
reduce the landlocked nation’s economic isolation. For Turkey, it
could remove an irritant in relations with the U.S. and in its
accession talks with the European Union.

Turkey strongly denies that genocide took place in 1915, describing
the deaths – the number of which it disputes – as the tragic result of a
civil war in which all sides suffered.

Most historians in the field say the Ottoman state committed what
today would be called genocide.

As the Armenian side grew increasingly frustrated, Armenia’s
parliament this year passed legislation that would allow Sargsyan to
withdraw his country’s signature from treaties, but the president said
Thursday he would leave October’s agreement intact, out of respect for
the U.S., Russia and France, which back the deal.

"This was the less bad of two options," said Thomas de Waal, Caucasus
expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington
think tank. "Armenia was never going to continue with the status quo,
the question was how it left the process – leaving the door ajar, or
slamming it shut."

Thursday’s decision left the door open to diplomacy, but also
responded to Sargsyan’s critics at home and among Armenia’s large
diaspora, says de Waal. These critics say Sargsyan has been duped by
Turkey into providing Obama with an excuse not to call the 1915
massacres genocide, as he pledged to do in his presidential election
campaign.

Since a U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted last month to
recognize the genocide, the White House has lobbied against a full
vote on the House floor, saying it would kill the border agreement
between Turkey and Armenia. Ankara reacted furiously to the March
vote, recalling its ambassador.

Obama pledged during his election campaign to recognize the Armenian
genocide, but, like several presidents before him, has balked once in
office, faced with angering Turkey – a member of the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization and an important player in the Middle East. Obama
isn’t expected to use the term genocide in his statement Saturday,
analysts say.

Prospects for ratifying the Turkey-Armenia deal have long looked poor,
but analysts say progress is now unlikely at least until after Turkish
elections, which must be held by mid-2011. A meeting in Washington
this month between Sargsyan and Erdogan went poorly, according to
people familiar with the matter.

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