IWPR: Armenia Freezes Peace Process With Turkey

Naira Melkmyan

Institute for War & Peace Reporting IWPR
April 27 2010

Russia and US put brave face on move, welcoming fact that Armenia
has not withdrawn from process entirely.

Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan has frozen the peace process with
neighbouring Turkey, and accused Ankara of trying to insert fresh
conditions into an agreement they reached last year.

Speaking on April 22, he confirmed, however, that Armenia was still
keen to sign the original deal. The remarks came significantly just
two days before the date when Armenians around the world remember
the killings of Armenians in World War One Ottoman Turkey that they
regard as genocide.

"For a whole year, there has been no lack of high-ranking Turkish
officials expressing prior conditions in public speeches. For a
whole year, Turkey has done all it can to waste time, and to break
the process," he said.

"We want to keep the possibility of a normalisation of our mutual
relations, since we want peace. Our political goal of a normalisation
of Armenian-Turkish relations remains in force."

Russia and the United States, which had been pushing for the peace
process to continue, put a brave face on the statement, welcoming
the fact that Sargsyan had not withdrawn from the process entirely.

The two presidents met at a football match between their two sides
in 2008, then a year ago agreed the two protocols under which their
mutual border would open and diplomatic relations be created.

But in the last 12 months, Armenia’s policy of trying to secure
international recognition of the Ottoman killings as genocide has
angered Turkey. Issues surrounding the Nagorny Karabakh conflict,
in which Turkey supports Armenia’s rival Azerbaijan, have also raised

Experts said therefore that Sargsyan’s statement was merely a
confirmation of an already existing situation.

"The process was frozen before," Alexander Iskandaryan, director
of the Kavkaz Institute, said. "The problems are in Turkey itself,
and they are largely connected with Turkish internal politics,
specifically the forthcoming parliamentary elections."

Turkey has yet to respond to the Armenian statement. "We are
evaluating the content of this statement and what it means" legally
and politically, Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin
told Agence France-Presse.

"In this context, we are also discussing steps that could be taken
in the coming period," he added, without elaborating.

One Turkish commentator, Yusuf Kanli of Hurriyet Daily News, said
the Armenian decision was a political one.

"Armenia’s move to start the process of ratifying the protocols was
a cunning political move designed to corner Turkey and force it to
also act on the ratification of the protocols," he wrote.

"The present decision of the Armenian coalition government to halt the
parliamentary ratification process is a political decision conceding
that the earlier move has failed to achieve the designed effect
in Ankara.

"Yerevan should understand that Turkey has extended it a hand in
peace and good neighbourliness. If it wants to turn down that hand,
it will be its own choice."

Sargsyan’s statement was accompanied by one from the ruling coalition
in parliament calling for a halt to the protocols’ ratification

"The Armenian side’s constructive steps and the expectations of
the world community have consistently struggled with the Turkish
side’s inconsistency, manoeuvring, and policy of permanently raising
conditions, which pushed into a dead-end the process of ratifying
the Armenian-Turkish protocols signed in Zurich on October 10, 2009
in a sensible timescale," the statement said.

Ruben Melkonyan, a Turkey expert in Armenia, said the coordinated
statements may well be an expression of impatience from Armenia,
and a sign that the ratification process cannot last forever.

The two countries’ different interpretations of the 1915 mass slaughter
of Armenians in Turkey are the main block in the path to normalised

Turkey denies genocide and talks of a forced exile in wartime
conditions. All the same, the genocide has been officially recognised
by countries all over the world including recent votes by the US
House of Representatives and the Swedish parliament.

The US State Department put a positive twist on the announcement,
welcoming Sargsyan’s decision not to halt the process entirely.

"We understand that … both sides … reached a hurdle in the
process regarding the ratification of the protocols. I think we’re
encouraged that neither side has walked away from the process, but
I think we all recognise that we’ll just need some time to perhaps
create some new momentum that allows the process to move forward,"
said Assistant Secretary of State Philip J Crowley.

"This is something that the Armenians had hinted to us that they were
prepared to do, and so we’re not surprised by the announcement."

There was a matching statement from Moscow, where the foreign ministry
was encouraged by Sargsyan’s announcement that the process was only
frozen, not ended.

"We express our hope that the two countries manage to overcome the
current difficult situation and create the conditions for a full
normalisation of relations, something that all countries in the region
are interested in," the ministry said in a statement.

Observers in Moscow said Sargsyan had probably been forced to take
action by opposition parties, which had begun to campaign more vocally
against the peace deal.

"The problem is that in Armenia, restoring relations with Turkey is
not very popular. Many people think that here Armenia is losing its
honour, and that it is effectively agreeing with the fact that Turkey
does not recognise the genocide in exchange for opening its borders,"
Sergei Markov, a member of the Russian parliament and a political
analyst, said.

"Apart from that, many think that Turkey will use its influence to
ensure that Armenia will not support Nagorny Karabakh."

But if Sargsyan hoped to satisfy the opposition parties, then he was
disappointed, since his statement was met with fresh protests. A group
of 14 opposition groups – including two with seats in parliament,
Dashnaktsutyun and Heritage — demanded he should take his signature
off the protocols.

"Armenia, both in parliament and outside, does not have the right to
put resolutions that threaten Armenian interests on the political
agenda. Therefore we urge our colleagues from the coalition to,
instead of this half measure, raise the clear question of taking
these protocols off the political agenda," Stepa Safaryan, head of
the Heritage fraction in parliament, said.

Naira Melkmyan is a freelance journalist in Yerevan.

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