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TURKEY-ARMENIA: THE POINT REACHED

Ömer Engin LÜTEM, Retired Ambassador
21 October 2009 - AVIM - www.avim.org.tr
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Following President Gül’s short visit to Yerevan last year to watch the Football Match between the two countries’ national teams, the negotiations for the normalization of relations and cooperation between the two countries have fastened. About a year later the sides have signed on these matters the two protocols on October 10th in Zurich. Armenia President Serje Sarkisyan coming to Bursa four days later for the return Football Match has been a sign of friendship and goodwill which are essential for Turkey-Armenia relations.
With these protocols, the requests of both countries from each other have been realized. For Turkey, recognition of existing borders emphasized by her since 1992 and Turkey’s recommendation in 2005 to create a “Joint Historical Commission” concerning the genocide allegations have been accepted in principle. On the other hand, Armenia has achieved its long lasting desire for the opening of the Turkish borders and establishing of diplomatic relations with Turkey.
This way, the protocols have drawn the legal framework for the Turkey-Armenia relations and cooperation. However, some problems exist on their entry into force and on their implementation.
From the Armenian point of view, the parties forming the Government have enough majority in the Parliament to ratify the protocols. But, in this country, the opposition is more active outside the Parliament. It is still remembered that ten people have died in the demonstrations organized by the opposition parties claiming that President Sarkisyan’s election has been fraudulent. Going back ten years, it can be noted that an armed opposition group had invaded the Parliament, murdering the Speaker of Parliament, the Prime Minister, and some deputies. The opposition action towards the protocols has already been started and a few days ago, the Dashnak Party has been able to organize a demonstration in Yerevan with over ten thousand participants. If the Armenian National Congress headed by former President Ter Petrosyan who forms the backbone of the opposition joins to Dashnaks, greater demonstrations and some violent acts can take place. This will surely affect the Armenian Parliament.
But for Armenia, the greater problem is Diaspora. The recognition of Turkey-Armenia border in the first protocol and the examination of the “historical dimension” in the second protocol, are matters almost completely opposing some convictions being regarded almost as holy by the Diaspora. Thus, Diaspora organizations believe their identities are being threatened. President Sarkisyan has tried to ease these reactions by visiting countries where Diaspora Armenians are present and making statements there. Although some Armenian organizations have unwillingly supported President Sarkisyan, Dashnaks and their supporters have shown their opposition to the President in an unconsidered manner. President Sarkisyan has not changed his attitude. But, in order to partly satisfy Dashnaks and other oppositions, it is likely that Armenia will make some interpretations concerning the application of the protocols and bring forward some requests which will be unacceptable by Turkey. We will consider this matter in depth below.
Oppositions towards the protocols exist in Turkey also. Similar to Dashnaks, but from a completely different point of view, the passages on the recognition of the borders and “historical dimension” is being criticized. On the other hand, in Turkey the Government, opposition parties and the public opinion have agreed on the idea that the protocols should not hinder the interests of Azerbaijan. On this matter, since the Government committed itself many times, even in the Azerbaijan Parliament, and has a majority in the Parliament, it is likely that the protocols will be ratified despite the continuing arguments.
A fact that weakens those opposing the protocols in Turkey, Armenia and Diaspora, is that all the concerning countries (even countries like Spain which is not directly involved) and organizations like the UN, EU and NATO are satisfied with the signing of the protocols and openly states their approval. In other words, the protocols have been acclaimed world wide.
An essential problem for Turkey is when the Turkish Grand National Assembly will ratify the protocols. The general belief is that since the resolution of the Karabakh conflict will take many years, the Parliament will ratify the protocols only when Armenia and Azerbaijan formally agree on principles concerning the resolution of this conflict. However, despite the progress that the Minsk group achieved, when an agreement will be reached are still unknown and it is likely that this will take a long time. In this situation, will the protocols await ratification in the Turkish Grand National Assembly for months, or maybe even years?
If the ratification process lengthens, with the provocation of Armenia and Diaspora, Turkey will first receive objections then pressures from the EU and especially the USA. Diaspora has already started to activate the draft resolution H.Res.252 in the House of Representatives which calls upon USA to recognize the genocide allegations. The delay of the Turkish ratification will increase the number of supporters of this resolution which still has 134 co-sponsors, and the likelihood of the US Government to prevent the draft will decrease. Moreover, pressures will be put on President Obama to use the word genocide in his 24th April speech. In summary, for Turkey, a coming back to the previous years can take place. Thus, Turkey does not have much time to ratify the protocols and it is useful that this situation is resolved before upcoming April.
After the ratification and entering into force of the protocols, it is highly likely that problems will arise concerning their implementation. On this matter, Armenian authorities have already started giving some signs. In a speech delivered by President Sarkisyan on October 11 entitled “Address to Armenians”, it has been put forth that
“no relations with turkey can question the reality of the patricide and the genocide perpetrated against the Armenian nation, genocide is a known fact and it should be recognized and condemned by the whole progressive humanity, and the relevant sub-commission to be established under the intergovernmental commission, is not a commission of historians.” These words practically make the sub-commission on the historical dimension mentioned in the protocol useless.
In the same speech, the Armenian President has also stated that “the issue of the existing border between Armenia and Turkey is to be resolved through prevailing norms of the international law. The protocols do no go beyond that.” Since the recognition of the border between Turkey and Armenia is confirmed in the first protocol, which border issue is being mentioned?
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisyan has stated that Armenia actually and legally recognizes the Armenian borders inherited from the Soviet period. But, at the same time, he said that the property of Armenians in Turkey before 1915 should be taken into consideration. On the other hand, Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan has pointed out that compensation to be given to the “genocide victims’ descendants” should be discussed.
As can be seen, Armenian authorities are attempting to re-open issues already resolved in the protocols, and to raise new issues such as compensation, not mentioned in the protocols or anywhere else.
In conclusion, the signing of the protocols has been a great leap in the normalization of relations between the two countries. But, even if the protocols are ratified, some issues can still arise which could negatively affect the much desired peace and cooperation between the countries.

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