Armenia and Turkey to sign protocols on relations
But implementation of “roadmap” may be again delayed
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Tuesday September 01, 2009
President Abdullah Gul of Turkey, left, grabs President Serge Sargsian's hand during their meeting at the EU summit in Prague on May 7, 2009. With them are Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, center, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, partly obscured on left.
Washington - The protocols "on the establishment of diplomatic relations" and "on the development of bilateral relations" were released on August 31 by the foreign ministries of Armenia, Turkey, and Switzerland, which has served as host to bilateral talks. The release of the documents was quickly welcomed by France, Russia, and the United States.
The protocols are now expected to be formally signed after six weeks of domestic discussion. The timing of the release and the discussion was hardly accidental. The match between Armenian and Turkish national soccer teams is due to take place in Turkey in exactly six weeks.
For his part, Armenia's President Serge Sargsian made his attendance at the match - which would signify continued viability of Armenian-Turkish dialogue - conditional on tangible progress towards Turkey opening its border with Armenia.
But Turkish leaders have explicitly and repeatedly linked such an opening to satisfaction of at least some of Azerbaijan's demands in the Karabakh conflict.
Shortly after the August 31 release, Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told Turkish media that "a longer process is required" for a border opening. Mr. Davutoglu also pledged to "guard" Azerbaijan's interests as part of talks with Armenia, according to an Associated Press citation.
Judging by the published text, establishment of diplomatic relations is also far from imminent. The two protocols would have to take effect simultaneously and only after ratification by the two nations' parliaments. Since the timing for ratification is not spelled out additional delays are possible.
The timing and success of that ratification is likely to depend on how Turkish leaders interpret the course of Karabakh negotiations.
Meanwhile, as in the past Turkey will use reports of "progress" in talks with Armenia to deter the United States and others from recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
The documents made public this week are believed to have been agreed and initialed by Armenia and Turkey last April, weeks before the April 22 statement that set out the two countries' intentions to normalize relations.
But Armenian officials have since charged Turkey with dragging its feet on moving forward with the agreement.
In an interview published just hours before the release of the protocols, President Sargsian sounded pessimistic about Turkey's intentions.
"[Armenia and Turkey] have agreements," the Armenian leader told the Russian-language service of BBC. "And I think it is quite normal and right for the sides to implement their agreements.
"Regrettably, I have not seen a great desire or willingness [by Turkey] to implement these agreements."
The first indications that some kind of development on Armenia-Turkey track was afoot came on August 28, when Turkish leader Recep Tayyib Erdogan phoned his Azerbaijani opposite Ilham Aliyev to discuss the issue. The next day, Mr. Erdogan dispatched two senior diplomats to detail Turkey's intentions to Mr. Aliyev in person.
And as was reportedly the case with the April 22 statement, the release of the protocols is likely to have come with some American prodding.
According to a report by Turkey's Sabah daily, co-chair of Turkey caucus in U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) warned Turkish leaders on August 27 that Congress would likely move on adoption of the Armenian Genocide resolution if Armenia-Turkey dialogue is "hindered."
That warning came a week after Armenia's President discussed talks with Turkey in a phone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on August 20.
Most controversial points kept out of protocol
While the timeframe for implementation of the agreements remains in doubt, the protocols' content seems to mollify at least some of the key Armenian concerns.
Turkey had long conditioned normalization of relations with Armenia on three issues: mutual recognition of borders, end to Armenian Genocide affirmation campaign and satisfaction of Azerbaijani demands as part of the Karabakh dispute.
Armenian leaders have in turn repeatedly stressed they have no claims on Turkey's territory, have no intention or even ability to end the affirmation campaign and would not make unilateral compromises to Azerbaijan.
In reports earlier this year, Turkish media suggested that Ankara was seeking to have Armenia recognize the 1921 Kars Treaty, signed by Turkey and newly Soviet Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia. The Treaty established the existing border and among other things absolved Turkish officials of crimes committed during World War I.
Since 2005 Turkey has also demanded the establishment a so-called commission of historians, acquiescing to which could amount to questioning the veracity of Armenian Genocide.
The protocol on bilateral relations makes no mention of the Kars Treaty or the Karabakh conflict. And it contains only watered-down language on a "sub-commission" that would "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."
Six other sub-commissions would be set up under an inter-governmental commission to discuss everything from political relations to environment along the lines proposed by former President Robert Kocharian in an April 2005 letter to Prime Minister Erdogan.
If in fact ratified and implemented, the protocols would pave the way for normalization of relations "without pre-conditions" as has been advocated by successive Armenian governments.
Strategy, politics, and opportunism
Themes behind Turkey’s surprise move on Armenia
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Friday September 04, 2009
Washington - Just days ago the Armenian-Turkish talks appeared at standstill. Even the customarily optimistic American diplomats were calling the process "frozen" and progress "not inevitable." The Economist cited a Western diplomat who said the effort was "on its last legs."
Armenian leaders, initially optimistic about the process, likewise became downbeat.
And Turkish leaders continued to link the establishment of relations with Armenia to a resolution of the Karabakh conflict, widely seen as a much more difficult dispute to resolve.
What then is behind the Turkish government's surprise decision to move ahead with the normalization process?
Three sets of reasons can be suggested.
The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – influenced by the ideas of Ahmet Davutoglu, now the foreign minister – has made considerable progress in improving relations with Turkey's neighbors.
If in the past Turkey had problematic relations with nearly all countries adjacent to it, today ties have improved considerably with Greece, Iran, Russia, and Syria, and efforts are underway to engage the government of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Turkish leaders believe that by having good relations with neighbors, Turkey frees itself from constraints that hinder the growth of its influence globally. Ankara has long wanted to evolve from the role of the Western outpost it was in the years of Cold War and the subsequent American policies in the Middle East, or as a conduit for oil and gas transportation to Europe.
So far only Cyprus and Armenia relations remain problematic. If the Turkish occupation of Cyprus blocks Turkey's accession to the European Union, one-sided Turkish support for Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia provides an additional irritant to Turkey's relations with Russia, Europe, and the United States.
"There is a status quo in the Caucasus at the moment which is not useful any of the three countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey," Mr. Davutoglu told Today's Zaman on September 1. And Turkey will continue to challenge the status quo by engaging Armenia and championing the resolution of the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, he added.
But for Turkey the issues of Cyprus and Armenia are eclipsed by the magnitude of problems presented by the country's Kurdish population. As often happens, grand long-term visions can come into conflict with an immediate short-term necessity.
Nigar Goksel, a Turkish analyst of Armenia, points out that the publication of Armenia-Turkey protocols this October is likely to coincide with parliamentary consideration of the government's "democratization initiative" aimed at expanding rights for Turkey's Kurds.
The measure's critics claim it amounts to an amnesty for members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting a 30-year guerrilla campaign against the Turkish government. The Turkish political opposition also sees the effort as the ruling party's grab for Kurdish votes.
"It is a tough time for the Turkish government to make an unexpectedly forthcoming step on [Armenia relations] now, given the amount of political capital the Kurdish initiative is using up," Ms. Goksel told the Armenian Reporter.
As part of political bargaining in parliament, it would not be unreasonable to expect Turkish leaders to use the Armenia protocols as a way to deflect opposition from the Kurdish initiative.
Even if the protocols are submitted for ratification, "ultimately there is no guarantee that the protocols will pass parliament," Ms. Goksel said, suggesting a scenario similar to the 2003 parliamentary vote that refused to allow U.S. land forces' transit through Turkish territory in the war against Iraq.
As in the past, the opponents of ratification will likely cite the lack of progress in the Karabakh talks as justifying their opposition, she said. And the government will have other reasons for stalling on the vote.
Some of those other reasons have to do with Turkey's tactic of using the dialogue with Armenia as a shield against international campaigns for recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
The outright recognition of the Genocide by President Barack Obama would be a major blow to the Turkish government's prestige, leaving Mr. Erdogan vulnerable to his political opposition at home.
In the past U.S. leaders have also used the threat of genocide recognition to mobilize Turkish support for America's foreign policy initiatives. By holding talks with Armenia, Turkey is also trying to shield itself from reopening that vulnerability.
The first Armenian-Turkish announcement on the protocols was conveniently made two days before President Obama's first April 24 statement.
President Serge Sargsian's visit to Turkey at the time when Armenia-Turkey protocols are expected to be signed this October would be a good argument for opponents of the congressional resolution on Armenian Genocide.
At the same time, Turkish leaders would probably believe it in their interest to postpone parliamentary consideration of the protocols, citing a lack of progress in the Karabakh talks and a need to get the Kurdish initiative through the parliament first. Ratification could then be re-launched, say closer to the month of April.
And after April 24, 2010, is done with, what can prevent another postponement?
"This kind of delaying would clearly not be transparent conduct [by the Turkish government], if that is in fact the plan," said Ms. Goksel. And while it is hard to guess the plan and predict what the ultimate outcome will be "there are enough reasons to be suspicious."