Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Serge Sargsian: Greatest risk is that protocols will be defeated

President discusses Genocide, Turkey policy in The Armenian Reporter exclusive
Karabakh agreement is not imminent
by Armenian Reporter staff
Published: Thursday October 01, 2009

President Serge Sargsian addresses a gathering of over 50 political parties in Armenia, Sept. 17. He called the meeting to discuss the protocols on Armenia-Turkey relations. Photolure

YEREVAN - President Serge Sargsian expressed confidence about Armenians' ability to benefit from the proposed normalization of relations with Turkey, even as he acknowledged that the planned signing of protocols with Turkey also involved risks and downsides.

Mr. Sargsian responded to questions posed by the editors of the Armenian Reporter ahead of a five-city, four-country tour that starts this week and includes visits to New York and Los Angeles on October 3 and 4, during which he said he intends to "consult" with Armenian diaspora communities on Armenia's Turkey policy.

Asked about the rewards and risks of proceeding with ratification and implementation of the protocols between Armenia and Turkey, the president said that with an end to the Turkish blockade of Armenia, "a potential market with a population of 70 million opens before our producers." He argued that "the greatest risk is that the protocols will not be implemented."

Non-implementation "will deepen the atmosphere of mistrust and enmity in the region," Mr. Sargsian warned. "For a long time after that, no politician will be able to touch the issue of normalizing Armenia-Turkey relations."

The Karabakh connection

For the protocols to be implemented, they must be ratified by the parliaments of Armenia and Turkey. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly linked the opening of the border with Armenia, promised in the protocols, to satisfaction of Azerbaijan's demands in the Karabakh peace process.

On the Karabakh issue, Mr. Sargsian revealed that he did "not expect to sign any document in Moldova" during his meeting with Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev during the Commonwealth of Independent States summit on October 8.

"Let me go further: in view of the limited progress we have made on agreeing to very few portions of the Madrid Document, we are quite far from signing any document at this stage," the president told the Armenian Reporter.

Mr. Sargsian took the position that normalization of relations with Turkey would help generate the kind of trust in the region that is a prerequisite for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Moreover, he said, "The only way Turkey can help the resolution of the Karabakh conflict is by not interfering."

"In spite of the Genocide"

Mr. Sargsian expressed his interest in the normalization of relations with Turkey even before his election as president. On December 22, 2006, as defense minister, he authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed "In spite of the Genocide..." As prime minister, Mr. Sargsian reiterated the position in an October 22, 2007, conversation with the Armenian Reporter and elsewhere.

Since the start of his presidency in April 2008, Mr. Sargsian has made normalization of relations with Turkey a centerpiece of his foreign policy.

In this week's interview, the president conceded that as a result of the provisions of the protocols, "perhaps in some countries and in some circumstances, the Armenian lobby will face certain difficulties" in pursuing affirmation of the Armenian Genocide. But, he added, "It must also be understood that there are bound to be certain complications in such a difficult process."

He expressed confidence, however, that "sooner or later" all the countries that have not yet recognized the Armenian Genocide will do so. He did not elaborate.

"The overarching purpose of the process for the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide is to see the Turkish people and Turkey follow the lead of numerous civilized countries and recognize the fact of the Genocide," the president added. "There is the current generation of Turks, who must come to terms with their own history. I think our present initiative is opening doors for this internal discussion, this internal reconciliation."

The full text of the interview appears here.

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