Monday, October 12, 2009

Turkey and Armenia: The Rocky Road Ahead

I have a briefing up on the World Politics Review website looking at the protocols recently signed by Turkey and Armenia to restore diplomatic relations and some of the hurdles these protocols might face in being implemented. From the briefing:
Yesterday's signing of protocols by Turkey and Armenia that pave the way for restoring relations between the two countries was, without a doubt, a historic moment. But it's still too early to break out the champagne.

The protocols -- signed in Zurich in the presence of the American, French and Russian foreign ministers -- spell out in the clearest terms to date what needs to happen in order for diplomatic ties to be restored and for the two countries' borders to be reopened. But significant hurdles, some of which involve actors outside of Turkey and Armenia themselves, still stand in the way of that actually happening.

Ankara and Yerevan broke off relations in 1993, when Turkey closed its border with Armenia. The move followed Armenia's invasion of the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, but the animosity between the two countries goes backs decades further, to what Armenia alleges was the genocide of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

Turkey admits that Armenians were killed, but claims in significantly lower numbers, and fiercely rejects suggestions that the killings were genocide. Ankara argues instead that the deaths were a result of a civil uprising, when Armenians joined forces with invading Russians.

The protocols -- signed with the help of Swiss mediation and American and European arm twisting -- call for the renewal of diplomatic ties, opening of the common border and the establishment of a host of intergovernmental sub-commissions. The most significant of the latter will include experts who will take a look at the "historical dimension" of the Turkish-Armenian relationship.

The only catch -- and a potentially deal-breaking one -- is that the protocols will only go into effect once the parliaments in both countries ratify them. And in both Turkey and Armenia, domestic opposition could stand in the way of that happening....

....Still, restoring ties promises to pay significant dividends for both Turkey and Armenia.

For Turkey, restoring relations with Armenia is critical, both for its European Union candidacy and for its regional ambitions. Ankara hopes to play a larger political and diplomatic role in the surrounding region, and to establish itself as an important energy transit route. The closed border with Armenia remains one of the glaring exceptions to Turkey's new foreign policy, which it describes as "zero problems with neighbors." It also leaves Turkey -- and the West -- dependent on volatile Georgia as the main transit route for Caspian oil and gas.

For Armenia, restoring relations with Turkey would end its isolation in the region and could provide the cash-strapped country with new economic opportunities.

The question for both countries, as well as for some of their neighbors in the region, is whether they can find a way to create a new reality in the Caucasus, or if instead they will remain hostages to history and enmity.
(You can read the full briefing here.)

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