Thursday, April 22, 2010

Protocols on the Rocks

The Armenian ruling coalition's announcement today that is putting a halt to the ratification process of the normalization protocols signed last year with Turkey was perhaps only an official confirmation of what has been obvious for some time now: that the accords are frozen in place.

Since their signing last October, the protocols -- designed to open up the borders and restore diplomatic relations -- have been languishing in parliament in both Ankara and Yerevan, with each side accusing the other one of adding conditions that were not initially agreed upon. The Armenians say the problem lies with Turkey, which has made clear that progress on the accords depends on progress surrounding the also frozen Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The Turks, meanwhile, say the problem is with a decision made by the Armenian constitutional court, which gave the accords a green light while making some stipulations that Ankara finds objectionable (particularly regarding the genocide issue).

In many ways, it appears that the process that started as roadmap to reconciliation is now turning into a game of diplomatic chicken, especially considering that April 24, the day the genocide is commemorated, is just around the corner. From a Reuters analysis:
Analysts said the peace process was far from over, and the suspension, rather than a full withdrawal, was designed to shift the pressure onto Turkey.

"This was a lot weaker than feared," said Yerevan-based U.S. analyst Richard Giragosian. "This is a political tactic rather than a shift in strategic policy."

Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan, who also faces resistance to the rapprochement from opponents at home and the huge Armenian diaspora abroad, was due to make a statement on national television later on Thursday.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Armenia and Turkey to "make every effort" to advance normalisation, which would boost stability in the volatile south Caucasus, a region criss-crossed by pipelines carrying oil and gas to the West.

Obama will make a speech on the mass killings of Armenians on April 24, the 95th anniversary of the events, and was expected to address progress on the accords.

Turkey has demanded that ethnic Armenian forces pull back from the frontlines of Nagorno-Karabakh as a condition for ratifying the peace deal. Armenia says Nagorno-Karabakh is a strictly separate issue.

The Turkish condition is aimed at placating close Muslim ally Azerbaijan, an oil and gas exporter which lost control over Nagorno-Karabakh when ethnic Armenians backed by Christian Armenia broke away as the Soviet Union collapsed.

Semih Idiz, a foreign affairs columnist for Turkey's Milliyet newspaper, told CNN Turk the Armenian decision was meant to put pressure on Erdogan ahead of April 24, when Armenians will again press Obama to fulfil a campaign pledge to label the killings as genocide.

"There's nothing to upset Ankara too much. This does not mean the process is over...This is a personal call to Erdogan, since he made the Nagorno-Karabakh precondition," Idiz said.
You can read the full piece here. Previous post on Turkey and Armenia here.

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