April 26 2009 20:01
The agreement between Turkey and Armenia on a “road map” to normalise
their relations is very good news. Their historic animosity since the
slaughter and mass deportation of Armenians from the collapsing Ottoman
empire in 1915 has destabilised the region, poisoned internal politics,
isolated and impoverished Armenia, and cast a shadow over Turkey’s
relations with Europe and America. Now there is a chance of beginning
to heal the wounds.
Yet first a word of caution. Last week’s declaration gave no clues to
the precise terms of the agreement, nor a timetable. It seems to have
been rushed out to enable Barack Obama, US president, to issue a
statement commemorating the 1915 massacres without using the word
“genocide” to describe them. That marked a sensible retreat from his
election campaign position in order not to alienate Turkey.
The prize of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation is worth it, but the
process remains fragile and bedevilled by mistrust. Both sides are
still only inching forward, and both face strong resistance at home to
making any concessions at all.
The deal would provide for diplomatic recognition, and reopening of the
border between them, which was closed by Turkey in 1993 after ethnic
Armenian forces seized control of Nagorno-Karabakh in neighbouring
Azerbaijan. Both moves would be done gradually to build confidence.
That is sensible.
On two vital points, however, there is still no clarity. A historical
commission is to be set up to investigate the events of 1915. How will
it be constituted and how will it work? If it decides that the
massacres did amount to genocide, or did not, it will still be
politically explosive unless there is agreement to abide by its
results. Second, what progress needs to be made on resolving the
Karabakh dispute for Turkey to reopen the border fully?
There seems to be a serious intent in both Ankara and Yerevan to find a
way forward in spite of opposition, including from the influential
Armenian diaspora in the US and European Union. But pressure on them
both from Washington, Brussels and – most significantly – from Moscow
for more progress and a clear timetable is still essential.
The one country that might try to scupper progress is Azerbaijan,
fearful that reopening the border would take away pressure for Armenia
to do a deal over Karabakh, or at least to withdraw from the buffer
zone where 500,000 Azeri refugees used to live. But the 19-year border
closure has done nothing to hasten an agreement on that score. All
sides have an interest in reconciliation, not confrontation.
THE FROZEN CONFLICTS START TO THAW
Wednesday 29 April 2009 17.15 BST
Under pressure from Brussels, Europe's 'wild east' is coming in from
the cold - but plenty of obstacles still remain
The EU's invitation to Belarus to attend a special summit in Prague
next week is the latest sign a spring thaw may be taking hold along
the ragged, fraught frontiers of Europe's "wild east". The so-called
frozen conflicts that have disfigured the region since the end of
the cold war are beginning to melt at the edges. Under pressure from
Brussels, the ice is starting to shift.
Most significant in strategic and economic terms is the burgeoning
rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia, which last week unveiled
a joint road map to normalise relations after almost a century of
hostility. The plan includes re-opening the border closed by Turkey
in 1993 in protest at Armenian support for separatists contesting
Azerbaijan's control of the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Despite effectively placing its membership bid on hold, the EU is happy
to piggyback on Turkey's considerable influence in the Caucasus and
the Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions for its own purposes. These
include the advancing of common trade, development, security and
human rights agendas and most importantly, perhaps, the securing of
non-Russian controlled energy supply routes from central Asia.
The kiss-and-make-up scenario now de veloping between Ankara and
Yerevan has thus been warmly welcomed in Brussels, and in the
US. Prospectively it makes it easier to draw relatively isolated
Armenia, which has long lived in Moscow's shadow, closer towards
the western fold. And that in turn dovetails nicely with developing
western ties other post-Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine.
A parallel thaw is underway between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have
begun talks on de-icing Nagorno-Karabakh. Oil-producing Azerbaijan,
on the shores of the Caspian, is a crucial player in terms of future
European energy supply and transit. It pays to keep it happy. Once
again the EU, along with Turkey, has been active in promoting the
nascent peace process. And the EU's Prague summit will host the next
encounter of the two countries' presidents.
It's possible to read too much into another EU-facilitated meeting
of old enemies, held last week between Georgian officials and
representatives of Russia and South Ossetia, the tiny separatist region
that sparked last summer's Caucasus war. The talks took place in a
tent and afterwards, the Georgians complained the Russians had set
up a "hotline" telephone link but failed to give them the number. All
the same, it was the first such meeting in the conflict zone and the
parties agreed to meet again. That's progress of sorts.
Recent political upheavals in Moldova, one of the more complex frozen
conflicts, have presented Brus sels with an additional opportunity
to advance its agenda and interests. And this opening coincides in
turn with the EU's controversial invitation to ostracised Belarus to
attend the Prague summit.
Once condemned as "Europe's last dictatorship", President Alexander
Lukashenko's regime has a dismal record of misrule and was previously
blacklisted by Brussels. But by bringing Belarus in from the cold,
the EU is again signalling that engagement, based on enlightened
self-interest, trumps confrontation. Responding positively so far,
Lukashenko has taken to describing his country as a "bridge" between
east and west.
The 27 EU heads-of-government will bestow their blessing on this 21st
century brand of Ostpolitik in Prague when they formally launch a new
"eastern partnership" with six former Soviet bloc states - Belarus,
Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Armenia. But for all the
positive signs, plenty of large and small obstacles remain with
potential to derail the whole enterprise.
Azerbaijan, for example, opposes any Turkey-Armenia rapprochement
while the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is unresolved. This tension, plus
the opposition of ultra-nationalists in all three countries, could
scupper both sets of negotiations. Then there is the wider issue of
how much is just talk and how much the EU can actually deliver, in
terms of financial and developmental aid, security, peace-building
and political reform to countries whose needs are enor mous and
growing. Goodwill may quickly dissipate once the six realise the new
partnership is not a path to EU membership but a substitute for it.
But the biggest unknown remains the attitude of Russia, which already
feels threatened by current trends and retains formidable wrecking
power should it choose to wield it. Whether the issue is South
Ossetia's "Passport to Pimlico" separatists, Ukraine's gas pipelines,
Nato exercises in Georgia, the future of Moldova's Transdniestria
region or Azerbaijan's and Armenia's geopolitical orientation, Russia
will continue to have a major say in a region it still regards as
within its sphere of influence.
In fact, Russia still seems to think it has a veto. Right now, the
EU is trying to demonstrate that is not the case.
TURKEY, ARMENIA AGREE TO ROADMAP ARTICLE
Wall Street Journal
April 22 2009
YEREVAN -- Turkey and Armenia said they have agreed a "roadmap"
to restoring relations between the two historic foes, a day before
U.S. President Barack Obama was expected to make a closely watched
statement on the 1915 mass murder of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
The agreement, worked out in marathon talks late Wednesday night with
U.S. and Swiss mediation, sets out a "sequence of steps" the two sides
must take toward restoring diplomatic relations and reopening their
border, which Turkey closed in 1993, according to people familiar
with the matter.
The statement was "a breakthrough," these people said, mainly because
for the first time it put both sides on the record saying they had
agreed to a framework for reconciliation. Crucially, however, no time
frame has yet been agreed upon.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal shortly before the
joint statement, President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia set an October
deadline for Turkey to re-open the border between the two countries. He
also said new conditions Turkish leaders appeared recently to set
for a deal, namely that Armenia must first settle a 20-year-old
territorial dispute with Azerbaijan, were "not acceptable." (Read
the full transcript.)
By insisting that Armenia and Azerbaijan first settle their conflict
over Nagorno Karabakh, a mainly Armenian-populated enclave of
Azerbaijan that separated after a bloody war in the early 1990s,
Turkish leaders had in recent days set back earlier hopes in Washington
and Brussels that Europe's only closed international border could
soon open, potentially stabilizing an important energy transit route
through the Caucasus.
But Turkish leaders are also eager to ensure Mr. Obama does not
recognize the 1915 massacre and deportation of up to 1.5 million
Armenians as "genocide," when he makes an annual statement on
Armenia's memorial day Friday. U.S. officials declined to comment
on the statement before it was made, but analysts said Wednesday
night's announcement should reduce pressure on Mr. Obama to use the
Turkey insists the enormous civilian Armenian death toll during World
War I were the result of the chaos and necessities of war, and not
of a policy to eliminate ethnic Armenians from Eastern Anatolia.
Armenian officials, meanwhile, were eager to ensure that Turkey said
on the record it has agreed a framework for reconciliation before
Mr. Obama's statement, worrying that if he were to use the genocide
word, Turkey would simply deny its involvement in any serious talks
with Armenia and walk away.
U.S. officials have been heavily involved in encouraging the
process. Earlier this month, Mr. Obama called President Ilham Aliyev
to discuss it. This week, Vice President Joe Biden talked by phone
with Mr. Sargsyan. The State Department's point man for the region,
Matthew Bryza, has spent five of the last six weeks on the ground in
the Caucasus, trying to break the deadlock.
The latest talks started in the wake of the war between Russia and
Georgia last September, when Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited
Yerevan for a World Cup qualifying match between the two countries'
soccer teams. Mr. Sargsyan said he wouldn't go to Turkey for the
second leg of the match in October if the border wasn't either open or
"on the eve" of opening by then.
"I was not supposed to travel to Turkey as a simple tourist or as
a football fan," said Mr. Sargsyan, who headed Nagorno Karabakh's
military effort during the war. "What's the sense in that?"
Such a move would likely end the current "soccer diplomacy" between
the two historic foes.
Turkey has come under severe pressure from Azerbaijan, which worries
that with the border reopened Armenia will have less incentive to
settle the conflict in Karabakh. Azeri leaders in recent weeks have
threatened no longer to favor Turkey as a customer and export route for
its oil and gas. Last week, Russian officials said Azerbaijan's state
oil company, SOCAR, had agreed to set terms in May for Azerbaijan to
sell natural gas to Russia.
A day after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey drew the
link to a settlement in Karabakh last week, Mr. Sargsyan went to
Tehran to initial an agreement for construction of a new $1.2 billion,
290-mile railway to connect Armenia with Iran's Persian Gulf. Should
the Turkish rail link remain closed, that would give Armenia its
alternative freight route to the rail connection through Georgia.
Akhurik, near Armenia's second city, Gyumri would be the main border
crossing from Armenia to Turkey should the border reopen. The road
leading to the border crossing is mud-surfaced, with potholes 20
feet in diameter. The long barrels of artillery and fixed tanks still
point at Turkey out of concrete bunkers.
During the Soviet era, 30 freight trains a day used to cross the border
at Akhurik, bringing bulk goods to and from Turkey, including meat
for a meat-processing plant. Trains from Azerbaijan and Russia brought
cotton from Central Asia, to supply Gyumri's textile plants. By 1993,
all three routes were blocked and the factories -- still recovering
from a 1988 earthquake that killed 25,000 people in the city -- closed
for good, laying off thousands. Seventy percent of all Armenian exports
and imports now come via a single route from Georgia's Black Sea ports.
Arsen Ghazarian, who runs a $40 million a year trucking and freight
forwarding business says he has already bought 7.5 acres of land in
Akhurik for a train container terminal as "an investment."
"We have a very small domestic market. If the border opened we could
also sell to Eastern Turkey," said Samvel Balasanyan, who founded
a local brewer, Gyumri Beer. "My grandfather lost five of his seven
brothers in the genocide, but we need to talk to and trade with our
neighbors," he said.
Diplomats and Armenian officials and businessmen haven't given up,
noting that Turkey needs to open the border if it wants to join
the European Union. Though talks on a Karabakh settlement have been
deadlocked for years. Mr. Sargsyan said he has seen promising signals
in recent days from Azerbaijan.
"Now is the time for a very serious exchange of possible developments
and ways to advance to a resolution," said Mr. Sargsyan. He said he
had agreed with international mediators to hold talks with Mr. Aliyev
when they meet at an E.U. event in Prague early next month.
Dashnaks Quit Armenia's Ruling Coalition
Armen Rustamian, announces the Amenian Revolutionary Federation's
departure from the governing coalition on April 27, 2009.
Emil Danielyan, Anush Martirosian
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) announced on
Monday its decision to pull out of Armenia's governing coalition, citing
`insurmountable fundamental disagreements' with President Serzh
Sarkisian over his conciliatory policy toward Turkey. (UPDATED)
The three other parties represented in the government defended that
In a written statement, the Dashnaktsutyun leadership in Armenia
reiterated the nationalist party's condemnation of an agreement on the
normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations announced by the two
governments on Wednesday. `We also have fundamental disagreements with
the Armenian authorities' position on some issues raised during
Armenia-Turkey negotiations,' it said.
The dramatic move followed a Saturday meeting between Sarkisian and two
Dashnaktsutyun leaders, Hrant Markarian and Armen Rustamian. According
to the latter, Sarkisian briefed them on the essence of the still
unpublicized `roadmap' for gradually normalizing Turkish-Armenian
relations. `The president's explanations did not satisfy us,' Rustamian
said on Monday.
Dashnaktsutyun strongly condemned the roadmap agreement just hours after
it was announced by the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries on the
night from April 22-23. Earlier last week, Markarian publicly lambasted
Sarkisian's year-long diplomatic overtures to Turkey, saying that
Yerevan has made major concessions to Ankara while failing to secure the
lifting the of the Turkish economic blockade of Armenia.
Rustamian echoed that criticism, saying that Armenia has effectively
ended its long-standing insistence on an unconditional establishment of
diplomatic relations and reopening of the border between the two
estranged nations. He claimed that Ankara continues to make that
conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and an end
to the decades-long campaign for worldwide recognition of the 1915-1918
mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
`The Turks are now trying to turn those preconditions into conditions
and include them into a package [deal with Armenia,]' Rustamian told a
news conference. `For them the key thing is to exploit the process of
normalization and they are doing that very well,' he said. `We must
Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian insisted on Monday, however, that the
two sides are heading for a far-reaching settlement `without
preconditions,' dismissing speculation that Ankara has tricked Yerevan
and the international community during year-long dialogue. `If Turkey
were to deceive us, it would first of all deceive itself, it would
deceive the international community, the United States, Russia, the
European Union,' Nalbandian told the Armenpress news agency in an
interview. `I think we have the impression that Turkey's government also
has a desire to move forward and normalize relations between the two
countries,' he added.
Nalbandian declined to divulge any details of the announced `roadmap,'
saying only that it contains `no provisions and principles' and is a
mere `time guideline for steps to be taken by the parties.' `Provisions
and principles will be contained only in an agreement or agreements that
are due to be signed by the two sides,' he said
Artur Baghdasarian, secretary of Armenia's National Security Council,
indicated on Saturday that the roadmap will not be disclosed to the
public before the signing of such an agreement. He spoke to journalists
after a meeting of the body advising Sarkisian on national security. The
latest developments in Turkish-Armenian dealings were high on the
According to Turkish and Western media, one of the key points of the
announced deal is the creation of a commission of historians that would
look into the 1915 massacres and determine whether they indeed
constituted a genocide. The Turkish government has for years been
advocating such a study. In an April 22 interview with `The Wall Street
Journal,' Sarkisian effectively confirmed that he has agreed to the
In a clear reference to this commission, Rustamian said that the
Turkish-Armenian understandings could deter more countries of the world
from officially recognizing the Armenian genocide. `We must never allow
the replacement of the process of international recognition by efforts
to force Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide,' he said. `One
process should not suspend the other.' `Nobody here doubts that Turkey
will do everything to avoid recognizing the Armenian genocide,' added
the Dashnaktsutyun leader.
Rustamian, who heads the Armenian parliament's committee on foreign
relations, confirmed that Dashnaktsutyun's departure from the four-party
coalition government means all members of the party holding senior
positions in the executive and legislative branches must now tender
their resignations. `That process has already begun,' he said.
In accordance its March 2008 power-sharing agreement, Dashnaktsutyun has
been represented in Sarkisian's four-party coalition cabinet by three
ministers and several deputy ministers. The influential party also holds
16 seats in the 131-member National Assembly.
Its exit will still leave Sarkisian with a comfortable majority in the
parliament. His Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) alone controls at
least half of the parliament seats.
In a joint statement released on Monday, the HHK and its two remaining
coalition partners, the Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Orinats Yerkir
parties, said they `respect' Dashnaktsutyun's decision but believe that
the rapprochement with Turkey is good for Armenia. `We welcome President
Serzh Sarkisian's steps aimed at the normalization of Turkish-Armenian
relations without preconditions and within reasonable time frames,' they
said. That policy will not undermine efforts at greater international
recognition of the genocide or lead to more Armenian concessions to
Azerbaijan, added the statement.
Still, the BHK leader, Gagik Tsarukian, was highly skeptical about the
success of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue. `My personal view is that this
is a game and that Turkey will not open the border,' he told
Tsarukian, who is believed to be close to the more hardline former
President Robert Kocharian, also said that Dashnaktsutyun's pullout will
`weaken' the ruling coalition. `How can we underestimate
Dashnaktsutyun?' he said.
But Galust Sahakian, the HHK's parliamentary leader, disagreed with that
assertion. He also denied that Dashnaktsutyun was kept in the dark about
all details of Turkish-Armenian negotiations and downplayed the
significance of the resulting `roadmap.'
Armen Ashotian, another senior HHK lawmaker, claimed that those
negotiations were only a pretext for Dashnaktsutyun to leave the
government and try to win more votes in the next presidential and
parliamentary elections. `Experience has shown that the pro-government
electorate fails to live up to Dashnaktsutyun's expectations in terms of
the number of votes,' he told RFE/RL.
The coalition leaders said they have yet to discuss who will take up the
vacant government posts held by Dashnaktsutyun until now. `The president
of the republic will decide that,' said Tsarukian.
The end of Dashnaktsutyun's decade-long presence in government was
hailed by Zharangutyun party, the hitherto sole opposition force in the
National Assembly. `Welcome to the opposition!' its top leader, Raffi
Hovannisian, told RFE/RL. He said Zharangutyun is ready to cooperate
The other major opposition force, the Armenian National Congress (HAK)
had no comment on the development. Both the HAK and Zharangutyun
demanded late last week the immediate disclosure of the Turkish-Armenian
The Dashnaktsutyun statement said that the party, which is particularly
influential in the worldwide Armenian Diaspora, will now position itself
as a `full-fledged alternative' to the country's leadership and try to
`counterbalance and restrain' the Sarkisian administration. Rustamian
also made clear that unlike the HAK, Dashnaktsutyun will not seek to
topple Sarkisian or force pre-term national elections for the time
TURKEY CAN INITIALLY OPEN BORDER WITH ARMENIA ONCE A MONTHP
April 22 2009
On April 28 National Security Council of Turkey will discuss the
border opening with Armenia. They say council will also discuss
amnesty for the members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party
(PKK) and deployment of Turkish troops in Afghanistan.
The meeting will take place under the leadership of President Abdullah
Gul. They will focus on relations with Azerbaijan and border opening
with Armenia. Until recently, Ankara said Armenian withdrawal from
Nagorno Karabakh is a precondition for the restoration of ties with
Yerevan. For the last several months, Ankara and Yerevan are engaged
in closed-door negotiations to normalize relations.
The General Staff and the government agree that Turkey should not
open its border with Armenia without the settlement of the Nagorno
Karabakh dispute. As the first step for normalization, Ankara has
asked Yerevan to allow Azerbaijanis who were displaced from five
settlements in Karabakh to return to these places. The formation
of a security corridor in Karabakh is among the proposals of the
Turkish government. If Armenia accepts preconditions, Turkey will
initially open the Turkish-Armenia border once a month and then twice
a month. Once there are established ties with Armenia and the area
is secure, the border gate will be open 24 hours a day, Zaman reports.
Tuesday, 12 May 2009