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Armenia and Turkey Sign Fragile Peace Agreement

Published: 10/12/2009
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The internationally acclaimed Armenian-Turkish protocols may look good on paper but are marred with controversy from the start.

IHS Global Insight Perspective

 

Significance

On 10 October, Armenian and Turkish senior officials signed two groundbreaking protocols which establish diplomatic relations between the two neighbouring countries and open the common border after 100 years of closure.

Implications

Neither side is happy with the protocols and both believe that the other side is better off.

Outlook

The protocols are on very shaky ground, not least since age-old disputes were sidelined at the 10 October event.

On 10 October, the Armenian Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Nalbandian and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu signed a ground-breaking peace agreement. The deal consists of two protocols, one on the establishment of diplomatic relations and the other on the development of bilateral relations, and increases the scope for calmer relations between Armenian and Turkish officials in the future. The protocols are heavily supported by Switzerland—which acted as a mediator—as well as Russia, the United States, the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). All these stakeholders hope to bring the standoff to an end and ensure a more stable region and thus better conditions for a blossoming economy and business environment. Both the Armenian and Turkish parliaments have to ratify the protocols before they can enter into force.

Blossoming of Ties?

The protocols come after hundred years of standoff; Turkey and Armenia have had no diplomatic or economic ties since Armenia declared its independence in 1991 in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse. The Turkish government vehemently opposes the Armenian government's fight for international recognition of the killings of over 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and1917 as genocide. Following the success of the recognition campaign—as highlighted by the 1987 European Parliament resolution—Turkish officials worried that Armenians would grow bolder and eventually claim the restitution of property confiscated during the events of 1915-1917 in what is now Eastern Turkey. Turkey completely closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan, a fellow Turkic nation, during the Armenian-Azeri conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, an Armenian enclave of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenian troops.

Armenia's Stance

The Armenian stance is divided. Officially, Yerevan hailed the protocols as a major diplomatic achievement. Yet, opponents both in Armenia and abroad declared 10 October a black day for the country when its interests were sacrificed to U.S. and particularly Russian interests. Opponents accuse U.S. and Russian officials of an overtly pro-Turkey stance and a soft approach to Turkey in order to persuade the Turkish government to open its side of the Turko-Armenian border. Critics further argue that the protocols had satisfied two of three Turkish preconditions—controversial recognition of the Turko-Armenian border; and the set-up of a highly contested committee on the Armenian claims of genocide during the First World War. The latter has cost Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan credibility and the vital support of the Armenian Diaspora, which is largely formed of the victims of the 1915 massacre survivors (see United States - Turkey - Armenia: 30 September 2009: U.S. Backs Armenia-Turkey Talks as Armenian President Attempts to Rally Support from Diaspora). The Armenian population, also largely comprising survivors of the 1915 massacres, feels deceived by its government as more details of the Turkish preconditions emerge.

Turkey's Stance

Barely has the ink dried and the protocols are already being torn apart. On 11 October, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the Armenian army to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh to ensure a yes vote by the Turkish parliament. This is the third precondition angering Armenian opponents of the protocols. Erdogan's comments came at a conference of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), indicating the long road ahead for the protocols in Turkey. The protocols are backed vehemently by aforementioned stakeholders from larger countries and international organisations. They therefore stand a good chance to be touched upon by both Armenian and Turkish officials; indeed, the EU, Russia and the United States are the main trading partners of Turkey and Armenia and can therefore exert great pressure on reluctant government officials. Yet, the Turkish government's heart is not fully in the peace process. The agreement is fully in line with the AKP's new more inclusive approach to stability and prosperity in the region; indeed, the party has been reaching out to Kurds, another group which is perceived as suppressed in Turkey, as of late. And yet, many moderate AKP supporters worry that the Armenian-Turkish peace protocols come too early and are detrimental to Turkey's standing in the region. Indeed, opposition parties scolded Davutoglu for signing the texts; according to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)'s leader Devlet Bahceli cited in Zaman, 10 October was a "black day" in the history of Turkey. Both the MHP and the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), claim that the protocols are not based on reciprocity but rather place more emphasis on Turkey to change. They especially refer to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and state that it was unfair to ask Turkey to open its border with Armenia without gaining any concessions on the withdrawal of Armenian troops from "invaded" territories.

Outlook and Implications

The signing of the protocols is a milestone on the road to eventual peace between Armenia and Turkey. Applying the protocols fully would benefit the economies of Armenia and Eastern Turkey. They could see an increase in cross-border trade whilst Armenia could become the transit route for EU-backed oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia to Europe.

Given the considerable pressure by foreign stakeholders, it is likely that the protocols will pass the hurdle in the parliaments; both the Armenian and Turkish ruling parties hold a comfortable majority in parliament and are run by strong party leaders. Yet, the signature is worth little without professed effort by Armenian and Turkish officials to realise the protocols. This is far from sure yet, as recent comments by government officials and events in recent weeks show (see Turkey - Armenia: 21 September 2009: "Football" Diplomacy Between Armenia and Turkey Once Again Sliding into Impasse).

The peace accord stands on very shaky ground. It almost failed to materialise as Davutoglu aimed to mention the frozen conflict on Nagorno-Karabakh and to revision of the Armenian genocide as preconditions for the successful implementation of the protocols. In the end, both Foreign Affairs Ministers were asked not to make post-signature speeches, putting a lid on the two contentious issues. It is only a question of time before this lid will come off again.

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