Armenia, Turkey Announce ‘Roadmap’ To Normal Ties

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenia and Turkey said on Wednesday night that they have agreed on a “roadmap” for normalizing bilateral relations after an almost year of intensive negotiations mediated by Switzerland. It remained unclear, however, whether they will establish diplomatic relations and open their border anytime soon.

“The two parties have achieved tangible progress and mutual understanding in this process and they have agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations in a mutually satisfactory manner,” the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries said in a joint statement. “In this context, a road-map has been identified.”

“This agreed basis provides a positive prospect for the on-going process,” the statement said. It did not specify whether that process can be completed before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

At the Expense National Interests

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) on Thursday strongly condemned the agreement announced by Ankara and Yerevan and said it could pull out of Armenia’s governing coalition in protest.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for us that relations with Turkey be normalized at the expense of Armenia’s sovereignty, the viability of its existence, or the national and state rights of future Armenian generations, the ARF said in a statement. “Being committed to these principles, we regard as unacceptable and condemnable the signing by Armenia’s Foreign Ministry on April 22 of a joint statement with Turkey.”

The influential party has declared time and again, that good-neighborly relations between the two countries can only be established after the recognition by Turkey of the Armenian Genocide and the restoration of the rights of the Armenian people.

Turkey Maintains Preconditions

Before the statement was officially released, the Associated Press quoted a senior Turkish government official as saying that the agreement does not mean Turkey is ready to open the Turkish-Armenian border, closed in 1993. “It is out of question,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We don’t want to make any further comment than what is said in the statement,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry source told Reuters. “We will continue with our policy of silent diplomacy. The time has not come yet to make announcements on specifics nor on timelines.”

The Armenian Foreign Ministry also declined to provide clarifications. A ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, said only that the roadmap includes “steps to be taken” by the two governments.

The Azerbaijan Factor

Turkish leaders have repeatedly stated this month that Turkish-Armenian relations will not be normalized until the Karabakh conflict is resolved in Azerbaijan’s favor. Baku had earlier in April warned Ankara against normalizing ties with Yerevan before a Karabakh settlement. Azerbaijan expressed hope on Thursday that Ankara will stick to this precondition.

“It is the sovereign right of every state to determine its relations with other countries,” Elkhan Polukhov, a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, told Day.az, commenting on the Turkish-Armenian statement. “Nonetheless, Azerbaijan believes that the process of normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey should run parallel to the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”

Turkish President Abdullah Gul also called his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev on Thursday to discuss the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia, Gul’s office said in a written statement.

“Today’s talks were a continuation of consultations between the two heads of state in the recent weeks and confirmed the traditional understanding, solidarity and close cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan that contributes to the stability and welfare of the region,” the statement also said.

The US Welcomes

The United States swiftly welcomed the agreement announced by the two troubled neighbors. “It has long been and remains the position of the United States that normalization should take place without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe,” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.

“We urge Armenia and Turkey to proceed according to the agreed framework and roadmap,” Wood said. “We look forward to working with both governments in support of normalization, and thus promote peace, security and stability in the whole region.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likewise reaffirmed Washington’s strong support for the Turkish-Armenian dialogue when she spoke at the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier on Wednesday. “The Turkish and Armenian governments have sought U.S. support and encouragement of their reconciliation efforts,” she said. “And following that request, both the president and I have supported them fully.”

Clinton also implied that the U.S. is trying to neutralize the strong Azerbaijani objections to the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement by intensifying its efforts to broker a solution to the Karabakh conflict. “We’ve sent a State Department official to Azerbaijan, I think two times in the last three weeks, and we hope that there will be some resolution in the next months,” she said.

Reactions in Armenia

Several thousand protesters took to the streets in Yerevan on Thursday to protest the announcement by Yerevan and Ankara, condemning the move as a betrayal of national interests.

The demonstrations came during an annual march through the capital holding flaming torches on the eve of the national commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

Protesters carried banners calling for “Recognition, Restitution, Remembrance.” Others read: “1.5 million deaths will never be forgiven.”

Timing of Announcement

The agreement was made public just two days before Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora will mark 94th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide.

President Obama, as a Senator and a candidate for the Presidency, spoke forcefully, clearly, and repeatedly in support of U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, frequently criticizing then- President Bush for failing to properly characterize and commemorate this crime while in the White House. He is expected to offer his first April 24th statement, a White House tradition, this Friday.

Ankara has made no secret of its hopes that the dramatic rapprochement with Yerevan will deter U.S. President Barack Obama from reaffirming the US record on the Armenian Genocide in his April 24 address to the Armenian-American community.

Last December, the ARF urged Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian to exercise caution in this process, saying that the Turks are exploiting it to scuttle greater international recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Obama is facing mounting pressure from the influential Armenian-American community and its members of the U.S. Congress to honor his election campaign pledge to recognize, in his present capacity, the first genocide of the 20th century. Among those lawmakers are Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader.

“It is long past the time for the United States to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide,” Pelosi was reported to say on Wednesday during a genocide remembrance ceremony on Capitol Hill attended by dozens of her colleagues.

Pelosi urged Armenian-American groups to step up their grassroots campaign for the passage of a draft genocide resolution introduced in Congress last month. “We can do any amount of inside maneuvering in the Congress and Washington, but what is important is the outside mobilization to bring to bear the voices of people across America,” she said, according to the Armenian National Committee of America.

The Obama administration has not reacted to the bill yet. Visiting Turkey earlier this month, President Obama made clear his position on the Genocide had not changed. “My views are on the record and I have not changed views,” he said during a joint press conference with Gul. The President also referenced the Armenian Genocide in his speech to the Turkish Parliament where he stated, “History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future.”

See the official Armenian Foreign Ministry statement:
http://www.armeniaforeignministry.am/pr_09/090423_statement.html

See the official State Department Statement:
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/04/122065.htm

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