Armenia and Turkey Are Not Authorized “To Define” The Border

In the fifth clause of the protocol on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey, the parties agree to define the existing border.

In this regard, it is necessary to take up a very important question, even if strange at first glance, whether the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey are in fact within their authority according to international law “to define the existing border”.

Let me clarify the idea behind the question. From the perspective of international law, any international multilateral agreement, no matter how it ends up, be it a treaty, an agreement, protocol, etc., can be altered (amended, modified, suspended, terminated or nullified) only with the participation and agreement of all parties to the given document. This principle, in terms of treaties, is codified in Articles 39-41 of the Vienna Convention on Treaties (1969).

The “definition” of the Armenian segment of the border of the former USSR as the border between Armenia and Turkey, from a legal point of view, implies a change in the border1, because the de jure Armenia-Turkey border is very different from the Soviet-Turkish border. This de jure, and thus the only legal border was “defined” by a multilateral treaty, and consequently “to define the existing border” is in reality a change in frontiers and, in this case, falls outside of bilateral relations for the following reason.

After suffering ignominious defeat in the First World War, on the 30th of October, 1918, the Ottoman Empire signed the Mudros Armistice. Legally speaking, this armistice was an unconditional surrender, i.. e. unqualified capitulation, and so the entire sovereignty of Turkey was transferred to the victors until a peace treaty was signed. That is to say, the victorious Allies2 were to subsequently decide which part of the Ottoman Empire was to come under the sovereignty of a Turkish state and to what degree.
During 1919-1920, the Paris Peace Conference took place to discuss the conditions of the peace treaties. In April, 1920, the San Remo session took up the fate of the Ottoman Empire. Naturally, one of the most important questions was the future of Armenia. Therefore, on the 26th of April, the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers officially approached the President of the United States Woodrow Wilson “to arbitrate the frontiers of Armenia” as per an arbitral award. 3

Two factors in this previous paragraph need further clarification:

a) The Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference was authorized and functioning on behalf of all the Allied Powers. That is, the compromise for the arbitration deciding Armenia’s border, and consequently the unqualified acceptance of obligations by the award to be made on that basis, was made on behalf of all the Allied Powers. During the First World War, more than thirty states formed part of the Allied Powers, and, counting the British Empire, the Third French Republic, the kingdoms of Japan and Italy, with all their dependent territories, it came to almost a hundred countries.

b) The border with the Republic of Armenia, as opposed to other borders with Turkey, was to be decided not by a peace treaty, but through arbitration. From a legal perspective, this is an extremely important detail, because treaties can always be modified, suspended or terminated upon the agreement of the parties, whereas arbitral awards are “final and without appeal”, as well as being binding.4 That is, arbitration cannot be altered or repealed, as opposed to treaties. Besides which, arbitration and treaties are carried out with opposite procedures. While in treaties, the agreement is first reached and only then a corresponding legal document put in place, arbitration begins with signing the compromise on unqualified acceptance of the future agreement, after which only the award is granted.

And so, as a consequence of the aforementioned compromise on the 26th of April, US President Woodrow Wilson officially took on the arbitration of the Armenian-Turkish border in writing on the 17th of May, 1920, and began to carry out the required work. It is necessary to point out here that this was almost three months before the Treaty of Sèvres was signed (the 10th of August, 1920) and so, the arbitration process commenced independent of the signing of that peace treaty and this compromise which is mentioned in it as Article 89.

In summary, one may draw this clear conclusion. The border between Turkey and the Republic of Armenia was decided based on the arbitral award which came out of two independent compromise (San Remo, 26 April 1920, and Sèvres, 10 August 1920). The award was granted on the 22nd of November, 1920, to come into effect that same day. Two days later, on the 24th of November, the ruling was officially conveyed to Paris by telegraph. This Arbitral Award has never been appealed, it is in effect to this day. The award was legal and lawful. It functions independent of the Treaty of Sèvres. The compromise included in the Treaty of Sèvres as Article 89 was and continues to be an additional, but not the basic compromise.

And so, the border between Armenia and Turkey has been decided by a multilateral instrument of international law, an arbitral award, to which almost a hundred countries are party today.

After all this, let us return to the real question at hand:

Upon what basis of international law do the authorities of the Republic of Armenia and  the Republic of Turkey wish to dismiss their own international obligations by transgressing an inviolable international decision, the arbitral award, through a bilateral protocol?

Additionally one must bear in mind that international law does not take into account in principle any procedure or precedent for modification or annulment (nullification of the legality) of an arbitral award which has legally come into effect. Refusal by the losing party to comply with the award is not in itself equivalent to a lawful annulment. The plea of nullity is not admissible at all and this view is based upon Article 81 of The Hague Convention of 1907, and the absence of any international machinery to declare an award null and void.

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3 Comments

  1. Kevork Oskanian said:

    Arbitral awards can ALWAYS be overturned by the sides between whom the arbitration occurred, especially when these concern borders – which are ENTIRELY a bilateral affair between two sovereign states. Unless there is a clause somewhere in international law that expressly prohibits the Armenian-Turkish border to be changed or delimited without third party approval, it can be done. The fact that other states were present and approved of the arbitral process does not change things one jot. Whoever wrote this is once again engaging in wishful thinking.

  2. manooshag said:

    Hye, even further, I have just read that Turkey, in material prepared for schools to present to their students and their
    parents in Istanbul have maps drawn which include Cyprus, Bulgaria and Armenia within the borders of Turkey.
    OOPs, error… yet, how timely. Manooshag

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