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Turkey, Armenia To Sign Accords On Normalizing Ties

Presidents Abdullah Gul (left) and Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan in September 2008

Presidents Abdullah Gul (left) and Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan in September 2008

YEREVAN (Reuters) -- Armenia and Turkey have moved closer to establishing diplomatic ties and reopening their border, saying they would sign accords within six weeks under a plan to end a century of hostility.

The neighbors have no diplomatic ties, a closed border and a history of animosity stemming from the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I.

Both sides said they would hold domestic consultations before signing two protocols on the establishment of diplomatic relations and development of bilateral relations.

"The political consultations will be completed within six weeks, following which the two protocols will be signed and submitted to the respective parliaments for the ratification on each side," the Foreign Ministries of Armenia and Turkey said in a statement issued jointly with Switzerland as mediator.

"Both sides will make their best efforts for the timely progression of the ratification in line with their constitutional and legal procedures."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told NTV television on September 1 that the protocol could re-open the border as early as the end of the year.

"If everything goes as planned, if mutual steps are taken the borders could be opened around New Year," Davutoglu said.

Turkey rejects Armenian claims the World War I killings, a defining element of Armenian national identity, amounted to genocide, and says many people were killed on both sides of the conflict.

According to copies of the protocols seen by Reuters, the border -- closed by Turkey in 1993 -- will reopen within two months of the protocol on the development of relations entering into force.

The plan to normalize ties was announced in April, but the latest statement marked the first real progress. Anticipation has been growing ahead of a planned visit by Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian to Turkey on October 14, when he is due to attend the return leg of a World Cup qualifying soccer match between the two countries.

Risks Angering Azerbaijan

Sarkisian has said he will not travel to the game, the first leg of which Turkish President Abdullah Gul watched last year in Yerevan, unless the border has reopened or there are clear signs it is about to open.

Turkey closed the frontier in 1993 in solidarity with Muslim ally Azerbaijan, which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists in the breakaway mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

But since announcing the road map, Turkish government officials -- faced with a backlash from Azerbaijan -- have said the border will not reopen until Armenia makes concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Reopening the border and establishing ties with Armenia would improve Turkey's clout in the region and aid its bid to join the European Union. It would also give landlocked Armenia, reeling from the global financial crisis, access to Turkish and European markets.

But it risks angering Azerbaijan, an oil and gas supplier to the West and Europe's key for gas supplies for the planned Nabucco pipeline. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved, with Azerbaijanii and ethnic Armenian forces facing off over a tense front line 15 years since agreeing a cease-fire.

Under the protocol on bilateral relations, Turkey and Armenia agree to "implement a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations."