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Turkey, Armenia Sign Landmark Agreement To Normalize Ties

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (right) and Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian shake hands after the signing ceremony in Zurich.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (right) and Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian shake hands after the signing ceremony in Zurich.

Turkey and Armenia have signed accords to restore diplomatic ties and open borders after almost a century of enmity.

Officials said foreign ministers of the two countries inked the two protocols on October 10 in a ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland.

The deal, which calls for the border to be reopened within two months, follows six weeks of negotiations mediated by Switzerland.

The agreement , signed by Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandian, must still be approved by both countries' parliaments.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner were among the diplomats who attended the historic ceremony.

RFE/RL senior Caucasus analyst Liz Fuller says the two protocols are significant.

"The first one affirms the desire of both sides to establish normal diplomatic relations, not just diplomatic relations but good neighborly relations. The second protocol outlines the steps that are to be taken once these good neighborly relations are established," Fuller said.

Azerbaijan Criticism

A long-standing dispute between Turkey's ally Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has clouded reconciliation efforts.

Turkey cut diplomatic ties and shut its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of its ally Azerbaijan, which was then battling ethnic Armenian separatists for control over the region. Armenian forces drove out Azerbaijani troops in a war that killed some 30,000 people.

Talks between the leaders of the Azerbaijan and Armenia over the region ended without result on October 9.

Today, Azerbaijan slammed its ally Turkey for agreeing to normalize ties with Armenia. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said that normalization before the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory would be "in direct contradiction with the interests of Azerbaijan."

The statement adds that Azerbaijan believes that the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border would call into question the architecture of peace and stability in the region.

The European Commission welcomed the signing of the deal saying the move would ease tensions in the southern Caucasus region. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also welcomed the "historic agreement" between Turkey and Armenia.

The signing of the protocols on October 10 was delayed for a few hours after the Armenian delegation reportedly took issue with the statements to be read at the ceremony by the Turkish delegation.

Clinton was quoted as saying late on October 10 that she told Turkish and Armenian envoys that the agreements they signed were too important to let fail. Clinton said she consulted by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama several times during the process.

RFE/RL's Fuller says the delay at the signing ceremony shows how sensitive and precarious the entire process is.

Fuller adds that the crucial ratification of the accord by the two countries' parliaments is not a foregone conclusion.

"Even though [Armenian President] Serzh Sarkisian's Republican party controls the Armenian parliament, there is a lot of apprehension in Armenia that the protocols make too many concessions to Turkey," Fuller says.

"In the case of the Turkish parliament, there is the possibility that the parliament will refuse to ratify the protocols unless the Armenians make some crucial concession with regard to the Karabakh conflict."

The accord has been met by protests in Armenia and also among the Armenian diaspora, who say it does not fully address the 1915 killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

Armenia wants Turkey to recognize the killings as an act of genocide, but successive Turkish governments have refused to do so.

The deal calls for a joint commission of independent historians to study the genocide issue.