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Armenian Move On Turkey 'Way To Go' For U.S.

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch
YEREVAN -- U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch has repeated Washington's positive reaction to President Serzh Sarkisian's decision not to formally annul the Turkish-Armenian normalization agreements despite Ankara's refusal to implement them unconditionally.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service today, Yovanovitch also described Armenia's closed border with Turkey as a "historical anomaly" and lauded Turks who last month marked the 95th anniversary of the World War I-era massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

"President Sarkisian's statement makes clear that Armenia has not ended the process, that there is a suspension of the discussion of these protocols in the parliament...and that Armenia is waiting for a time when Turkey is more ready," she said. "And we really think that that's the way to go."

"We applaud President Sarkisian's decision to keep this process alive because we think that that enables Turkey and Armenia both to work towards a vision of peace and stability and reconciliation," she added.

Armenia last month suspended parliamentary ratification of historic accords aimed at normalizing relations with Turkey.

In an April 22 televised address to the nation, Sarkisian said suspension was in the "best interests" of Armenia, but that out of respect for international efforts to support reconciliation, his country would not fully exit the process for the time being.

Sarkisian had earlier threatened to walk away from the Turkish-Armenian protocols if Turkey's parliament failed to ratify them within a "reasonable timeframe."

The U.S. State Department, which had been closely involved in the signing of the protocols last October, swiftly welcomed Sarkisian's move. Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that they may still be put into effect "over the long term."

While reaffirming U.S. support for protocol ratification, Yovanovitch declined to criticize Ankara for making that conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

"I'm not sure it's constructive to cast blame on [either party]," she said. "What I would say is that the U.S. position has always been clear: that this process should move forward in a reasonable timeframe and without preconditions."

Yovanovitch sounded an optimistic note about the future of Turkish-Armenian relations, pointing to contacts between Turkish and Armenian civil societies and ordinary people that have increased dramatically in recent years.

"It's an extremely important development that needs to continue to be encouraged because sometimes it is the government that leads people and sometimes it's people that lead the government," she said.

"And I think that people in Turkey and Armenia understand that this is somehow an historical anomaly that in the 21st century there is a closed border in Europe and that that's not a phenomenon that can continue to exist."

The diplomat also praised the hundreds of Turks who took to the streets of Istanbul on April 24 for the first-ever public remembrance of the up to 1.5 million Armenians massacred in the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

"This year is the first year that there have been not just one but three ceremonies in Turkey marking the April 24 Armenian Remembrance Day," she said. "And we all remember the 'I apologize' campaign from last year."

Yovanovitch further said that the Armenian authorities have made some progress in addressing the political fallout from the 2008 postelection unrest in Yerevan. She said the vast majority of Armenian opposition members and supporters arrested following the February 2008 presidential election have been set free under a general amnesty declared by the authorities in June last year.

Still, Yovanovitch said the fact that some oppositionists remain in jail was "an issue of concern to us." "I want to assure you this is a very important issue for us, and I think we've made our concerns known through various media, including the [State Department's] human rights report," she said.