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Armenia-Turkey: Who Will Blink First?

Turkish President Abdullah Gul (left) greets his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, in Bursa on October 14.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul (left) greets his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, in Bursa on October 14.
Over three months have now elapsed since the signing in Geneva on October 10 of two protocols on establishing and developing "good neighborly" diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. But the prospects that either parliament will ratify those protocols in the near future remain slim.

The major obstacle to ratification is Ankara's insistence on linking the normalization of relations with Armenia to concessions by Yerevan in the Karabakh peace process, specifically, the withdrawal of Armenian forces from districts of Azerbaijani contiguous to Nagorno-Karabakh. The text of the two protocols does not, however, contain any reference either to Nagorno-Karabakh or to Azerbaijan.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, who first argued the case for establishing relations with Turkey in an editorial published in the "Washington Post" three years ago, has warned periodically since October that Armenia may annul the protocols if the Turkish parliament fails to endorse them within a "reasonable timeframe." Sarkisian did not, however, set a specific deadline.

In a January 17 interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian too warned that Turkey risks reversing the progress achieved to date if it continues to peg ratification to concessions by Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. He stressed that neither the Armenian nor the Turkish side set any preconditions when they embarked in 2008 on the Swiss-mediated talks that resulted in the formulation of the two protocols. "Had there been preconditions, we would not have started this process and reached agreements in the first place," Nalbandian told RFE/RL. "If one of the parties is creating artificial obstacles, dragging things out, that means it is assuming responsibility for the failure of this process," he added.

Meeting in Moscow last week with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he considers Turkey's linkage "in one package" of relations with Armenia and resolving the Karabakh conflict unrealistic and "not the right approach." "It is difficult to solve either of these problems separately in the first place, and if one tries to tackle them in a single package, then the prospects for resolving them will automatically become quite remote," Putin reasoned on January 13.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that argument in Yerevan the following day, telling journalists at a joint press conference with Nalbandian that "in my view, to try and artificially link those two issues is not correct."

Erdogan, however, is quoted as having told journalists on his return flight to Ankara that the "Turkish-Armenian issue will find a solution only after "the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh ends." "If Armenia has good intentions, let it prove them by starting the liberation of the districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh," Erdogan added.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu by contrast has been less explicit and less categorical, speaking only of the "need for some progress in the [Karabakh] peace talks" before the two protocols can be ratified.

Erdogan's obduracy raises the question whether Turkey was acting in good faith when it signed the protocols. Certainly the Turkish government must have anticipated the outraged accusations from Baku that it had acted in a way that "directly contravened Azerbaijan's national interests and cast a shadow on the fraternal relations between the two countries."

Yerevan-based analyst Richard Giragosian told the Armenian daily "Hayots ashkhar" last November that contrary to its leaders' statements, Turkey does not expect the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh soon. "Turkey is not that frank in its demands related to Karabakh.... This is a test of sorts in which the Turkish side is trying to determine the extent of Armenia's readiness to make concessions."

In other words, each side appears to be waiting for the other to blink first.

Nalbandian on January 17 offered little hope for progress with regard to a settlement of the Karabakh conflict. He said recent statements by Azerbaijani leaders, including President Ilham Aliyev's renewed implicit threat to restore Baku's control over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic by force, show that Baku "is not prepared for mutual concessions in 2010." Parliamentary elections are due in Azerbaijan in the late fall of this year.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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