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Armenian Analysts Say Turkish Vote Result 'Encouraging' Yerevan

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (left) with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington in April
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (left) with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington in April
YEREVAN -- Analysts in Armenia say the victory of Turkey's ruling party in a constitutional referendum bodes well for a renewed Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its top leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, scored a crucial victory in the September 12 referendum on their package of sweeping amendments to the constitution adopted following a 1980 military coup.

The amendments will curtail the powers of Turkey's military and the secularist state apparatus that has supported it for decades.

Turkish and Western observers believe the vote result will also boost the AKP's chances of winning a third term in power in the parliamentary elections due less than a year from now.

Ruben Melkonian, a Turkey specialist and senior professor at Yerevan State University, said an AKP win in the 2011 polls could in turn embolden Erdogan's government into restarting rapprochement talks with Armenia, which ground to a halt in the spring.

"If the ruling party wins the parliamentary elections and continues to rule, then Turkey-Armenia relations can be kick-started," Melkonian told RFE/RL. "The alternative to the ruling party in Turkey is the Kemalists and nationalists, and they have a pronounced hostile attitude towards Armenia and the Armenians."

"With this referendum, the Justice and Development Party strengthened its positions in Turkey," agreed Artak Shakarian, an Armenian pundit specializing on Turkey. "If the party further consolidates its power in Turkey then it could take some steps relating to the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border and the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations."

The Western-backed rapprochement began two years ago and culminated in the October 2009 signing of Turkish-Armenian agreements to establish diplomatic relations and open the long-closed border between the two neighboring states.

Ankara, however, failed to ensure their ratification by the AKP-dominated Turkish parliament as it reverted to a long-standing link between the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and a resolution of the conflict over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh that is acceptable to Baku.

Yerevan responded by officially freezing Armenian parliamentary ratification of the two "protocols" in April. But President Serzh Sarkisian did not annul them altogether, leaving the door open to future talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed this stance as "very statesmanlike," when she visited Yerevan in July. "And now the ball is in the other court," she said, urging Ankara to honor the normalization deal.

Melkonian said Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, another prominent AKP figure, have failed to do that because of what he described as the "anti-Armenian sentiment" that is prevalent among Turks.

"The freezing of Turkish-Armenian relations in the run-up to the constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections somewhat fits into events taking places in Turkey's internal political life," he said. "When these events end in success for the AKP, it will kick-start contacts with Armenia with greater confidence."

Shakarian was more cautious, saying that Erdogan plans to contest a presidential election in 2012 and will continue to avoid fresh overtures to Armenia, for fear of a domestic nationalist backlash. "Erdogan is still not confident about his election victory," he told RFE/RL.