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    Turkey-Armenia border deal done, details to follow

    Hürriyet Daily News
    24.04.2009 - 00:00 | Son Güncelleme:

    ANKARA - In the eleventh hour before the US president decides what vocabulary to employ in recognizing history, Turkey has agreed with Armenia on which route to take toward reconciliation in the hope of staving off the word ’genocide.’ But the road before them presents its own set of obstacles, not least of which is how Turkey finds a way to keep Azerbaijan onside

    In a historic move, neighbors Turkey and Armenia have announced an agreement on a framework to normalize ties, which could see the establishment of diplomatic relations and a reopening of the border.

    "The two parties have achieved tangible progress and mutual understanding and they have agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations in a mutually satisfactory manner," read the statement released late Wednesday. It also said both parties had determined a road map to reach this end.

    Coming just before April 24 - the day that commemorates the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 - the statement is an attempt to prevent U.S. President Barack Obama from declaring the word "genocide" today in a presidential statement about the World War I-era events. Ankara has so far denied that an accord will be signed with Armenia amid growing uneasiness in Azerbaijan.

    Squeezed between Azerbaijani reactions and U.S pressure for some announcement of concrete steps to free the hand of President Obama, Ankara found a "middle-way formula" after a three- hour meeting between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and several phone conversations with officials from related countries. Instead of signing and announcing a draft protocol with Armenia, which has been on the table since March, Ankara only preferred to announce its willingness to sign after the accomplishment of the so-called "road map."

    What is now expected in Ankara is that Obama will refer to this breakthrough in ongoing reconciliation talks in his statement and will refrain from declaring the events of 1915 as "genocide", despite his personal convictions to the contrary. Some aspects have drawn notable attention:

    First, for the first time, Switzerland is mentioned as the official mediator between Turkey and Armenia. Actually Turkey and Switzerland have had bitter moments in the past due to the decision by Bern, and several other Swiss cantons, to formally recognize the 1915 events as genocide.

    In the past, Turkish diplomats have tried to downplay the Swiss role in the process, saying: "Bern was just providing logistics to the parties to conduct their meetings away from the public eye." But what it seems now is that Switzerland has played an important role in the reconciliation talks.

    Secondly, the statement once again sets the purpose of the talks: the normalization of ties, good neighborly relations, mutual respect and the promotion of peace, security and stability in the entire region. This target completely overlaps with Turkey’s efforts to establish regional initiatives, such as the Caucasus Cooperation and Stability Platform, in which all regional countries would be involved, including Azerbaijan and Georgia. This could also be seen as Turkey’s intention to refer to expectations for a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as a parallel and binding process to the bilateral Turkish-Armenian efforts.

    Third, the statement informs the public on the current situation of secret talks. It says that the talks produced "concrete progress and mutual understanding." Furthermore, it also explains that the parties have agreed "on a comprehensive framework for the normalization of bilateral ties in a way that will satisfy both sides." Which means that "the satisfaction of both sides" will be the main pre-condition in future talks.

    The fourth is the introduction of a new concept with regard the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process: the road map.

    Fifth, the joint statement suggests that both parties are optimistic about the ongoing talks, saying: "The progress achieved so far provides a positive perspective for the ongoing process."

    Number of commissions
    Finally, the statement, which was posted on the Web site of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, does not reveal it was a joint statement of Turkey, Armenia and Switzerland. While it looked like a unilateral Turkish statement, the same statement posted on the Armenian Foreign Ministry’s web site clearly said it was made jointly.

    Of these six aspects, the agreed framework and road map are considered key parts of the process that will determine future ties between Turkey and Armenia. With regard to the framework, it was already reported that the two countries had agreed to establish a number of commissions. Each commission will be tasked with a different aspect of building ties, for example a joint history commission will look into the events of 1915; a joint trade and economy commission will draft a plan to boost economic ties; a joint border commission will talk about the details and technicalities of opening the border; and another commission will outline the procedures of establishing relations between the two countries.

    However, emphasizing that the implementation process of this framework will be decided according to the road map - the details of which are not yet known - proves that "there is still a road to travel." Apparently, one of the most important points on the road map is the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which has been the scene of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the early 1990s. Without a direct reference to the dispute, mention of a road map touches perfectly on it in a way to ease the concerns of Baku, Turkey’s traditional ally.

    Eyes on Nagorno-Karabakh
    As stated many times by top Turkish officials, the normalization of relations and reopening of the border with Armenia are expected to happen as soon as a breakthrough on the Nagorno-Karabakh front is made.

    As such, a meeting between Azerbaijan and Armenia next month in Switzerland is seen as vital. İlham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan and his Armenian counterpart, Serge Sarkisian will come together in Switzerland on May 7 to continue efforts to settle the dispute.

    According to sources familiar with the talks, the parties are very close to a solution and if they can clear the few remaining obstacles in the way of Armenian troop withdrawal from the region then it is very possible there will be a settlement by June.

    This will also free the hands of Turkey to proceed with the road map and enable them to announce the establishment of diplomatic ties this year. As Sarkisian put it earlier, it may be possible for both countries to proceed before Oct. 7, the day the Turkish and Armenian national football teams will play their second 2010 World Cup qualifier.

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