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    Turkey, Armenia on the road to normalizing strained relations

    by Cansu Çamlıbel
    30.03.2009 - 22:38 | Son Güncelleme: 30.03.2009 - 13:09

    ANKARA - Turkey and Armenia agree on the roadmap to establish diplomatic ties and open the shared border. The timing of the declaration of the agreement remains key for Ankara. The key question is whether to announce the agreement before, during or after President Obama's visit.

    Ankara and Yerevan have agreed on the major parameters of a historic reconciliation in secret talks to start diplomatic relations and re-open their shared border, which Turkey closed in 1993 after Armenia occupied the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

    Turkey and Armenia are readying to sign a protocol that marks commitment by both sides to establish diplomatic relations and set up committees on issues ranging from border management, customs, history and more. Having achieved a satisfying deal which includes setting up a history committee to discuss 1915 events, on which Yerevan dragged its feet for a long time, the remaining dilemma for Ankara is the proper timing of the announcement, the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review has learned.

    "The hard work is done. Everybody has faith that the deal will be made public soon," a diplomat told the Daily News, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

    The draft protocol will set the framework for transition to full diplomatic relations possibly starting with low-key representations in Ankara and Yerevan or accreditation of ambassadors from other neighboring capitals. Simultaneously Turkey will come up with a road map for a solution in Nagorno-Karabakh. The modalities of the new border regime will be determined upon the work by the border committee while as part of a show of good will immediate measures would be taken for a gradual opening. Diplomatic recognition will be supported by social and economic projects with coordination of the Turkish Armenian Business Development Council, or TABDC.

    Reconciliation efforts between the two neighbors intensified in secret talks after moderate Serge Sarkisian was elected president of Armenia in February 2008 and Turkish President Abdullah Gül paid a landmark visit to Yerevan to attended Turkey-Armenia football match in September.

    Turkey’s difficult choice on the ’date’

    Although U.S President Barack Obama will be in Turkey on April 6 and 7 with a wider agenda, long-awaited normalization of ties between Ankara and Yerevan will be on the shortlist of important topics. Friends of Turkey in Washington favor an announcement by Ankara this week prior to Obama’s arrival. Obama had pledged to recognize the Armenian killings in 1915 during his election campaign last year. This would both maintain a vigorous effect on Obama himself and also strengthen his hand to counter arguments of Armenian lobbies in the United States that invested hopes in his presidency, according to American policymakers.

    It is not clear, however, if Obama’s expected April 24 statement on Armenian deaths will include qualifying the killings as genocide or if he will support the latest U.S. House of Representatives resolution introduced two weeks ago. Thus Ankara is keen to wait until strong assurances are secured from the U.S administration during Obama’s visit before publicly announcing the deal with Armenia. "The ball is actually in the U.S.’s court," an expert said pointing to Obama as the key player in April’s moves.

    If Turkey insists not to proceed with the announcement before Obama’s meetings in Ankara, then there are two other symbolic dates on the horizon that would serve as meaningful opportunities for announcing the historic deal. The UN-sponsored Alliance of Civilizations summit in Istanbul, which coincides with Obama’s visit, is the first opportunity because Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian will also attend. The next option is Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan’s trip to Yerevan on April 16 to attend a meeting of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. Although the Turkish Foreign ministry has not publicized the decision yet, Yerevan was informed of confirmation of Babacan’s attendance, the Daily News learned.

    Meanwhile Armenian lobbies in the United States has put pressure on the Yerevan administration to stall the announcement of the deal with Turkey until after the April 24 commemoration in order not to loose their leverage, according to observers in Washington.

    Cabinet or Parliament decision?

    According to Turkish law, the decision to recognize a state could be given by the Cabinet. It’s not clear yet, however, if the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, would stick to a Cabinet decision only to start to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia or bring the issue to Parliament. Another option is to pen an agreement to restore diplomatic ties with Armenia which would have to be ratified by Parliament. The reasons behind consideration for parliamentary approval are to minimize repercussions that may be triggered by opposition parties and to share the burden of this critical move.

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