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US committee's vote on 'genocide' marks end of protocols, official says

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 3/5/2010 12:00:00 AM | SERKAN DEMİRTAŞ/Analysis

The approval of the Armenia 'genocide' resolution by a U.S. House committee is perhaps not 'the end of the world,' but surely is the 'end of the historic protocols' signed between Turkey and Armenia, according to a top official.

The approval of the Armenia “genocide” resolution by a U.S. House committee is perhaps not “the end of the world” but surely is the “end of the historic protocols” signed between Turkey and Armenia, according to a top official.

“No one should expect Turkish Parliament to proceed with the protocols at least until April 24,” a senior foreign ministry official told a limited group of journalists Friday. April 24 is the commemoration day of the alleged killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915.  Many Armenians would like the U.S. president to use the word “genocide” in the annual written statement to mark the date.

Turkey and Armenia signed two protocols last year to establish diplomatic ties and open the border after decades of hostility between the two neighboring countries. The protocols, however, are yet to be ratified by either parliament. The resolution came at a moment when Turkey and Armenia were engaged in a diplomatic process to resolve problems that are blocking the ratifications.

“Turkey has internal dynamics, too. The Parliament cannot make any step with regard to the protocols. There is a very important reaction,” the official told journalists. However, the hurdles before the reconciliation process are not limited to the House panel’s approval. The lack of any development in the peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabahk problem stands as an additional problem for Turkey, which promised its ally Azerbaijan not to proceed with the protocols unless Yerevan withdraws its troops from occupied Azeri lands.

For the Foreign Ministry official, “There was no positive development on this issue to make Turkey hopeful of concluding the reconciliation process with Armenia.” Turkey dispatched two of its top diplomats Friday to Russia, a key country in solving the problem, to ensure Moscow’s full backing and provide further developments, the official said. Feridun Sinirlioğlu, the undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, and Ünal Çeviköz, his deputy, departed for Moscow on Friday.

“In order not to be misunderstood we should put it straight: It was Turkey who has fully endorsed this process with Armenia since 2005. And we are still committed to it. However, there are so many developments that have slowed down the pace of talks, including the Armenian Constitutional Court’s ruling on the protocols,” he said.

In January, the court approved the protocols’ compatibility with Armenia’s constitution but said they should not violate the principle set by the country’s Declaration of Independence, which refers to Turkey’s eastern provinces as West Armenia and that the “genocide” cannot be disputed.

“We are still seeking a written assurance from Armenia. Everyone is focused only on the opening of the border. What would happen if they would give up establishing the independent commission expected to be tasked with investigating the 1915 incidents?” the diplomat asked. Ankara expects official mediator Switzerland to step in and give written assurance to this end.

The mood between the two neighbors has dramatically changed in the last few months, making the completion of the protocols more difficult.

[HH] Messages to Turkey

According to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, some circles in the U.S. administration think the resolution can be used as leverage against Ankara for swift ratification of the protocols. “We know who they are and what they are planning. They should know such an attempt will never be responded to by Turkey,” the diplomat noted.

“They perhaps wanted to give a message to Turkey to urge that, in the case of the failure of the process, they are ready with their sticks in hand.”

The same source also touched on the role of the Israeli lobby during this process. “Our ambassador to Washington met with all prominent representatives of the Israeli lobby. They promised to give support, but when compared to the past, their support was minimal. Perhaps they also wanted to give a message to Turkey to show the damage in ties between Ankara and Tel Aviv,” added the diplomat.

[HH] Passage not likely

Though the House panel’s move disturbed Ankara a lot, Turkish diplomats are still hopeful the resolution will not be endorsed by the full House of Representatives. “We are surly going to continue to press administration on this issue. Furthermore, we will do our best to stop the use of that word [genocide] by the U.S. President Barack Obama [in his April 24 statement],” the diplomat noted.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to go to the U.S. in mid-April to attend an international summit on nuclear energy. He could have a bilateral meeting with Obama, diplomats said, though there was not a meeting set between the two leaders.

The only concern for Turkey is the decrease of Obama’s influence over the congressmen before November’s elections. “We think he did not want to spend all his bullets. He obviously saves them for issues he considers more important for him,” the diplomat said.

[HH] No sanctions planned

Despite the great disturbance due to the approval of the resolution, the diplomat emphasized that Turkey was not planning to apply sanctions on the United States, such as canceling weapon deals or other economic ties at this stage. “The withdrawal of our ambassador is enough for the moment. If the resolution reaches the full House and is endorsed there, of course we will evaluate the issue and our bilateral ties once again,” the diplomat said.

“Turkish-American relations are interdependent. As they have expectations from us, we also have expectations from them,” added the diplomat.

Turkey and the United States cooperate on many important international issues including the Middle East, Iran’s nuclear row, Afghanistan and pipeline diplomacy.

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