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Turkey, Armenia to sign diplomatic deal next month, says official

HDN | 9/27/2009 12:00:00 AM | ANKARA - Agence France-Presse

Turkey and Armenia will sign a landmark deal to establish diplomatic ties next month in Switzerland after a decades-long freeze, a Turkish official tells AFP.

After a decades-long freeze, Turkey and Armenia will sign a landmark deal in Switzerland to establish diplomatic ties next month, a Turkish official said Sunday. “The signing is set for Oct. 10 in Zurich,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Foreign ministers Ahmet Davutoğlu of Turkey and Eduard Nalbandian of Armenia are expected to ink two protocols, the texts of which were agreed upon earlier and internationally hailed as a major breakthrough. Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, whose country acted as a mediator in reconciliation talks between the two neighbors, is also likely to attend the ceremony, according to the official

Turkey and Armenia announced last month that talks had resulted in two protocols calling for the establishment of diplomatic ties and re-opening their border. They also set a timetable for a series of steps to improve ties.

A Swiss foreign ministry official said the signing ceremony "will probably take place in Switzerland," while Armenian officials were not available for comment. The protocols, however, will not take effect immediately.

[HH] Fierce criticism

Both governments will submit the documents to their respective parliaments for ratification, a process expected to take time. The United States and the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, have both repeatedly urged Ankara to reconcile with Yerevan.

The deal, however, has come under fire from opposition groups in both countries, which accuse their governments of making concessions. Turkey has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Armenia over Yerevan's international campaign to have the 1915 killings of Armenians recognized as “genocide.”

Armenia’s claim that up to 1.5 million of their people were killed in what amounted to “genocide” is backed by a number of other countries, much to Ankara's ire. Turkey rejects the “genocide” label and argues that 300,000-500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians took up arms against their Ottoman rulers.

In 1993, Turkey also closed its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with close ally Azerbaijan over Yerevan's backing of ethnic Armenian separatists in Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The move dealt a serious economic blow to impoverished Armenia. The signing of the protocols will precede an eagerly anticipated football game between the two countries. The fence-mending process had gathered steam in September 2008 when Turkish President Abdullah Gül paid a landmark visit to Yerevan to watch the first leg of a World Cup qualification match between Turkey and Armenia.

It is unclear whether his Armenian counterpart Serge Sarkisian will return the gesture when the second leg is played in the northwestern Turkish city of Bursa on Oct. 14.

The Ankara government is under fire for reconciling with Yerevan without progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, facing accusations of selling out Azerbaijan, which has close ethnic and political bonds with Turkey.

Political analysts say the government is unlikely to seek a parliamentary vote to ratify the protocols before progress is made in relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

In Armenia, the deal is also under fire for its inclusion of plans to create a commission to examine historical grievances – a point which critics say calls into question Yerevan's genocide claims.

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