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TURKEY tr-diplomacy

New protocols set ground for Turkey, Armenia common future

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 9/1/2009 12:00:00 AM | SERKAN DEMİRTAŞ

With the second half of ‘football diplomacy’ just weeks away, Turkish and Armenian leaders are pledging to sign protocols that will usher in a new era of open relations between the two countries. The future isn’t certain, however, as the parliaments and presidents on both sides of the border will need to ratify the agreements before they can come into force

After decades of tension between the neighbors, Turkey and Armenia are set to sign protocols that promise to shape a broad common ground for establishing good ties and undertaking joint projects important for future development.

The two countries are expected to ink two protocols in six weeks, likely just before the World Cup qualifying match that will take place in Bursa on Oct. 14 between Turkey and Armenia’s national teams.

The first protocol, covering the establishment of diplomatic relations, and the second, on the development of relations, are accompanied by an annex that sets a clear timetable for the implementation of both.

Though uncertainties remain, the agreements envision the opening of the Turkey-Armenia border within two months after the second protocol goes into force, which requires approval from both parliaments and presidents.

“[Turkey and Armenia] reconfirm their commitment, in their bilateral and international relations, to respect and ensure respect for the principles of equality, sovereignty, non-intervention in internal affairs of other states, territorial integrity and inviolability of frontiers,” the first protocol reads.

The initial part of the agreement also touches on the issue of regional stability without making direct reference to the ongoing dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenian forces. Refraining from the use of threats or force, promoting the peaceful settlement of disputes and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms are also key provisions in the protocol.

[HH] Borders to be recognized

Under the agreement, the two countries will also affirm their mutual recognition of their existing border, as defined by relevant treaties in international law, a provision that directly refers to one of Turkey’s most important demands, Armenia’s acknowledgement of the 1921 Treaty of Kars that delimited the border. This aspect of the protocol can be seen as Armenia’s confirmation that it will no longer make any claims on Turkish territory.

The next item of the protocol once again affirms the countries’ decision to open the common border, which was sealed by Turkey in response to Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. Previously, Turkey had said it would not move toward reconciliation with Armenia unless the country removed its forces from Azerbaijani lands.

“Condemning all forms of terrorism, violence and extremism irrespective of their cause, pledging to refrain from encouraging and tolerating such acts and to cooperate in combating against them,” are among the other terms of the protocol. As Turkish intelligence services believe that Armenia is one of the countries providing support to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, Turkey will press Armenia to severe any links with the banned organization.

The protocol on the development of relations lists a number of fields in which the two countries will work to launch joint projects. In addition to political and economic ties, Turkey and Armenia will set up sub-commissions to work on energy- and transportation-related efforts, as well as other scientific, technical and cultural issues, that will foster a common future based on mutual interests. Projects set to be launched in the short term include the reactivation of existing railroads and joint electricity production.

In another reference to the peaceful settlement of regional disputes, the protocol text says the countries are “reiterating their commitment to the peaceful settlement of regional and international disputes and conflicts on the basis of the norms and principles of international law.”

Under the new agreements, Turkey and Armenia will also work together to stop transnational organized crime, including the illicit trafficking of drugs and arms.

[HH] Initiating a historical dialogue

In addition to the main aims of the two protocols, the neighboring countries have also agreed to set up a sub-commission to deal with the mass killings that occurred during the World War I era. The sub-commission will be able to invite foreign experts to contribute to its work. It is charged with implementing “a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations, including an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations.”

The two countries will also cooperate in the fields of science and education by encouraging relations between appropriate institutions and promoting the exchange of specialists and students, and will act to preserve the cultural heritage of both sides by launching joint cultural projects.

[HH] The timetable

After negotiations are completed, the protocols are expected to be signed in the first half of October and will then be sent to Parliament for further discussion. The final approval of the protocols must be made by President Abdullah Gül. It is not yet known how long it may take to complete the ratification process.

The protocol calls for the border to be opened within two months of the documents’ entry into force, meaning that if Gül approves them on Nov. 1, for example, the border would have to be opened before the New Year.

The two countries will also establish a working group headed by their respective foreign ministries to prepare an intergovernmental commission, along with a number of sub-commissions, that will be convened within three months after the protocol goes into effect. The sub-commissions will convene a month after the initial intergovernmental meeting.

[HH] Uncertainty over Karabakh

Though a key step in the reconciliation process, the protocols do not address all the questions marks in the relationship between the two countries. After Turkey and Armenia declared their initial “road map” for reconciliation on April 22, Baku’s strong reaction caused Ankara to backpedal and declare that it would only move forward if Armenia withdrawals from occupied Azerbaijani lands. The current protocol does not address this issue. Turkish diplomats say there are still two parallel tracks, but thus far, the implementation is not showing that to be the case.

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