Peace Deal under Threat


YEREVAN (Reuters) — Armenia accused Turkey on Friday of trying to block a deal to establish diplomatic ties and open their border and warned their bid to overcome a century of hostility could collapse.

The comments by Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian cast fresh doubt on the future of the rapprochement, after Turkey accused Armenia’s Constitutional Court of trying to re-write the text of the deal with a court ruling last week.

Faced with a backlash from Turkish ally Azerbaijan, the rhetoric in both countries has grown increasingly bitter since they inked accords in October designed to overcome the legacy of the World War I mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

The deal stands to burnish Turkey’s credentials as a potential EU entry state and boost its clout in the Caucasus. It would bring big economic benefits to poor, landlocked Armenia.

But asked on Friday if the process was in danger of collapsing, Nalbandian said:

“If Turkey is not ready to ratify the protocols, if it continues to speak in the language of preconditions and to block the process, then I don’t exclude it.”
But he added: “I hope Turkey will ratify the documents.”

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The two protocols require parliamentary ratification in both countries before they enter into force.

Turkey, stung by the backlash from oil-producing Azerbaijan, says it first wants Christian Armenia to make concessions in the festering conflict with Muslim Azerbaijan over the mainly Armenian breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabagh.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan during the war.

Armenia rejects any link between the two issues, but diplomats say international mediators have stepped up efforts to squeeze at least some sign of progress out of negotiations on Nagorno-Karabagh — which resume on Monday in Russia.

Turkey is anxious to keep Azerbaijan on side, with the former Soviet republic courted by the West and Russia for its energy reserves in the Caspian Sea and as a potential supplier for Europe’s planned Nabucco gas pipeline.

Turkey said the Armenian court ruling, which endorsed the protocols, could derail the process by reaffirming the state’s obligation to pursue international recognition of the World War I killings as genocide, a term Turkey vehemently rejects.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday it was “contradictory to the letter and spirit of the protocols,” but added that talks would continue.
Nalbandian played down hope of an imminent breakthrough on Nagorno-Karabagh, which broke away from Azerbaijan with Armenian backing in the early 1990s in a war that killed 30,000 people.

The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan hold the latest round of talks on Monday in Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi.

“If the Azeri side takes a more constructive approach, there might be movement,” Nalbandian said. “But that there might be some kind of breakthrough in the near future, I can’t say that.”

(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove in Istanbul; writing by Matt Robinson in Tbilisi; editing by Charles Dick.)

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