Armenia Suspends Protocols

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YEREVAN (BBC and RFE/RL) — The Armenian government this week announced it is halting the ratification in parliament of landmark accords on normalizing relations with Turkey.

They said it was because of Turkey’s refusal to “ratify the protocols without preconditions and in a reasonable timeframe.”

The countries signed a historic deal in 2009 to re-establish diplomatic ties. But ratification has stalled in both countries over the issue of the Armenian Genocide.

“Considering the Turkish side’s refusal to fulfill the requirement to ratify the accord without preconditions in a reasonable time, making the continuation of the ratification process in the national parliament pointless, we consider it necessary to suspend this process,” the statement said.

In a keenly anticipated address to the nation, Sargisian noted that while he will suspend the ratification process, he has decided not to withdraw Yerevan’s signature from the Turkish-Armenian normal zation protocols at the request of the United States, Russia and other foreign powers that have strongly supported his policy of rapprochement with Turkey.

“The matter of the fact is that our partners have urged us to continue the process, rather than to discontinue it,” he declared in a speech posted on his website and aired by Armenia’s leading TV channels. “Out of respect for them, their efforts, and their sincere aspirations, we have decided … not to exit the process for the time being, but rather, to suspend the procedure of ratifying the Protocols. We believe this to be in the best interests of our nation.”

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“Armenia shall retain her signature under the Protocols, because we desire to maintain the existing momentum for normalizing relations, because we desire peace,” he said, adding that Yerevan will be ready to kick-start the process “when we are convinced that there is a proper environment in Turkey and there is leadership in Ankara ready to reengage in the normalization process.”

Sargisian pointed to his meetings this month with the presidents of France, the United States and Russia. “We are grateful to them for supporting our initiative, encouraging the process, and exerting efforts to secure progress,” he said.

All three powers have favored an unconditional and speedy ratification of the Turkish-Armenian protocols. Turkey has made that conditional on decisive progress in their concerted efforts to broker a solution to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.

Sargisian denounced Ankara’s stance. “For a whole year, Turkey’s senior officials have not spared public statements in the language of preconditions. For a whole year, Turkey has done everything to protract time and fail the process,” he charged, adding that the Turks are “not ready to continue the process.”

“We consider unacceptable the pointless efforts of making the dialogue between Armenia and Turkey an end in itself; from this moment on, we consider the current phase of normalization exhausted,” he declared.

The Armenian president told Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Kiev in February that Turkish ratification should be completed “within the shortest possible time.” “Or else, the Republic of Armenia will withdraw its signatures from the protocols,” he was reported to warn.

In a decree signed on Thursday, Sargisian decided instead to “suspend the procedure of ratifying the protocols” in the Armenian parliament and instructed Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian to notify Ankara about the move. Whether that means the Armenian government will formally recall the protocols from the National Assembly was not immediately clear.

That the US-brokered agreements will be removed from the parliament agenda was made clear by Sargisian’s Republican Party (HHK) and its two junior coalition partners in a joint statement issued earlier on Thursday. That was followed by a meeting of the most vocal Armenian opponents of the rapprochement with Turkey led by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).

A joint statement issued by Dashnaktsutyun and a dozen other, mostly small, opposition parties afterwards demanded that Yerevan go farther and formally annul the Turkish-Armenian accords. Speaking to journalists, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, Vahan Hovannisian, dismissed the ruling coalition’s move as a “yet another half-measure.”

A key argument of Dashnaktsutyun and other critics is that the protocols signed in Zurich last October allow Turkey to keep more countries of the world from recognizing the 1915 Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. They point to a protocol clause envisaging the establishment of a Turkish-Armenian inter-governmental “subcommission” tasked with studying the mass killings and deportations.

In his speech, Sargisian seemed to acknowledge that Ankara has been trying to exploit the normalization process for ensuring that US President Barack Obama does not use the word “genocide” in his statements issued during the annual April 24 remembrance of more than one million Armenians slaughtered by Ottoman forces. “The Turkish practice of passing the 24th of April at any cost is simply unacceptable,” he said.

“Our struggle for the international recognition of the Genocide continues,” added Sargisian. “If some circles in Turkey attempt to use our candor to our detriment, to manipulate the process to avoid the reality of the 24th of April, they should know all too well that the 24th of April is the day that symbolizes the Armenian Genocide, but in no way shall it mark the time boundary of its international recognition.”

While lambasting Ankara, Sargisian paid tribute to his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul, whose historic September 2008 visit to Yerevan marked a dramatic thaw in Turkish-Armenian relations. “While announcing to the world the end of the current phase of the process … I express gratitude to President Abdullah Gul of Turkey for political correctness displayed throughout this period and the positive relationship that developed between us,” he said.