Saturday, February 13, 2010

Armenia (Continued . . .)

The spat about the Armenian Constitutional Court ruling on the ratification of the Protocols hoped to be signed between Turkey and Armenia continues with no end in sight. Since the court decision, Turkey has seemed to focus its argumentative energy on the historical commision the Protocols would establish. While it was unclear from the beginning just what such a commission would look like, the Turkish government claims that the Armenian Constitutional Court's reference to a specific article of the Armenian Declaration of Independence hinders the implications of the Protocols. The article in question reads that Armenia will not retreat from its position that the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 constituted a genocide.

However, long before the Armenian Constitutional Court decision, Turkey had tried to link the Protocols to settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Prime Minister Erdogan explicitly linking the two matters when he met with President Obama in Washington in December. While some analysts maintain that Turkey is merely looking for a way to get out of the Protocols, especially following the angry response from Azerbaijan, Turkish diplomats continue to reiterate their support for the process and have asked Swiss mediators, as well as the United States, to provide written assurance that the Armenian Constitutional Court's decision will not place impediments on the proposed historical commission to discuss what happened in 1915. So far, Switzerland and the United States have said they have no intention to do so, and that the Armenian court decision in no way impedes implementation of the Protocols. The United States, in particular, has lauded the Armenian Constitutional Court decision for moving the process forward, characterizing Turkey's responses as "exaggerated." Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been trying to persuade Washington otherwise, so far holding talks with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Seteinberg, National Security Advisor James Jones, and Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Turkish government has expressed that it feels pressured by the United States, and these accusations of undue meddling only increased with news that the House Foreign Affairs Committee is set to take up consideration of yet another resolution calling for President Obama to recognize 1915 as a genocide. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman said the committee will consider the resolution in early March, in time for it to moved to the House floor for a vote before April 15, the day on which the start of the massacres is memorialized and on which Obama will or will not name the event a "genocide."

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian called on Turkey last week to expedite the ratification process, asking President Gul to help overcome the opposition and clear the way for a vote by the Turkish Parliament. Prime Minister Erdogan, who commands a majority in Parliament, has not moved to put the issue forward; meanwhile, Armenia has threatened to annul the process should Turkey not move forward. Pressure from the Armenian opposition will only increase as April 24 approaches, and though Sarkisian has a solid majority in the Armenian parliament, he is in a much less tenable political position than Erdogan. Armenian opposition figures are insisting that the Protocols are merely an excuse for President Obama to yet again refrain from calling 1915 a "genocide," and that the Protocols are a diplomatic convenience for the United States president to eschew the genocide issue. The Armenian parliament is also preparing legislation to allow the president to remove his signature from international treaties.

There is also plenty of pressuring from Azerbaijan. Azeri Ilham President Aliyev has expressed his confidence that Turkey would not ratify the treaty without the Nagorno-Karabakh link. Aliyev has repeated old threats that he could direct gas away from Turkey and toward Russia, which has promised to buy as much gas from Azerbaijan as it can supply. Meanwhile, Armenia played up its ties with Iran this week, concluding deals to build a transnational railway and energy facilities with the Iranians, a move speculated to strengthen Armenia's hand and pressure the United States not to call on Armenia to make additional concessions.

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