Thursday, April 22, 2010

Deadlock Official

Armenia's ruling coalition announced this morning that the protocols signed with Turkey are stalled, and that it is up to Turkey to take further action. Essentially, according to the Armenians, the ball is in Turkey's court. The announcement, coming just two days before President Obama will commemorate the large-scale massacre of Armenians under Ottoman rule in 1915, can be read as an attempt to up the ante in Washington. In its statement, the ruling coalition described Turkey's linkage of the Protocols' ratification with progress on Nagorno-Karabakh as unacceptable. For the full text of the statement, click here. Turkey, for its part, continues to insist that the Armenian constitutional court decision delivered last February also puts acceptable preconditions on the Protocols, hindering their full implementation (namely, on the point of the "historical commission"). From Prime Minister Erdogan's response to the Armenian statement, it does not look as if the statement will make Turkey budge, nor should it have been expected to -- probably owing more to a desire to influence Washington, than Turkey. Some speculated that the two sides had made progress at the nuclear summit in Washington last week, but clearly there is a long way to go. For background, see past posts.

UPDATE I (4/23) -- Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan addressed the Armenian public last night. Bianet has the summary. For the United States' response, click here.

UPDATE II (4/27) -- The International Crisis Group (ICG)'s Sabine Frazier has written an excellent short analysis of the stalled agreement. From the piece:
In spring 2009, Baku's leadership began to appeal not only to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but also to the Turkish opposition to keep the border shut until its occupied territories were liberated. It threatened Turkey's preferential price for its Shah Deniz natural gas supplies and chances of greater volume to feed the planned Nabucco transit pipeline to Europe. In January of this year, for the first time, Azerbaijan provided significant amounts of gas to Russia. Popular mood against Turkey hardened in Baku, with official support and even puppets of Turkey's leaders being burned in some protests.

Turkish leaders decided that they could not ignore Azerbaijani pressure and with difficult negotiations going on concerning constitutional reform, they do not want to pick a fight over border opening with nationalists in the parliamentary opposition -- and within their own ruling party. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan made increasingly unambiguous statements that without progress on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the border would not open, even though this was the strategy applied by Ankara since 1993 with little conflict resolution effect.

In the past several months Turkey did succeed in contributing to reinvigorating efforts to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group. Armenia and Azerbaijan are closer than ever to signing the agreement on basic principles that they have been considering since 2005. But they have not narrowed their differences on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. While there has been some movement on defining an “interim status” for the entity, Armenia insists that it should have the right to self determination including secession from Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan says that its territorial integrity cannot be violated.

The Armenian government also did little over the past several months to reaffirm its commitment to difficult aspects of the protocols. Rather it tried to distance itself from the establishment of a committee on the historical dimension “including an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives.” For Armenians such a commission is generally perceived as a fundamental violation of their very national identity. They don't accept that “the genocide fact” can be discussed. Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan made this most clear in an April interview to Der Spiegel criticizing the idea of a historical commission as “calling into question the fact of the genocide perpetrated against our people.”

Both the Armenian and Turkish leadership comes out of the past months weakened. Armenian President Sarksyan has been heavily criticized by his opposition for making too many concessions to the Turkish side, believing that the border could open despite Azerbaijan's firm opposition and losing a realistic chance in 2009 that US President Barack Obama would state that he recognized the mass killings and deportations of Ottoman Armenians 1915 as genocide. The Armenian parliamentary decision is a victory for the more hard-line Armenian diaspora and a defeat of Armenian sovereign foreign policy making.

UPDATE I (4/23) -- The Global Post's Nichole Sobecki has an informative piece up on the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement, in which a variety of voices may be heard. The piece also has some striking photography of Van, where many Armenians used to reside before the deporations/massacres.

UPDATE II (4/27) -- Eurasia Daily Monitor analyst Vladimir Socor has put out an insightful piece criticizing the logic of the Obama Administration's approach to the Protocols. An excerpt:
Since April 2009, US President, Barack Obama’s administration has pressed for opening Turkey’s border with Armenia unconditionally Thus, the October 2009 Zurich protocols, strongly backed by the US, required Turkey to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia and open the mutual border “without preconditions.”

Washington’s policy seems driven primarily by domestic politics. The administration hopes to remove the annual drama of Armenian genocide recognition from the center-stage of US politics. It seeks its way out of the dilemma of losing Turkey versus any loss of the US Armenian vote. “Normalization” of Turkish-Armenian relations, centered on the re-opening of that border, was offered as a substitute for the unfulfilled electoral-campaign promises to recognize an Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.

Washington’s normalization concept, however, has also turned out to be unfulfilled. Tilting sharply in Armenia’s favor at Azerbaijan’s expense, it backfired first in Azerbaijan and shortly afterward in Turkey. Instead of de-aligning Ankara from Baku, as seemed briefly possible, it led Turkey and Azerbaijan to close ranks against an unconditional “normalization” of Turkish-Armenian relations, prior to a first-stage withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijan.

The US initiative seemed unrelated to any regional strategy in the South Caucasus. It actually coincided with an overall reduction of US engagement in that region, downgrading the earlier goals of conflict-resolution and promotion of energy projects. Moreover, it risked splitting its strategic partner Azerbaijan from Turkey, compromising the basis for a subsequent return to an active US policy in the region.

. . . .

The logic of the administration’s initiative from 2009 to date has implied that Washington would “deliver” the re-opening of Turkey’s border with Armenia; while Turkey would in turn “deliver” Azerbaijan by opening the Turkish-Armenian border, without insisting on the withdrawal of Armenian troops from inner-Azeri territories. That conditionality is a long-established one in these negotiations. However, Washington currently insists that the two processes be separated and that Turkey opens that border unconditionally as per the October 2009 Zurich protocols.

Breaking that linkage would irreparably compromise the chances of a peaceful, stage-by-stage settlement of the Armenian-Azeri conflict. It would indefinitely prolong the Armenian military presence inside Azerbaijan, placing Russia in a commanding position to arbitrate the conflict, with unprecedented leverage on an Azerbaijan alienated from its strategic allies.
While Washington was surely not expecting such a strong response from Azerbaijan (see Jan. 24 post), it is now all the more clear that a rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey must involve Azerbaijan, taking into account the concerns and interests of all parties involved. While it is perhaps possible to criticize Turkey for placing preconditions on the Protocols, it is also possible to criticize the United States and Europe for not adequately taking into account the amount of pressure Azerbaijan is able to exert over Turkey. Turkey might well "deliver" Azerbaijan, but only if the Azeris are made part of the process. The Obama Administration's exclusion of Azerbaijan from the nuclear summit in Washington on April 12-13 marked a continuation of this oversight, and it is only hoped that the United States will amend its logic in the future.

UPDATE III (5/8) -- Yigal Schleifer gives another good account of the breakdown of the rapproachment at the Eurasianet website.

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