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Turkey to Re-establish Ties with Armenia

By Dorian Jones
30 September 2009

Turkey's prime minister says an agreement to re-establish diplomatic ties with Armenia will be signed by the two countries on October 10. Turkey severed ties and closed its border in 1993 after Armenia fought a war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nargono Karbakh enclave. The announcement is the latest development in the thawing of bilateral relations.

It was last year's football match between Turkey and Armenia in the Armenian capital Yerevan that was the catalyst for the rapprochement between the two countries.

Under Swiss mediation, the Turkey and Armenia have conducted talks to re-establish diplomatic relations, with both sides agreeing on a protocol to normalize relations.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now said that the protocol will be signed on October 10. International Relations expert of Istanbul's Bilgi University says its an important step forward to restoring relations, but it's just a step..

"I think its pretty significant but then the protocols are going to be sent to the respective parliaments for ratification and that's when the deal gets a bit more complicated, there is strong opposition both in Armenia and Turkey," he said.

Already the main opposition parties in Turkey have condemned the announcement accusing the government of betraying its ally Azerbaijan. Ankara severed its ties with Yerevan and closed its border in 1993 after Armenia fought a war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nargono Karbakh enclave.

Armenian forces continue to occupy a large part of Azeri territory. The government has been quick to dispel accusations of betrayal saying they remain committed to Azerbaijan.

Earlier this month, Suat Kiniklioglu, spokesman of the Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee, insisted that resolving Azeri grievances remains key to restoring Armenian- Turkish relations.

"Without movement on the Karabahk issue that the normalization process would be difficult to sustain. The trick here is how do you manage to have movement on this side, and at the same time sustain the normalization process without domestically each countries having major problems. Again another expression I like in the English language, all the stars are lined up in the right place," he said.

According to international relations expert Soli Ozel, the region's main powers may for the first time have common interests in bringing stability to the region.

"My understanding is there is almost near agreement on a frame work between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Americans, of course, are behind these developments," said Ozel. "But the Russian part is more important because the Russians can block it anytime they want. But i think it serves their purpose too because Russian and American relations seem to be on a better track now than they been for quite some time now. The Russians may wish to be on the right side of things. Plus give that Turkish-Russian relations are pretty good and the Russians would like to send their gas and petrol through Turkey to where ever, that is something that suits them," Ozel added.

Washington has also being using its diplomatic muscle to pressure and encourage both Ankara and Yerevan to normalize relations.

Still, there is a historical controversy between Armenia and Turkey, which could yet undermine those attempts.

Yerevan along with much of the international community accuses Turkey's then Ottoman rulers in 1915 of committing genocide against its Armenian minority. Ankara strongly denies the charge. The controversy continues to sour relations and according to political scientist and newspaper columnist, Nuray Mert, says there is deep suspicion within the country over the rapprochement.

"This talk of accepting genocide, these are traps or steps in the way of accepting genocide, or this discourse of genocide is being imposed in us by great powers, western powers. That's why this opening the border debate is not a simple question, for anybody. And the political opposition is using , knowing that it is a very sensitive issue, is using it against the government so the matter is getting even more complicated," said Mert.

The coming weeks are now already being described by analysts as crucial in helping to bring stability to one of the most unstable regions in the world.

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