Armenia Suspends US-Backed Normalization of Relations With Turkey

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 81

On April 22, Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan, announced a unilateral suspension of the process of normalizing Armenia-Turkey relations –a process driven by the United States on its own terms of reference. In follow-up statements on April 24, Sargsyan interprets the goal of normalization as being compatible with genocide recognition efforts against Turkey in the international arena.

Yerevan’s move seems designed at least in part to re-energize such efforts in the United States, for leverage on Turkey and Azerbaijan. It follows the failure of Washington’s recent attempts to convince Turkey to de-couple from Azerbaijan and open the Turkish-Armenian border, without requiring any withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijan’s inner districts.

Sargsyan issued his announcement just two days before Obama’s April 24 Armenian Remembrance Day message. Sargsyan’s timing seemed calculated to increase pressure for the term “genocide” or a near-equivalent to be included in the US president’s message. In the event, Obama used an Armenian paraphrase twice in his message (White House press release, April 24), just as he had done last year. The White House will have to struggle with the genocide issue through the mid-term elections until (at least) next year’s Armenian Remembrance Day.

Technically, Armenia’s suspension takes the form of withdrawing the Armenian-Turkish normalization protocols from ratification by its parliament. Signed by presidents Sargsyan and Abdullah Gul, after US prodding, in October 2009 in Zurich, the two protocols envisaged establishing diplomatic relations and opening the mutual border for trade and transit (seen as benefiting mainly Armenia). Normalization was to be achieved “within a reasonable time-frame,” (before the US political deadline on April 24). Moreover, normalization was to be pursued “without preconditions,” meaning that Turkey would normalize relations despite Armenia’s occupation of inner-Azeri territories, while Armenia would withdraw its support from genocide recognition efforts in the US political arena.

In his April 22 statement to the nation, Sargsyan asserted that Turkey has dragged out the process beyond a reasonable timeframe, so as to pass the April 24 deadline (a charge designed to resonate with the US administration). Sargsyan criticizes Ankara for introducing preconditions, meaning (though he does not spell it out) that it has reinstated the linkage between the re-opening of the Turkish-Armenian border and withdrawal of Armenian troops from inner-Azeri territories. Armenia therefore suspended the protocols’ parliamentary ratification, Sargsyan said, until Turkey would re-engages in “normalization” without preconditions, or separates the process of Turkish-Armenian normalization from that of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict resolution. Armenia retains its [Sargsyan’s] signature under the Zurich protocols and does not exit the process “for the time being.” However, “our struggle for international recognition of the genocide continues” (Armenian Radio, Arminfo, April 22, 23).

In two follow-up statements on April 24 to the Armenian people and to Russian media, respectively, Sargsyan vowed that Armenia would continue to “struggle for genocide recognition as an irreversible process” and “an obligation, irrespective of the political situation.” He defines the historical commission envisaged by the Zurich protocols as a forum for studying the Armenian genocide, not for determining whether it took place or not. Moreover, “We reject the argument that the dialogue between Armenia and Turkey can justify the refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide” (Arminfo, PanArmenian.Net, RIA Novosti, Interfax, April 24).

Thus, Yerevan contradicts the Obama administration’s argument that Armenian-Turkish normalization would justify halting the genocide recognition campaign. To deflect that campaign, the administration had proposed opening the Turkish-Armenian border, in lieu of genocide recognition. Yerevan went along with the Obama administration’s argument for one year, irritating many in the activist Armenian diaspora groups; but Yerevan is now apparently realigning with that part of the diaspora by again insisting on genocide recognition.

Addressing a Congressional leadership group headed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington, Armenian Ambassador, Tatul Margarian, similarly declared, “The [Armenia-Turkey] rapprochement cannot take place to the detriment of genocide recognition” (PanArmenian.Net, April 24).

All this seems to presage continuing attempts at exerting political leverage on Ankara and Baku via Washington’s political processes, in the run-up to the US mid-term elections. The administration had sought Yerevan’s help for moving the genocide debate from the US political arena into the quiet confines of a historical commission. Apparently, Yerevan has become less cooperative in this regard.

Yerevan has suspended its part in the “normalization,” realizing that the process has failed to divide Turkey from Azerbaijan, or to pressure Ankara into sacrificing Baku’s interests in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Moscow must have realized this also. Sargsyan flew to Moscow for consultations with President Dmitry Medvedev on April 20, two days before announcing the suspension of normalizing relations with Turkey (Arminfo, Interfax, April 20–22).