International diplomatic pressure on Turkey and Armenia to boost their efforts toward the normalization of their bilateral relations has continued on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held separate meetings with the foreign ministers of both countries, urging them to take concrete steps toward implementing their commitment to end decades of hostility (Anadolu Ajansi, September 29). During her meeting with the Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, Clinton said that normalization "should take place without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe." She also communicated a similar message to the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (Today’s Zaman, September 30).
Prior to her meeting with Davutoglu, Clinton praised the Turkish government’s resolution to resolve its problems with Armenia. Davutoglu also recalled President Barack Obama’s description of Turkish-American relations as a "model partnership" and noted that the two countries would continue to cooperate in a myriad of areas (ANKA, September 29). In addition to Turkish-Armenian relations, Clinton and Davutoglu discussed the progress over the Cyprus dispute, joint efforts against international terrorism, developments in the Balkans, energy security and the Iranian nuclear issue (Anadolu Ajansi, September 29).
Speaking to reporters about Clinton’s meetings, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Philip Gordon said that Washington was eager to see the conclusion of a deal between the two countries soon. "This is a challenging process that faces some political opposition in both countries and it is difficult for each government…It should not wait for other things to be implemented, or be linked to other issues. It should go ahead," Gordon added (Hurriyet Daily News, September 30).
Despite international attention on the issue and raised expectations of an imminent breakthrough, major obstacles remain. This development comes against the background of the recent steps toward Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, facilitated by Switzerland. Following the roadmap they announced in April, Turkey and Armenia recently initialed protocols to take steps toward the resolution of their differences, including the future re-opening of the Turkish-Armenian border. They committed to signing agreements on finalizing these issues. However, the implementation of any deal will be subject to parliamentary ratification in both countries. Since Turkish public opinion is becoming increasingly nationalist, and the opposition parties have declared their skepticism toward the protocols, obtaining domestic support for the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) "Armenian opening" is likely to prove problematic. Moreover, Turkey’s ethnically close and strategic ally in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan, was troubled by the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation given the ongoing Azeri-Armenian dispute. The Turkish government announced that Ankara will take into account Baku’s concerns and avoid proceeding with its Armenian opening without the resolution of the Karabakh dispute. As a result, Baku emerged as a significant player in Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, rendering the resolution of the bilateral problems extremely difficult (EDM, September 8, 16).
The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Ankara and Yerevan will sign a deal to establish diplomatic ties around October 10-11, and the issue would be brought before parliament. Earlier, anonymous Turkish diplomatic sources also said that the agreement would be signed on October 10, although reporters could not confirm this date through Armenian diplomats (Anadolu Ajansi, September 27).
Speaking to the Azeri press, Erdogan, however, reiterated Turkish support for Azerbaijan. "The interests of Azerbaijan are always important for Turkey. We will not betray Azerbaijan… The normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia… has reached a very delicate point. We will not sign an agreement that will contradict Azerbaijan’s interests. This process will contribute to the resolution of the Karabakh dispute" (Cihan, September 28).
Erdogan also voiced his expectation for broader international involvement in Azeri-Armenian problems. He called on the United States and other members of the OSCE’s Minsk group to play a more pro-active role in addressing the Karabakh issue, arguing that the resolution of this problem will facilitate the resolution of other problems in the region (Cihan, September 28). Indeed, Erdogan had spoken to Obama on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, where he conveyed similar messages. In response to Erdogan’s invitation to mobilize the Minsk Group’s involvement, Obama told Erdogan that he was aware of the critical role that the Karabakh dispute played in the region (Hurriyet, September 27).
The new legislative year in the Turkish parliament will begin on October 1, which will increase pressure on the government to address the Armenian opening and other controversial domestic and foreign policy initiatives. The government realizes that it has put itself in a delicate position over Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. Both to allay Baku’s concerns and to reduce the domestic opposition, it acknowledged the linkage between Turkey’s own normalization and the resolution of the Karabakh issue. For the Turks, the resolution of the Karabakh conflict depends on Armenia ending its occupation of Azeri territories and its withdrawal from Karabakh.
However, despite Ankara’s optimism that Yerevan might act in a more reconciliatory manner vis-à-vis Baku, no progress has been achieved. As the deadline for signing the protocols and eventually obtaining parliamentary ratification approaches, the government is desperately seeking to find some "evidence" that it can offer to allay domestic fears that Armenia is conceding to Azerbaijan in the Karabakh dispute. In that context, the role Turkey attaches to the Minsk group has come to the fore. Although Ankara earlier supported Baku in its criticism of the Minsk group for failing to develop any solution (Anadolu Ajansi, May 25), it has recently proven more cautious on whether the Minsk group might persuade Yerevan to at least partially withdraw from the occupied Azeri territories, without which the government will have difficulties in securing the ratification of the agreement from parliament (Radikal, September 2; Hurriyet, September 21).