Monday, August 31, 2009

Diplomatic surprise -- Armenia and Turkey begin to mend long-festering conflict

Do miracles still happen? In a development that should give hope to societies all over the world caught up in seemingly intractable conflicts, Armenia and Turkey seem about to establish diplomatic relations for the first time since World War I. The countries have been negotiating since April with the help of mediators from Switzerland and the United States, according to the Reuters international news service. "The political consultations will be completed within six weeks, following which the two Protocols will be signed and submitted to the respective Parliaments for the ratification on each side," the foreign ministries of both countries said in a joint statement. "Both sides will make their best efforts for the timely progression of the ratification in line with their constitutional and legal procedures." Turkey and Armenia have been enemies since the mass killings and expulsions of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915, and Turkey still bitterly disputes characterization of the mass killings as genocide, even though that is exactly what it was. Armenians were legally discriminated against for decades in what became modern Turkey before and after the mass killings, and what was left of Armenia's historic territory joined the Soviet Union or it would probably have been absorbed by Turkey, too. The agreement, which includes a commission to examine the countries' troubled past, was applauded by the U.S. State Department. "We urge Armenia and Turkey to proceed expeditiously," spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement, according to Reuters. "We remain ready to work closely with both governments in support of normalization, a historic process that will contribute to peace, security and stability throughout the region." The agreement was timed as a precursor to a planned visit to Turkey by Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan in October, when he is scheduled to attend a World Cup soccer match between the two countries. Turkey has a considerable incentive for resolving its differences with Armenia -- Ankara wants to improve its international image to better its chances of joining the European Union. But the agreement has risks, particularly in expected outrage from nearby Azerbaijan, where an internal conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and Armenia's involvement in it, caused Turkey to close its border with Armenia in 1993. That was just two years after Armenia became an independent country with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Azerbaijan has strategic important to the West because of its natural gas reserves, yet the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved, 15 years after Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces signed a tense ceasefire, Reuters said.

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