By Mark Leon Goldberg
I am in Turkey this week, courtesy of the Turkish Cultural Foundation. As it happens, this is an auspicious time to be here. The IMF-World Bank meetings wrap up in Istanbul today. Also, later in the week, the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers will meet in Switzerland to sign the Armenia-Turkey protocol which paves the way for the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two neighboring countries. Turkey and Armenia have had a closed border since the early 1990s and there is no formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The protocol seeks to address a number of outstanding disputes that have caused such a frayed relationship. This includes the 1915 Armenian genocide and Armenian claims to Turkish territory. On the genocide issue, the protocol establishes a joint Armenian-Turkish historical commission to examine the question of the genocoide. While this is the preferred method for reconciliation by the political leadership of Turkey and Armenia, this point has made the agreement controversial among many Armenians in the diaspora. To that end, Armenian President Serge Sarkisian traveled to Los Angeles, Paris and Beirut in recent weeks to lobby the Armenian diaspora. However, he was greeted with protests nearly everywhere he went by those in the diaspora opposed to rapprochement with Turkey.
The protocol also represents an agreement between the two countries on the precise border between Turkey and Armenia, formally renouncing Armenian claims on Turkish territory. Though it is not officially a part of the protocol to be signed in Zurich next week, there has been parallel progress on another border dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. When the USSR dissolved Armenia seized control of the ethnic Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan known has Nagorno-Karanbakh. Turkey, which has strong ties to Azerbaijan, closed its border with Armenia in solidarity. Armenian and Azeri delegations are meeting in Moldova this week to discuss the Karabakh issue, though Turkish president Recep Erdogan has said that he will sign the protocol to open the border irrespective of progress on the Karabakh front.
For the protocol to come into effect, however, it must be ratified by both parliaments. This is far from a certain outcome. As a prominent Turkish journalist told me, opposition parties are appealing to nationalist sentiments and opposing the protocols to gain partisan advantage. Still, signing this agreement is an important first step to the full restoration of diplomatic relations between these neighbors. The deal is supposed to go down on Saturday in Zurich. Stay tuned.