Wednesday

1st Dec 2021

Turkey and Armenia normalise ties despite last-minute tensions

Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers on Saturday signed protocols aimed at re-establishing diplomatic ties and re-opening their countries' border after decades of hostility.

Initially thought to be a mere formality, the signing ceremony in a luxurious Swiss hotel developed into a diplomatic drama on Saturday night (10 October), when the Turkish and Armenian ministers were about to call the whole event off after re-igniting the same historic divergences that have long soured their relations.

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  • The round of applause was delayed by three hours due to last-minute divergences (Photo: US State Deparment)

Armenia wants Turkey to recognise what it calls a genocide against its people during the first World War, while a sore point for Turkey remains Armenia's occupation of parts of neighbouring Azerbaijan in the early 1990s.

It was mainly thanks to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's emergency diplomacy – phone calls and meeting with the ministers – that the protocols were eventually signed three hours later.

They still need to be ratified by the national parliaments in Ankara and Yerevan – a process which is likely to take some time due to strong opposition by certain parliamentary groups.

The Swedish EU presidency welcomed the Saturday deal and "encourages Armenia and Turkey to remain committed to the process of normalisation and calls for the ratification and implementation the protocols as soon as possible," a statement reads.

The move may also have a positive impact on EU-Turkey accession negotiations, where normalisation of relations with neighbours plays an important role.

"Turkey and Armenia have taken bold decisions on an historic step. We trust that they will show the same courage to pursue the commitments they have taken today. This will set a good example for the whole region," EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and Russian top diplomat Sergei Lavrov also attended the signing ceremony in Zurich.

Russia has a strategic interest in Armenia, where it still keeps a military base. The small, landlocked country between Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Georgia counted on Moscow's support during its war with Azerbaijan in 1993.

This resulted in a still unresolved 'frozen conflict' over the Azeri region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Azerbaijani foreign ministry on Sunday said Turkey should not have normalised ties without a deal over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu tried to alleviate Azeri fears, pointing out that the borders with Armenia could only be opened once it has withdrawn from Azerbaijan.

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