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Armenian foreign minister, Edouard Nalbandian, center left, and Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, center right, shake hands
An historic agreement is signed in ZurichImage: AP

Turkey - Armenia

October 11, 2009

Armenia and Turkey have signed protocols to normalize relations and open the Turkish-Armenian border, but the historic signing agreement almost foundered at the last minute.


As foreign ministers from Russia, France, the United States and the European Union looked on, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Armenian counterpart, Edouard Nalbandian, signed two protocols at the University of Zurich on Saturday evening, re-establishing diplomatic ties and opening the border between the two nations.

But even as international dignitaries gathered to observe the signing, the Armenian representatives unexpectedly demanded a review of the closing statement's wording. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally managed to bring the parties together by arranging a compromise that led to no statement being read at the end of the signing ceremony.

So, in the end, both Davutoglu and Nalbandian signed the accord and shook hands to applause from onlookers. The European Union quickly welcomed the agreement.

"The European Commission warmly welcomes the signature by the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers... of the protocols on establishing diplomatic relations and developing bilateral relations, including the opening of the common border," said a statement from the EU commission.

The statement further congratulated both parties on their efforts.

"The Commission considers it a courageous and far-sighted step forward towards peace and stability in the South Caucasus region and a truly historic decision showing readiness to compromise on both sides."

The signing of the protocols comes after a year of negotiations mediated by the Swiss, and although it is a welcome step forward, it must now be ratified by both the Turkish and Armenian parliaments to take effect.

There is considerable resistance to the protocols in both parliaments, however, so it remains unclear when final ratification will occur.

Agreement not popular

Demonstrators in Yerevan oppose protocols
Many Armenians oppose the accords because of Ottoman crimes in WWIImage: AP

One day before the protocols were signed, 10,000 people demonstrated in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, to protest the historic event.

Protests were not limited to Armenia. In Beirut, thousands of Lebanese-Armenians marched against the plans to establish diplomatic ties between Ankara and Yerevan at a gathering outside the Turkish embassy, as well as the Armenian patriarchate near Beirut.

One of the most difficult issues remaining unresolved between Turks and Armenians is the matter of Armenian assertions that Turkey carried out genocide in the early 20th century.

In 1915, Armenians claim that Ottoman Turks systematically killed nearly 1.5 million Armenians. Yerevan has campaigned for years to have the deaths recognized internationally as genocide. Turkey has rejected the claims.

Now, as part of the new protocols, Turkey and Armenia have agreed to form an historical commission to look into the events that occurred during World War I.

There is also serious contention between the two nations over the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke away from Armenia in 1993. When Armenia then invaded the breakaway Azerbaijiani territory, Turkey shut its borders with Armenia, causing extreme economic hardship for the landlocked country.

Editor: Rick Demarest

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