Hugh Pope reports on how Turkey and Armenia's promise to establish diplomatic relations on August 31 could restore Turkey's "prestige" as a regional peace-maker and place the nation one step closer to European Union membership.
It's been a long time coming, but Turkey and Armenia's vow on 31 August to establish diplomatic relations, open their long-closed border and begin to talk seriously about the past is excellent news. As laid out in our 14 April report Turkey and Armenia: Opening Minds, Opening Borders, normalisation between Turkey and Armenia will benefit not just the bilateral relationship. If successful, it could win back for Turkey and its AKP government much of their recently faded prestige as domestic reformers, as regional peace-makers and as a country seriously intending to push forward with its accession process to the European Union.
The brief joint announcement from Ankara, Yerevan and the Swiss mediators in Bern said that two protocols had been initialled on the establishment of diplomatic relations and the development of bilateral relations. The two sides committed to seeing the protocols through to parliamentary ratifications within six weeks -- that is, two days before a 14 October World Cup qualifier match between Armenia and Turkey due to be played in the western Turkish provincial city of Bursa. Turkey hopes that Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian will accept its invitation to attend, just as Turkish President Abdullah Gül initiated the current process by attending the first round match in Yerevan in September 2008.
Texts of the two protocols circulating in Turkey and Armenia set out a fully rounded and reasonable plan. In a "Protocol on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations" the two sides promised to establish diplomatic relations on the first day of the first month after ratification; to exchange diplomatic missions; to reopen the border within two months of ratification; and to mutually recognize the existing border. In a "Protocol on Development of Relations" -- to go into effect simultaneously with the diplomatic opening -- the two sides promised to promote cooperation in all areas from energy infrastructure to tourism; to set up a mechanism of regular foreign ministry consultations, including a main intergovernmental commission and seven sub-commissions; to act jointly to preserve the cultural heritage of both sides; and to establish consular cooperation. The protocols are accompanied by a detailed timetable, in which all steps and commissions would be fully implemented and in motion within four months.