Turkey, Armenia set to sign peace deal: Russia

Turkey and Armenia will sign landmark deals at the weekend to normalize ties poisoned by their shared bloody history, Russia said Thursday.

Updated: Oct 08, 2009, 22:38 PM IST

Ankara: Turkey and Armenia will sign landmark deals at the weekend to normalize ties poisoned by their shared bloody history, Russia said Thursday as the main parties kept mum on the timing of the ceremony.
"The signing of the Armenian-Turkish documents, set for October 10 in Zurich, will... determine the steps of the two sides on to the path of a full normalisation of intergovernmental ties," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in Moscow.

Russia is a close ally of Armenia and, according to the Turkish press, has been invited to the signing ceremony.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first person to announce Saturday as the date when Ankara and Yerevan would ink two protocols aimed at establishing diplomatic ties for the first time and opening their border which has been sealed since 1993.

Armenia, miffed by Turkey`s unilateral announcement, has so far refused to pronounce a date for the ceremony.

In a change of tack on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also refrained from giving a date and said Switzerland, which mediates in Turkish-Armenian reconciliation talks, would make an announcement on the timing of the ceremony.

"I believe you will get a statement from Switzerland soon," Davutoglu told reporters here.

But he underlined that Turkey would not backtrack from the protocols. "We have no doubt that they will be signed," Davutoglu said. In Yerevan, foreign ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan refused to comment on a possible date, saying: "When there will be information, we will let you know."

Switzerland was yet to announce when the ceremony would take place, but preparations were underway for accrediting journalists for the event.

Recent Turkish media reports quoted Swiss officials as saying that they were still working on some technical problems regarding the invitation list. The two protocols to be signed were announced in August after years of closed-door talks between Turkey and Armenia, who have never had diplomatic relations, share a closed border and are at loggerheads over the World War I massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

The accords, however, need to be ratified by the governments of both countries in order to take effect, a process that could be complicated by domestic opposition and, most importantly, wrangling over the unresolved Nagorny-Karabakh dispute.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their people were killed in a genocide in 1915-1917. Ankara, which rejects the genocide label and says the number of those killed is grossly inflated, has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Yerevan.

In Armenia, the deal is under fire for its inclusion of plans to create a commission to examine historical grievances -- a point that critics say calls into question Yerevan`s genocide claims.

The Ankara government, on the other hand, is under fire for reconciling with Yerevan without any progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which has close ethnic and political bonds with Turkey.

In 1993, Turkey closed its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan against Yerevan`s backing for ethnic Armenian separatists in the breakaway enclave.

Senior Turkish officials have said that the Armenian border will not open unless there is progress in talks between Yerevan and Baku to resolve the conflict.

Armenia rejects any link between Nagorny-Karabakh and the rapprochement process.

The signing of the protocols is expected before an eagerly anticipated football match between the two countries.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has invited his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian to watch the second leg of a World Cup qualification match between their countries on Wednesday. It remains unclear whether Sarkisian will come.

Gul had visited Armenia in September 2008 for the first-leg match, becoming the first Turkish head of state to do so.

Bureau Report