The Zurich Protocols refer to two bilateral protocols signed in 2009 by Armenia and Turkey that envisioned starting the process of normalizing relations between the two countries. The agreement, later proved to be ineffectual, had been brokered by the United States, Russia and France.
On 10 October 2009, the foreign ministers, Ahmet Davutoğlu for Turkey and Eduard Nalbandyan for Armenia, signed in Zurich the two protocols in a ceremony attended also by then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner and Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov.
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The Protocols required ratification from parliaments of both countries. In an effort to de-link issues, the protocols did not mention the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. They also did not include a deadline for ratification.
The protocols faced immense criticism in both countries, with some Armenians accusing their government of selling out and some in Turkey upset that the protocols did not refer to the Nagorno Karabakh issue. Thus, the Protocols languished since signature in both nations' parliaments without ratification.
In February 2015, the Armenian part, represented by President Sargsyan recalled the protocols from parliament, citing the "absence of political will" on the Turkish side. Then, in December 2017 citing lack of any "positive progress towards their implementation" by Turkey, the Armenian side vowed to declare them void and null, which Armenia formally did on 1 March 2018.
Despite the bitterness resulting from the stalling of the normalization process, some authors think that the Zurich Protocols could still represent a way forward for the Armenia-Turkey normalization process.
- 1 Background
- 2 Signing of the accord
- 3 Suspension of the ratification process
- 4 See also
- 5 References
2008 Turkish Presidential visit to Armenia
In September 2008, Turkish President Abdullah Gül became the first Turkish head of state to visit Armenia after he accepted the invitation of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to attend a FIFA World Cup qualifier football match between the Turkish and Armenian national football teams. Talks during the game focused on bilateral relations and Karabakh, and did not touch upon the Genocide, though Foreign Minister Ali Babacan raised the issue soon afterward. Both of the presidents and their countries’ respective press reflected positively on the visit setting the ground for a thaw in diplomatic relations that was expected to have made great progress in time for Sargsyan's reciprocal visit to Turkey in October to watch the return match.
Negotiations for the normalisation of diplomatic ties
On the eve of the 2009 US presidential visit to Turkey by Barack Obama sources in Ankara and Yerevan announced that a deal might soon be struck to reopen the border between the two states and exchange diplomatic personnel to which the new US President responded positively as he urged Turkey to come to terms with the past and resolve the Armenian question. Officials in Azerbaijan however responded with concern prompting heated debate in the Turkish Parliament with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli sharing the Azerbaijani people's "rightful concerns" in warning the government "your approach to Armenia harms our dignity," and Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal asking, "How can we ignore the ongoing occupation of Azerbaijan?" Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan attempted to allay these concerns on April 10 by announcing that "unless Azerbaijan and Armenia sign a protocol on Nagorno-Karabakh, we will not sign any final agreement with Armenia on ties. We are doing preliminary work but this definitely depends on resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem." Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan clarified that, "we want a solution in which everybody is a winner," in a statement made prior to the April 15 Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) Foreign Ministers Council in Yerevan "we don't say, 'Let's first solve one problem and solve the other later.' We want a similar process to start between Azerbaijan and Armenia. We are closely watching the talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia."
Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan confirmed that "Turkey and Armenia have gone a long way toward opening the Turkey-Armenia border, and they will come closer to opening it soon," but dismissed any connection to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute which he stated was being handled through the OSCE Minsk Group. Armenian Revolutionary Federation Political Director Giro Manoyan responded well to the rapprochement and echoed Babacan in the statement "not only Armenia, but both parties will win if the border is opened" and responded to reminders about the mistreatment of the Turkish flag during commemorations of Armenian Genocide Day the previous year by stating that "I promise that no such thing will take place this time, if we can keep control" before going on to warn "negotiations will be cut if the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan is set as a precondition."
The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report on the normalisation stating that "the politicized debate whether to recognize as genocide the destruction of much of the Ottoman Armenian population and the stalemated Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh should not halt momentum" whilst "the unresolved Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh still risks undermining full adoption and implementation of the potential package deal between Turkey and Armenia", the "bilateral détente with Armenia ultimately could help Baku recover territory better than the current stalemate."
Announcement of the provisional roadmap
On 22 April 2009, it was announced that high-level diplomatic talks underway in Switzerland since 2007 "had achieved tangible progress and mutual understanding," and that "a road map has been identified," for normalizing diplomatic relations between the two countries, although no formal text had yet been signed. In an official statement the following day Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan confirmed that "when everything becomes concrete, an agreement will be signed. There is no such text yet; there is a preliminary agreement. That means we have an ongoing process. That is what we mean by a timetable."
The Turkish newspaper Radikal confirmed that an intergovernmental conference would be established between Ankara and Yerevan to discuss in detail all the issues "from economy to transportation" agreed on in the "comprehensive framework for normalisation," whilst Today's Zaman concluded that this cautious approach by Turkish authorities was intended to minimise criticism from Azerbaijan and nationalist Turks who would complain of "submission to Western pressure" but goes on to quote an unnamed Western diplomat who speaking to Reuters confirmed that "all the documents have been agreed in principle" and that "we are talking about weeks or months."
Reactions to the provisional roadmap
The Armenian Dashnak Party responded to the announcement in an April 26 closed-door meeting with a decision to withdraw its 16 deputies, who held three ministries in the Armenian Cabinet, from the coalition government. Although Armenian President Sergsyan stated that no concessions had been agreed and that the details would be made public, Dashnak Party Bureau Chief for Political Affairs Kiro Manoyan stated that the party considers itself deceived because it was not informed about the agreement in advance and that renunciation of Armenian territorial claims that are reported to be a part of the agreement would be an unacceptably radical change in the country's foreign policy.
Reaction to the announcement within Turkey was more muted with opposition MHP leader Bahçeli complaining that "Armenia knows what is going on; Switzerland knows what is going on; Turkish officials involved in the process know. That means the Turkish nation and Parliament are the only ones who have no information about the process" before going on to conclude that "it would be beneficial if the prime minister or the minister for foreign affairs would inform Parliament. We will follow developments, but for the moment we don’t know the depth of the agreement. Taking the explanations made so far into account, we are monitoring whether any further steps are being taken in the issue of opening the border."
International reaction to the announcement was positive, despite concerns that adverse reaction from Azerbaijan could affect European energy security, with an April 23 joint statement from EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn and External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner stating "we welcome the progress in the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia" and a statement from the office of US Vice President Joe Biden following a phone conversation with Armenian President Sargsyan stating, "The Vice President applauded President Sarksyan's leadership, and underscored the administration's support for both Armenia and Turkey in this process." US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded the provisional roadmap as a historical step following a phone conversation with Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandyan in which she urged him to move forward with the roadmap in an effort to normalize relations and to take a step forward on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
The rapprochement with Armenia featured on the agenda of the April 28 meeting of the Turkish National Security Council (MGK) at Çankaya Palace under Turkish President Gül. Following the meeting an official press release stated "the recent statements of some of the countries and our initiatives regarding the events of 1915 have been evaluated. However, it has been emphasized that the history of the Turkish and Armenian nations can be discussed only in ... a scientific and unbiased fashion", whilst Chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ confirmed "the prime minister has clearly said the border opening will take place at the time when Armenian troops are withdrawn. We completely agree with this."
Following a reportedly tense May 7 OSCE Minsk Group mediated peace summit between Armenian President Sargsyan and Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev at the residence of the US Ambassador in Prague, on the sidelines of the EU Eastern Partnership conference, that resulted in "no serious progress" Turkish President Gül met separately with the two leaders to propose four-way talks on the conflict to include Russia when they next met at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in July.
2009 Turkish Presidential visit to Azerbaijan and Russia
Armenian authorities responded to comments made by Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan during his official visit to Baku that "there is a relation of cause and effect here. The occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh is the cause, and the closure of the border is the effect. Without the occupation ending, the gates will not be opened" with a statement from the office of Armenian President Sargsyan that read "the president said that, as he repeatedly pointed out during Armenian-Turkish contacts, any Turkish attempt to interfere in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem can only harm that process." Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian reiterated that "concerning the Armenian-Turkish normalisation process, over the past year, following the initiative of the Armenian President together with our Turkish neighbours and with the help of our Swiss partners, we have advanced toward opening one of the last closed borders in Europe and the normalisation of our relations without preconditions. The ball is on the Turkish side now. And we hope that they will find the wisdom and the courage to make the last decisive step. We wish to be confident that the necessary political will can eventually leave behind the mentality of the past." Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnak Party) Chairman Armen Rustamian responded by accusing Turkey of "attempting to dictate conditions on the Nagorno-Karabakh resolution process, visibly taking Azerbaijan's side and obscuring the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict."
Erdoğan flew on from Baku to Sochi, Russia, for a 16 May "working visit" with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at which he stated "Turkey and Russia have responsibilities in the region. We have to take steps for the peace and well being of the region. This includes the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, the Middle East dispute, the Cyprus problem." Putin responded that "Russia and Turkey seek for such problems to be resolved and will facilitate this in every way," but "as for difficult problems from the past–and the Karabakh problem is among such issues-a compromise should be found by the participants in the conflict. Other states which help reach a compromise in this aspect can play a role of mediators and guarantors to implement the signed agreements."
Armenian Parliament Deputy Speaker Samvel Nikoyan greeted a group of visiting Turkish journalists by stating, "It is nice that you are here to establish ties between journalists of the two countries. There are ties between the peoples. And I wish there were ties between the two parliaments." The journalists, who were part of the International Hrant Dink Foundation Turkey-Armenia Journalist Dialogue Project, were however subsequently denied visas to visit the disputed Karabakh region in what according to Karabakh Public Council for Foreign and Security Chairman Masis Mayilian was a politically motivated response to Erdoğan's statement in Baku.
Signing of the accord
Following more than one year of talks the accord between Armenia and Turkey was signed by the foreign ministers of the two countries, Ahmet Davutoğlu and Eduard Nalbandyan on 10 October 2009. The signing took place in Zürich, Switzerland.
The signature ceremony had been delayed for a three-hour lapse when disagreements surfaced at the signing over unidentified "unacceptable formulations", according to Armenia. The Armenian side did not accept the speech the Turkish foreign minister was going to make. One official said it had been "pulled back from the brink".
Suspension of the ratification process
Armenians worldwide protested against the deal because of the controversial concessions that the Armenian leadership was preparing to make, most notably in regards to the Armenian genocide and the Turkish-Armenian border. Eventually, the Armenian ruling coalition decided to address the president with a request to suspend the ratification process after the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan announced multiple times, the Turkish ratification depended on a peace deal in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Their statement on 22 April 2010 said:
Considering the Turkish side's refusal to fulfill the requirement to ratify the accord without preconditions in a reasonable time, making the continuation of the ratification process in the national parliament pointless, we consider it necessary to suspend this process.
The political majority in the National Assembly considers statements from the Turkish side in recent days as unacceptable, specifically those by Prime Minister Erdogan, who has again made the ratification of the Armenia-Turkish protocols by the Turkish parliament directly dependent on a resolution over Nagorno-Karabakh.
On the same day President Sargsyan suspended the ratification process although announcing, that Armenia does not suspend the process of normalisation of relationships with Turkey as a whole.
Despite the criticism generated also in Armenia by the protocols, Sargsyan stated in 2015 that "the very moment that Turkey ratifies the document, we are ratifying it" while adding that the Turkish leadership was imposing preconditions for a deal.
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