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Turkey, Armenia's protocols lay cornerstone for dissolving century-old row

TWO protocols signed by Turkey and Armenia yesterday to normalize ties and develop relations have laid a cornerstone for the two neighbors to quench their near century-old row.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandian signed the protocols in the Swiss city of Zurich, with the U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana attending the signing ceremony.

The protocols were signed after more than three hours of delay due to a last-minute disagreement over the wording of statements planned to be made after the signing ceremony.

The obstacle was finally overcome by the two sides under the mediation of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and in the end no statements were made by either side.

Turkey and Armenia agreed to establish diplomatic ties and open their long-closed borders, according to the texts of the protocols.

The protocols were yet to be ratified by the Turkish and Armenian parliaments before entering into force. Nationalists in both countries have been opposing the agreement, criticizing their governments for making concessions.

Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic or economic ties since Armenia declared its independence in 1991. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to support Azerbaijan during its conflict with Armenia over the Upper Karabakh region, an enclave of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenian troops.

Speaking of the Upper Karabakh issue, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul yesterday that Turkey will not take any step that would place Azerbaijan in difficulty and that opening borders with Armenia could be considered a process parallel to developments in the Upper Karabakh, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reported on its website.

"We are in favor of developing relations with Armenia by protecting our good intentions and in a way that will not hurt Azerbaijan," Erdogan was quoted of saying.

The meeting between leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia held in Moldova on Thursday and Friday for talks on resolving the Upper Karabakh issue began well but did not continue as desired, Erdogan was quoted by Turkey's Anatolia news agency as saying yesterday.

Following the signing of the protocols in Zurich, Erdogan said in the Turkish capital of Ankara that they would make a detailed statement after a meeting of the Central Executive Board of his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party today.

Turkey-Armenia rifts went back to the World War I period. Armenia claims more than 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a systematic genocide in the hands of the Ottomans during the time, but Turkey insists that the Armenians were victims of widespread chaos and governmental breakdown as the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire collapsed.

To settle the dispute, the two countries agreed to conduct "an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations," according to the protocols.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said the instability in the Caucasus was harming Turkey and Turkey wants normalization of ties with Armenia to bring peace and stability to the region, Turkey's private NTV television reported yesterday.

A normalization of ties with Armenia is expected to increase Turkey's regional clout and remove a major obstacle it has met in the bid to join the EU, while the land-locked Armenia sees economic benefits from the opening of borders with Turkey. A more stable and secure Caucasus is also in the interests of the West, which eyes the region as a significant energy corridor.

The Turkish Cabinet is expected to discuss the protocols tomorrow before sending them to the parliament, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.


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