2010-04-22 12:24:00

ArmInfo. As April 24 approaches, Armenians and Turks will once again
be watching U.S. President Barack Obama to see how he describes this
day of remembrance for the 1915 mass killings and deportations of
Ottoman Armenians, director of the Europe programmes of International
Crisis Group Sabine Freizer said in an article in GlobalPost.

Recalling that last year, Barack Obama chose to call the events by
their Armenian term, Meds Yegherns or "great catastrophe." For many
Armenians, who insist that the only appropriate term is genocide,
this was not enough. But, for many Turks it was too much.

There was hope in 2009 that the two sides could do just that,
especially after Turkey and Armenia unveiled bilateral protocols,
signed on Oct. 10, to establish diplomatic relations, and recognize
and open their mutual border. But the normalization process stalled
after October, and there is little chance the texts will be ratified
in the two countries' parliaments soon.

The Turkish government decided that it could not ignore Azeri pressure
and with difficult negotiations going on concerning constitutional
reform, it does not want to pick a fight over border opening with the
nationalist opposition in parliament. There is little chance that the
twin protocols can move until after the next round of Turkish elections
in 2011, or until Azerbaijan and Armenia sign the long-awaited
agreement on basic principles on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkissian is also under pressure. Even
though a quick ratification in Armenia would firmly put the ball
in Turkey's court and give Yerevan credit internationally, domestic
opposition is strong.

The decade of confidence-building that preceded the Turkey-Armenian
protocol signing could now be lost unless there is progress soon. The
best step now would be for Ankara and Yerevan to temporarily put
aside the most difficult aspects of the protocols and move ahead with
the less controversial parts. Despite current troubles, they could
proceed with the establishment of diplomatic ties and recognition of
their mutual border. These need no parliamentary approval, are purely
about bilateral relations and are not linked to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey and Armenia have a mounting number of bilateral issues to
address requiring simple consular services. There are up to 40,000
Armenian citizens living in Turkey, tens of thousands of Armenian
tourists visit the Turkish Riviera every year and countless Turkish
truck drivers and small businesses operating in Armenia.

For such basic practical matters, Obama's speech is really a
distraction. Even in the current difficult diplomatic climate, the
leaders of Turkey and Armenia can and should take these initial steps
to ensure their people can build up a prosperous future and help them
come to terms with their shared traumatic history.