By Hasmik Lazarian

Aug 31 2009

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenia and Turkey moved closer to establishing
diplomatic ties and reopening their border on Monday, saying they
would sign accords within six weeks under a plan to end a century
of hostility.

The neighbors have no diplomatic ties, a closed border and a history
of animosity stemming from the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman
Turks during World War One.

Both sides said they would hold domestic consultations before
signing two protocols on the establishment of diplomatic relations
and development of bilateral relations.

"The political consultations will be completed within six weeks,
following which the two Protocols will be signed and submitted to
the respective Parliaments for the ratification on each side," the
foreign ministries of Armenia and Turkey said in a statement issued
jointly with Switzerland as mediator.

"Both sides will make their best efforts for the timely progression
of the ratification in line with their constitutional and legal

Turkey rejects Armenian claims the World War One killings, a defining
element of Armenian national identity, amounted to genocide, and says
many people were killed on both sides of the conflict.

According to copies of the protocols seen by Reuters, the border --
closed by Turkey in 1993 -- will reopen within two months of the
protocol on the development of relations entering into force.

The plan to normalize ties was announced in April, but Monday's
statement marked the first real progress.

The U.S. State Department welcomed the joint statement, saying
normalization should take place without preconditions and within a
reasonable timeframe.

"We urge Armenia and Turkey to proceed expeditiously," State
Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement. "We remain ready
to work closely with both governments in support of normalization, a
historic process that will contribute to peace, security and stability
throughout the region."

Anticipation has been growing ahead of a planned visit by Armenian
President Serzh Sarksyan to Turkey on October 14, when he is due
to attend the return leg of a World Cup qualifying football match
between the two countries.


Sarksyan has said he will not travel to the game, the first leg of
which Turkish President Abdullah Gul watched last year in Yerevan,
unless the border has reopened or there are clear signs it is about
to open.

Turkey closed the frontier in 1993 in solidarity with Muslim ally
Azerbaijan, which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists in the
breakaway mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

But since announcing the road map, Turkish government officials --
faced with a backlash from Azerbaijan -- have said the border will
not reopen until Armenia makes concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Reopening the border and establishing ties with Armenia would improve
Turkey's clout in the region and aid its bid to join the European
Union. It would also give landlocked Armenia, reeling from the global
financial crisis, access to Turkish and European markets.

But it risks angering Azerbaijan, an oil and gas supplier to the West
and Europe's key for gas supplies for the planned Nabucco pipeline. The
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved, with Azeri and ethnic
Armenian forces facing off over a tense frontline 15 years since
agreeing a ceasefire.

Under the protocol on bilateral relations, Turkey and Armenia agree
to "implement a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to
restore mutual confidence between the two nations."

(Additional reporting by Zerin Elci in Istanbul, and JoAnne Allen in
Washington; writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Ralph Boulton)

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress