ARMENIA, TURKEY AGREE PLAN FOR ESTABLISHING TIES
by Mariam Harutunian

Agence France Presse
August 31, 2009 Monday 9:14 PM GMT

Armenia and Turkey said Monday they had agreed on a plan to establish
diplomatic ties and re-open their border, seeking to end decades of
distrust and resentment on both sides.

The two countries have no diplomatic relations, a closed frontier and
a long history of hostility rooted in massacres of Armenians under
the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

Ankara and Yerevan said they would hold six weeks of domestic
consultations before signing two protocols on establishing diplomatic
ties and developing 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 ratification," the countries' foreign
ministries said in a joint statement with mediator Switzerland.

According to copies of the protocols released by the Armenian foreign
ministry, the two countries have agreed to re-open their common border
"within two months" of the deal taking effect.

The agreement also calls for the creation of a joint commission
to examine the "historical dimension" of their disagreements,
"including an impartial scientific examination of the historical
records and archives."

The two countries said in April that they had agreed to a road map
for normalising diplomatic ties after years of enmity.

Turkey has long refused to establish diplomatic links with Armenia
over Yerevan's efforts to have World War I-era massacres of Armenians
by Ottoman Turks recognised as genocide -- a label Turkey strongly
rejects.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were systematically killed
between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire, Turkey's predecessor,
was falling apart.

Turkey categorically rejects the genocide label and says between
300,000 and 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil
strife when Armenians took up arms in eastern Anatolia and sided with
invading Russian troops.

Turkey also closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with
ally Azerbaijan over Yerevan's backing of ethnic Armenian separatists
in the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region.

Rare talks between the two neighbours gathered steam last September
when Turkish President Abdullah Gul paid a landmark visit to Yerevan
to watch a World Cup qualifying football match between the countries'
national teams. It was the first such visit by a Turkish leader.

Gul invited Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian to attend a rematch
in Turkey in October. Sarkisian said in July that he would not attend
unless Ankara took "real steps" at mending ties.

Washington has backed the reconciliation effort, with President Barack
Obama calling on Armenia and Turkey to build on fence-mending efforts
during a visit to Turkey earlier this year.

Late Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office issued a
statement saying France encourages Turkey and Armenia to "redouble
their efforts so they can quickly sign an accord... which will be an
historic event and contribute to stability in the region."

But Azerbaijan has demanded that any final deal be linked with the
withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorny Karabakh, which broke from
Baku's control during a war in the early 1990s.

Officials there have hinted that energy-rich Azerbaijan would consider
cutting gas supplies to Turkey if Ankara ignored the Karabakh issue
in its talks with Armenia.

The plan could also face domestic opposition in both countries, where
the issue of the Ottoman-era massacres continues to raise strong
emotions. One of Armenia's most influential political parties, the
Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), left the country's
governing coalition in April in protest over the talks with Ankara.