U.S. tells Turkey to honor deal with Armenia

May 7, 2010
Source: RFE/RL Azatutyun (Armenia)

Making her first-ever visit to Armenia, Clinton made clear that the onus is on the Turkish government to kick-start the historic rapprochement between the two neighbors. She praised President Serzh Sarkisian for not formally walking away from the Turkish-Armenian “protocols” despite the Turks’ refusal to ratify them before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan.

“We applauded your president’s decision because that was a decision to continue, despite the obstacles, to work toward peace, stability and reconciliation,” she told journalists after talks with the Armenian leader.

“And we urge Turkey to take the steps that it promised to take and that both sides continue to try to find the opportunity to open the door to reconciliation and normalization,” she said, reaffirming Washington’s support for an unconditional normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.

Sarkisian announced in late April that he is suspending the process of Armenian parliamentary ratification of the protocols signed last October because of Ankara’s linkage between their implementation and a Karabakh settlement. He indicated that he decided not to scrap the deal altogether at the request of foreign powers and the United States in particular.

“Armenia’s decision last April was very statesmanlike and very impressive,” Clinton said. “And now, as they say in sports, the ball is in the other court.”

Clinton, who has been personally involved in the normalization process, also lauded Sarkisian’s broader policy of rapprochement with Turkey that has been strongly criticized by his political opponents in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora.

“I expressed my admiration with the president’s courageous decision to pursue a vision of peace,” she said of her talks with Sarkisian. “The United States believes that normalization promises tremendous benefits for both Armenia and Turkey as well as the wider region. We are committed to doing everything we can to help the parties move forward.”

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian responded to Clinton’s remarks, voiced at their joint news conference, by praising Washington’s role in the Turkish-Armenian dialogue. “We will be ready to move forward once Ankara is again ready to move forward and normalize our relations without preconditions,” he added.

Sarkisian likewise thanked Clinton and President Barack Obama for their “efforts in the normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations.” “Although the Turks were not prepared and are still not prepared to establish relations with Armenia without preconditions, it is extremely important for us to feel the U.S. administration’s attitude towards this issue,” he told Clinton.

On Monday, Clinton visited the Tsitsernakabert memorial in Yerevan to some 1.5 million Armenians massacred by Ottoman Turks during World War One. She avoided making any public statements as she laid a wreath by its eternal fire there. A statement by the U.S. Embassy in Armenia described the ceremony as a “private visit.”

As presidential candidates, Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama described the 1915 mass killings as a genocide and pledged to reaffirm that recognition once in office. But they have both backtracked on that pledge, citing the need not to harm the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), a Washington-based lobbying group, swiftly criticized Clinton’s failure to publicly use the word “genocide” at the memorial, saying it was “a missed opportunity for the Secretary and for America.” “Secretary Clinton’s visit to the Memorial was shrouded in secrecy with local media barred from providing live coverage,” the ANCA said in a statement.

But another influential advocacy group, the Armenian Assembly of America, commended Clinton for becoming “the highest ranking U.S. official traveling to Armenia to honor the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide.”

“We thank Secretary Clinton for her visit to Armenia, her comments on Turkey's responsibility for the progress of normalization of relations with Armenia in light of the suspension of the Protocols, and especially for her tribute at the Armenian Genocide Memorial this morning,” Hirair Hovnanian, the chairman of the Assembly’s Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “This was an important symbolic act and is appreciated.”

The Assembly’s executive director, Bryan Ardouny, said Clinton’s gesture will give “new impetus” to the long-running Armenian-American efforts at official U.S. recognition of the genocide. “The Assembly renews its call for passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution [by the U.S. Congress] during this, the 95th anniversary year,” added Ardouny.