Sassounian: 10 Major Concerns Regarding Armenia-Turkey Protocols

In earlier columns, I had described the major negative aspects of the already initialed Armenia-Turkey protocols made public on Aug. 31. The concerns I had expressed dealt with two unacceptable preconditions—recognizing the territorial integrity of Turkey and establishing a joint committee of experts to study historical archives, a not so-veiled reference to re-examining the Armenian Genocide. Below is a more comprehensive evaluation, providing 10 reasons why the Armenian government should not have initialed, and should not sign and ratify, these protocols:

1) Armenia’s leaders made the misjudgment of trying to resolve a large number of emotionally charged Armenian-Turkish issues all at once, through a single agreement. Decades of antagonism cannot be dealt with in such haste. Armenian officials should have proceeded cautiously and gradually, starting with the simple step of establishing diplomatic relations, followed by the opening of the border. More complicated issues should have been left for a later date.

2) Since the declared purpose of these negotiations is the opening of the border with Armenia—which Turkey shut down 16 years ago—there was no reason to conduct such protracted and complex negotiations, and draft an elaborate document that included many unrelated and unacceptable conditions. It may have been wiser to draft a one-sentence agreement that would have simply stated: “Armenia and Turkey agree to establish diplomatic relations and declare their mutual border open on Jan. 1, 2010.” In fact, such a one-line agreement was adopted by the United States and Turkey in 1927, when establishing diplomatic relations.

3) Armenia did not have to make any concessions in order to entice Turkey to open its border. Since Turkey has been desperately trying to join the European Union for several decades, it has no choice but to open its border with Armenia. The EU requires that all member states have open borders with neighboring countries.

4) By rushing to shut down the border in 1993, Turkey deprived itself of an important leverage over Armenia. Should Turkey reopen the border, it would once again repossess that leverage, holding the threat of closing the border as a Damoclean Sword over Armenia’s head. This threat becomes particularly potent, once Armenia’s population is increasingly dependent on imported, cheap Turkish foodstuffs and goods. Should Turkey decide to close the border in the future under some pretext, Armenia’s leaders would not be able to reverse the damage done to the nation’s interests, even if they abrogated the protocols!

5) Prime Minister Erdogan said once again last week that Turkey would not open its border with Armenia, unless the Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict is resolved. Armenia’s leaders should announce that they will not sign these protocols, since Turkish officials have made it crystal clear that they have no intention of keeping their side of the bargain.

6) Retired Turkish Ambassador Yalim Eralp made an important disclosure during a recent interview. He stated that the Turkish Parliament, while ratifying the protocols, could declare them to be valid only after the resolution of the Karabagh conflict. Should the Turks advance such a condition, the Armenian Parliament could retaliate by requiring that the protocols go into effect only after Turkey acknowledges the Armenian Genocide and Azerbaijan recognizes the Republic of Artsakh!

7) The protocols do not include any requirement that they be signed and ratified by a particular date. The oft-mentioned Oct. 12 or 13 signature dates are not mentioned in the text of the protocols. The Armenian government should not rush to sign and ratify these protocols. Armenia’s leaders may yet be saved from damaging their country’s interests by Turkey’s reluctance to ratify the protocols. Turkey may blink first!

8) Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian admitted last week that there is no legal requirement to submit these protocols to parliament for ratification. However, such ratification would unnecessarily compound the damage done to Armenia’s national interests.

9) The Armenian government made no attempt during the lengthy negotiations with Turkey to consult with Diaspora Armenians, despite the fact that the protocols addressed vital pan-Armenian issues. Months ago, when organizations and individuals expressed serious concerns regarding the preliminary text of the protocols, they were simply ignored by the Armenian authorities. Attempts to hold discussions at the eleventh hour are futile, since the Armenian foreign minister has declared that the protocols cannot be amended.

10) When the Armenian president met with leaders of more than 50 political parties in Yerevan last week, the five-hour-long “consultations” were held behind closed doors. Regrettably, only the president’s remarks were publicized. One would hope that when Sarkisian goes on his planned trip in early October to Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Beirut, his discussions with diaspora leaders would be more open and transparent, and preferably televised.

The one unintended outcome of this heated controversy is the coming together of diverse Armenian organizations to take a common stand against these protocols. It is everyone’s earnest hope that the intense intra-Armenian discord will not last long and Armenia’s leaders will
find the courage and wisdom to stand down from their decision to sign and ratify these protocols detrimental to the Armenian Cause.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

6 Comments

  1. As usual Harut, we can count on you not to mince words. Are your columns translated and published in Yerevan adn Turkey? Perhpas Agos or another publication prints your columns as an international feature item..
    In any event they should be.
    GOD help us.

  2. The one unintended outcome of this heated controversy is the coming together of diverse Armenian organizations to take a common stand against these protocols.

    If that is the case. Why doesn’t the Armenian Weekly report about demonstrations being organized by some of these other organizations.  Reading the Weekly you would think the only organization that is against the protocols is the ARF.

  3. Excellent analysis. Why open the border at all and give Turkey the leverage of shutting it down whenever it suits its interests? The border should not be opened before vital security issues are settled and Turkey has acknowledged the Genocide, not only as a moral imperative but mostly as a critical security condition. We need that border shut completely. Our history demonstrates that the best way Armenians have had of dealing with Turkey has been not dealing with Turkey at all.

  4. Although, I am still computing the details using 0-information theory to find out why such Protocol and border issue is being introduced now by the west (or Turkey) after more than 16 years of neglect of Turkish blockade, it would not surprise me if we eventually found out very late in the game that indeed the current government in Armenia are, bluntly put, lacking basic experience and have not done any strategic analysis whatsoever. I think Mr Sassounian’s point here introduces a method on how to overcome the situation, assuming that the West has taken the Armenian government as hostage under a pointed gun. For example, Mr. Nalbadyan being under pointed gun is saying “Guys, listen to me, these Protocols cannot be changed, because if we change, the Turks will change too, and the process will go on for several years”. This reminds me of the “Outbreak” movie situation where the chief commander has ordered the bombing of the outbreak scene area, and the second in command restates foolishly this same command, while giving further information why the helicopter should not disturb the airforce planes path, thereby leaking a method to intervene the bombing planes mission.
    I would not consider Nalbadyan wise enough to be an analogy here, but indeed he leaked some vital information which can be a key to getting out of this situation. The same information was also leaked in Mr Oskanian’s speech. Here is the piece of information:
    “…these Protocols cannot be changed, because if we change, the Turks will change too, and the process will go on for several years…”
    The key is therefore to demand a change in the khaydarag Protocols with the purpose of stalling its signature indefinitely for as much as we find necessary in our benefit. And since this will be going on for several years, we continue all aspects of our other processes as we always have done them and with new improvements.
    Here is therefore my advise, when Mr Sarkisyan visits the Diaspora, we should have either of these options for him: Either denounce the Protocols, or if this is not acceptable to his judgement (due to some classified strategic fact that he cannot tell us), then we should demand changes to the Protocol statements including removal and/or ammendments with the main goal of stalling indefinitely its signing.

  5. While I admire Mr. Sasoonian’s analysis, I think he should have pointed out the followings:
    The Declaration of Independence of Republic of Armenia decalres
    “The Republic of Armenia stands in support of the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia.”

    Article 6 of The Constitution of Republic of Armenia declares
    “The international treaties not complying with the Constitution can not be ratified.”
    Therefore, the ratification of thr so called protocols would be unconstitutional. No one has power to violate the Constitution of Republic of Armenia.
    It is significant to point out that the text of the Constitution refers the location of genoicdal act in “Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia.” This clause implies that Armenian Constitution separates Western Armenia from Ottoman Turkey.
    The current protocols overrides this significant distinction. Be ware Mr. President! At least we are!
    Long Live Armenia! Long Live Artsakh! Long Live Diaspora!

  6. Mr. Root,
    You say, “If that is the case. Why doesn’t the Armenian Weekly report about demonstrations being organized by some of these other organizations. Reading the Weekly you would think the only organization that is against the protocols is the ARF.”

    Do you even read this paper? Because there have been several reports, references, and comments about the other demonstrations in the past week. Below is the link to one. Just do your homework and find the rest and read them:
    http://armenianweekly.com/2009/09/23/garbis-armenian-politics-stagnate-while-threat-to-statehood-looms/

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