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After Hitch, Turkey and Armenia Normalize Ties

ZURICH — Turkey and Armenia signed a historic agreement to establish normal diplomatic relations and reopen their borders on Saturday, after a last-minute dispute over wording sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other diplomats into frantic efforts to salvage the deal.

For Turkey and Armenia, neighbors sundered by a century of bitterness over the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, the tumultuous day illustrated how hard it is to heal the wounds of history.

For Mrs. Clinton, nine months into her job, it was a bracing taste of down-to-the-wire, limousine diplomacy.

The arduous negotiations between the countries had been actively encouraged by the Obama administration, and with an agreement in sight, Mrs. Clinton flew to Switzerland to witness the signing as a show of American support. Instead, she found herself performing triage.

Sitting in a parked, black BMW sedan at a hilltop hotel here, with aides thrusting papers at her, Mrs. Clinton worked two cellphones at once as she tried to resolve differences between the Armenian foreign minister, Eduard Nalbandian, and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Mrs. Clinton continued her efforts inside with Mr. Nalbandian and then gave him a ride to the University of Zurich, where the ceremony was to be held. By her own account, she did most of the talking on the brief trip — appealing to him not to let months of talks go up in smoke.

“There were several times I said to all the parties involved, ‘This is too important, this has to be seen through, we have come too far,’ ” she recalled. Mrs. Clinton declined to describe the differences between the two sides.

Shortly after 8 p.m., three hours late, the two men sat down to sign the agreements, though in a compromise worked out beforehand, neither delivered a statement. The agreement must now be ratified by the Parliaments of both countries, by no means a sure thing.

“We recognize how hard it is, and what courage it takes to move forward in the face of very strong opposition in both countries,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Any easing of tension between Turkey and Armenia was bound to be fragile. The deal faces particularly fierce opposition from Armenia’s far-flung and politically potent diaspora. Many Armenians insist that ties should not be normalized until Turkey acknowledges that the killing of more than one million Armenians at the end of World War I constituted genocide.

Most scholars agree that those killings fit the definition of genocide. But Turkey has vehemently denied that judgment, and the government has supported prosecution of Turks who have spoken out about the issue.

As part of the agreement, the two countries would pledge to establish an international commission to research World War I-era archives to clarify the extent of the massacre. Some Armenians fear this will produce a revisionist history that dilutes the enormity of the killing.

The countries would have to open their borders within two months after ratification, and establish the historical commission within four months.

For their part, Turks protest that Armenia has yet to settle an ugly fight with Azerbaijan, its neighbor and a close ally of Turkey, over a breakaway Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan known as Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey sealed off its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan after Armenian troops occupied some territories around Nagorno-Karabakh. There are limited charter flights between Turkey and Armenia, but no scheduled traffic and no substantial trade.

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party holds a clear majority in the Parliament, has threatened to delay ratification of the deal until Armenia cedes these territories.

Beyond these distant and current disputes, some Turks argue that landlocked, economically struggling Armenia has little to offer the ambitious Turkish economy. Closer ties, they say, will only risk fraying Turkey’s relations with Azerbaijan, which is an energy giant.

“We have a lot to sell, but they neither have the money to buy nor a variety of goods to offer,” said Ali Nail Celik, the head of the Businessmen’s Association in the border town of Agri, Turkey.

For advocates of the deal, however, normalized relations and open borders would radically improve people’s lives.

Kaan Soyak, co-chairman of the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council, said that by efficiently using existing rail lines, the two countries could become a “regional business hub.”

The United States, along with France and Russia, played a key role in prodding the two sides to come to terms. President Obama placed an encouraging call last week to the president of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, while Mrs. Clinton has placed 29 calls to Turkish and Armenian officials since taking office, and pulled Mr. Sargsyan away from a soccer match to talk on Saturday.

For the United States, a reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia would alter the strategic balance in southeastern Europe. It could open new routes for oil and gas pipelines to the West, as well as a possible alternative supply line for American troops in Afghanistan, though administration officials insisted that had nothing to do with their eagerness for a deal.

As Mr. Obama sought an agreement, he had to balance the strategic importance of Turkey, a NATO ally eager for an agreement to smooth its entry into the European Union, against the political muscle of 1.4 million people of Armenian descent living in the United States.

After pledging during his campaign to support a Congressional resolution on the Armenian genocide — a perennial source of friction between the United States and Turkey — Mr. Obama has kept silent as president.

Mr. Sargsyan of Armenia received a chilly reception when he recently took a weeklong tour to explain the agreement to the diaspora population in the United States, France and Lebanon.

Despite noisy street protests, some influential expatriate groups in the United States — including the Western and Eastern Dioceses of the Armenian Church, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Knights of Vartan and the Armenian Assembly of America — announced they would back the agreement, in a joint statement that was released Oct. 1.

Mrs. Clinton said much difficult work remained. But on her way to Zurich’s airport for a flight to London, she got a phone call from Mr. Obama congratulating her on her role in breaking the impasse.

Looking tired but energized by the experience, Mrs. Clinton said, “It’s what you sign up for.”

Mark Landler reported from Zurich, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul. David Stern contributed reporting from Kiev, Ukraine.

 

Sourca: NYTIMES

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