While most Americans probably weren't glued to their seats riveted by the diplomatic events unfolding in Zurich, Switzerland, yesterday, the signing of a historic agreement between Armenia and Turkey is worth noting. Also significant is the role U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played in ensuring that the last-minute disagreement between the parties, didn't scuttle the whole affair.
Both Armenia and Turkey have spent the last few years ironing out the details of a historic agreement which would essentially, once ratified, lead to more normalized economic and diplomatic relations between the two countries after almost a century of animosity.
The agreement hit a roadblock yesterday afternoon as European and U.S. diplomats were on their way to the signing ceremony, presenting a huge diplomatic problem given what was at stake. The State Department has been mum about the exact nature of the disagreement, other than to say it arose over the statements both parties intended to make after the signing ceremony (see Secretary Clinton's late night press briefing on her way to London). However, the primary objection seems to have been raised by Armenia's Foreign Minister, Eduard Nalbandian, in response to Turkey's post-ceremony statement that it planned to read publicly:
CNN Turk reported without saying how it got the information that the dispute centered over wording concerning the enclave of Nagorno Karabakh.
Turkey closed the border between the two countries in 1993 to protest Armenia’s occupation of that territory, part of Azerbaijan, a key Turkish ally and energy supplier.
The planned Armenian statement, CNN Turk reported, was to say that the normalization process was not linked to Nagorno Karabakh, while wording in the Turkish statement concerned an “overall Caucasus peace process,” the channel reported.
Armenia also objected to Turkey’s intention of raising the dispute over whether 1915 massacres of Armenians amounted to genocide, Agence France-Presse reported, citing an unidentified Armenian diplomat…
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly spent the next three hours both in her car and back in her hotel room trying to get both sides to not walk away from the protocol after the years of hard work that went into ironing out the details. Clinton herself stated that she was in contact with President Obama several times during the negotiations. At the end of the day, crisis was averted as Secretary Clinton's diplomatic skills quite literally saved the day.
While the signing of the historic agreement was not seen as a positive move by everyone, particularly in Armenia where people feel that Turkey has not yet taken responsibility for what they say is its role in the Armenian genocide during and immediately following World War I (Turkey disputes this characterization of events), the days events were met with praise by the international community including the UN Secretary General, EU Commissioners and President Obama.
So, accolades aside, what is the next step? Ratification by both nations' parliaments, which will have the effect of reopening a border which has been closed since 1993. In addition, a joint commission will be set up to study the history of the mass killings during and immediately following World War I. Many believe that normalized relations between Turkey and Armenia will help Turkey's EU bid and provide much-needed economic benefits to Armenia. And for the U.S. and Europe, it means the possibility of obtaining oil and natural gas from former Soviet states, independently of Russia.
As she arrived back on her plane after the signing ceremony, Secretary Clinton summed up the evenings events by saying "Well, we had a good night in Zurich…"
She sure did.