BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
In reading Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book “Hard Choices,” which hit bookstores Tuesday, one is led to believe that she was the architect of the dangerous Turkey-Armenia Protocols, elevating the US’s role in the doomed process, to which both Armenia and Turkey have laid claim.
In her book, Clinton claims that Turkey’s “Zero Problems With Neighbors” policy was a window through which the US could negotiate a thaw in Turkey-Armenia relations, with hopes of opening the border and initiating diplomatic relations between the two countries.
She claimed that “Hard-liners in both countries were implacably opposed to compromise and put considerable pressure on each government not to make a deal,” without mentioning that her own American constituents were vocally opposed to this sham, which was concocted by her predecessors in the Bush Administration and behind which the Obama Administration rabidly threw its support.
Clinton also called the Armenian Genocide issue, the recognition of which she advocated during her failed presidential campaign, an “emotionally charged conflict” between Turkey and Armenia.
Did Clinton Throw Nalbandian Under the Bus?
Throughout the years, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian has prided himself on building solid relationship with the US and has touted the close-knit relationship he developed with Clinton during the protocol process.
Yet the short reference to Armenia in her book, which also excludes any mention of her “personal visit” to Dzidzernagepert Genocide Memorial, Clinton weaves a different tale of what happened in Zurich on October 10, 2009 during the official signing of the Turkey-Armenia protocols.
It emerges, and has been mentioned several times by Armenian officials, that the contentious issue at the Zurich signing was the possibility that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would make remarks after the signing that would counter the spirit of the Protocols. Clinton asserts that it was due to her efforts that at the end—after a three-hour delay—the protocols were signed without statements by any of the parties.
“On October 9, I flew to Zurich to witness the accord signing alongside the Foreign Ministers of France, Russia, and Switzerland and the EU High Representative. The next afternoon I left my hotel and headed to the University of Zurich for the ceremony. But there was a problem. Nalbandian, the Armenian Minister, was balking. He was worried about what Davutoğlu planned to say at the signing and suddenly was refusing to leave the hotel. It seemed as if months of careful negotiations might fall apart. My motorcade turned around and raced back to Zurich’s Dolder Grand Hotel. While I waited in the car, Phil Gordon went upstairs along with the lead Swiss negotiator to find Nalbandian and take him tothe signing ceremony. But he wouldn’t budge. Phil came back downstairs to report and joined me in the car, which was now parked behind the hotel. I started working the phones. On one cell I dialed Nalbandian, and I got Davutoğlu on a second line. We went back and forth for an hour, trying to bridge the gap and coax Nalbandian out of his room. ‘This is too important, this has to be seen through, we have come too far,’ I told them,” Clinton recounts in her book.
“Finally I went upstairs to talk to Nalbandian in person. What if we simply canceled the speaking portionof the event? Sign the document, make no statements, and leave. Both sides agreed, and Nalbandian at last emerged. We walked downstairs, and he got in my sedan to drive to the university. It took another hour and a half of hand-holding and arm-twisting at the site to get them to actually walk onstage. We were three hours late, but at least we were there. We held the expedited signing ceremony, and then, with a huge sense of relief, everyone left as fast as they could. To date, neither country has ratified the protocols, and the process remains stalled; however, at a December 2013 conference, the Turkish and Armenian Foreign Ministers met for two hours to discuss how to move forward, and I still hope for a breakthrough,” explained Clinton in “Hard Choices.”
On Wednesday I asked Armenia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tigran Balayan during an online conversation about Clinton’s assertions and he pointed me to remarks Nalbandian made on April 26 of this year when he touched upon a claim made by Davutoglu that his intended remarks in Zurich were to be similar to the now infamous “condolence” speech made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 23.
In his remarks this past April, Nalbandian, who was hosting a delegation of the Foreign Policy Society of Finland explained that “According to the reached agreement everyone who was to make a statement during the signing ceremony of Protocols in Zurich should have provided their texts of speeches beforehand. Turkey breached this arrangement. This is the reason why the signing ceremony was postponed so long until the Turkish side felt obliged to provide the statement text.”
“All the representatives of states participating in the signing ceremony considered the statement text of the Turkish side as unacceptable and suggested to hold the ceremony without any speeches and the Turkish Foreign Minister was obliged to accept that. That was the reason why the ceremony took place with nearly a three-hours delay. Moreover, right after the signing ceremony the participating Foreign Ministers made public comments, underlining that any statement made following the signing could not have an impact on the reached agreements enshrined in the Protocols. If the Turkish side considers that it could reanimate today what was rejected by all four and a half years ago, it is in vain and without perspectives,” explained Nalbandian, who added that he expressed the same sentiments to Davutoglu when he visited Yerevan in December.
“Nobody rejects her [Clinton’s] crucial role in the negotiations. She was really very effective in mediating the signing without statements,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Balayan told me on Wednesday.
Whatever the case, Clinton explicitly says that the aim of the protocols and other initiatives in the Caucasus was not necessarily to achieve peace but to advance US interests.
“The conflict in the Caucasus posed problems for our plans for piping Central Asian natural gas to European markets to lessen their dependence on Russian energy.”