YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian announced on Monday his decision to visit Turkey this week to attend a football match between the two neighbors, while questioning Ankara’s commitment to honor the fence-mending agreements with Yerevan.
Sarkisian suggested that Turkish leaders’ weekend statements linking the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations with a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh were “primarily addressed to the Azerbaijani audience.”
“Otherwise, it would seem strange to me: if the Turks are not going to ratify the protocols, then why did they sign them [in Zurich on Saturday] in the first place?” he told journalists. “Maybe they thought that we might not display sufficient will and take a step back. Maybe.”
“In any case, the ball is in the Turkish court today, and we have enough patience to await further developments,” said Sarkisian. “If the Turks ratify the protocols, if they stick to the agreed timetable, we will continue the process. If not, we will not be bound by anything and will do what we have announced.”
In a televised address to the nation on Saturday, Sarkisian likewise implicitly threatened to walk away from the controversial agreements–which have put him at odds with the Armenian Disapora and the people in Armenia–if Ankara fails to implement them “within a reasonable timeframe.” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated on Sunday that the establishment of diplomatic relations and reopening of the border between the two states hinges on a breakthrough in the Karabakh peace process.
Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of Sarkisian’s Republican Party , indicated on Monday that Armenia’s National Assembly will start debating the protocols only after they are approved by the Turkish parliament. “If Turkey makes any reservations, our parliament will not even include [the issue] on its agenda,” said Sahakian.
Both the Republican Party and Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party have a solid majority in their respective legislatures.
Sarkisian also made clear that he has accepted his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul’s invitation to watch with him the return match of Armenia’s and Turkey’s national soccer teams that will be played in the western Turkish city of Bursa on Wednesday. The Armenian leader said earlier that he will visit Turkey it only if Ankara takes “real steps” to normalize bilateral ties.
Sarkisian said on Monday that “sufficient prerequisites” are now in place for the landmark trip. “Turkey’s president, Mr. Gul, had responded to my invitation and come to Armenia [in September 2008,] and I now see no serious basis not to accept his invitation,” he said. “My counterpart has sent a written invitation, and unless something extraordinary happens in the next two days, I will go to Bursa and cheer for my favorite team.”
The president answered journalists’ questions at Yerevan’s Zvartnots as he prepared to fly to Moscow for what his office described as a brief working visit. It said Sarkisian will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev but gave no details.
Shortly before his departure, Sarkisian sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama thanking Washington for its active role in the Turkish-Armenian dialogue.
“I am convinced that without the decisive help of the United States it would have been impossible to make effective efforts in this direction,” he said after “warmly” congratulating Obama on winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said later on Monday that the Erdogan government will send the protocols to the Turkish parliament “next week.” “The assembly will decide whether to approve or reject them,” Cicek told reporters after a cabinet meeting. But he underlined that the “parliament will undoubtedly follow developments in Armenia during this process.”
According to the AFP news agency, Cicek described the pacts as a “sincere and serious show of will” by Turkey. But he reiterated that lasting peace in the region also depends on the resolution of the Karabakh dispute.