YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian arrived in southern Russia on Wednesday on the last leg of his week-long five-stop tour of major Diaspora Armenian communities that also included France, the United States and the Middle East.
In Rostov-on-Don, like during his previous meetings in Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Beirut, the Armenian leader tried to allay the possible concerns among the local and close Armenian communities over his dramatic rapprochement with Turkey that culminated on August 31 in the initialing of two protocols envisaging the establishing of diplomatic relations and opening of the border. The protocols are expected to be signed by the foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey in Switzerland on October 10.
Armenia’s Ambassador to Russia Armen Smbatian earlier told RFE/RL that the meeting in the southern Russian city will bring together some 50 leaders of Armenian organizations in Russia, intellectuals, leading entrepreneurs and other representatives of the sizable Armenian community.
Unlike other places where Sarkisian was visiting, there were no protests in Rostov-on-Don. However, a number of Armenian organizations, including “Russian-Armenian Cooperation”, the “Ararat” Union, the “Yerkramas” newspaper editorial staff, had issued a call ahead of Sarkisian’s visit for the Armenian authorities not to sign the protocols.
The organizations said Turkey is setting preconditions to Armenia in the protocols that, in particular, contain a clause that commits Armenia to recognizing the existing Turkish-Armenian border. They also challenged another clause of the protocols that calls for the establishment of a panel of historians to review historical discrepancies between the two peoples that primarily include the 1915-1918 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Sarkisian, who is completing his unprecedented tour on Wednesday, was greeted in France, the United States and Lebanon with protests staged by some members of the local Armenian communities opposing the current protocols.
The latest protests were held in Beirut as he arrived there on Tuesday for a meeting with representatives of the large communities of the Middle East and the broader region.
During his meetings in all four cities, Sarkisian attempted to persuade Diaspora Armenians that the protocols do not harm Armenian state and national interests, but, on the contrary, open new opportunities for resolving the centuries-old feud between the two neighbors.
Some Diaspora leaders have expressed serious concern about key points of the two draft protocols. They are particularly critical of the planned creation of a Turkish-Armenian panel of historians that would look into the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Critics claim this provision is tantamount to questioning the fact of the Armenian Genocide and could hamper the process of the international affirmation of the genocide advanced by Armenian lobbyist and advocacy groups in the West and elsewhere in the world for decades.
Diaspora groups also object to another protocol clause that commits Armenia to recognizing its existing border with Turkey. They argue that it would preclude future Armenian territorial claims.
There are also lingering concerns in and outside Armenia about a possible linkage between the Armenian-Turkish normalization and the separate internationally mediated talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan around the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
In Lebanon on Tuesday Sarkisian held a meeting with more than a hundred representatives of national organizations and structures of large Armenian communities of the Middle East, Egypt, Iran and the Gulf countries, according to the information reported by his press office.
Before the meeting, Sarkisian met with His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia , who added his voice to the lingering concerns over the protocols in a letter sent to Sarkisian two weeks ago. The two reportedly discussed the current stage of the Armenian-Turkish normalization and issues regarding the initialed protocols.
In Beirut, Sarkisian also reportedly provided explanations to various aspects of the protocols as well as answered questions raised by the meeting participants.
“The current unnatural situation that exists between Armenia and Turkey does not suit either us or Turkey. The establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the border will create a platform, a more or less bearable environment, for continued dialogue and negotiations,” the Armenian leader emphasized.
Sarkisian also stressed that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which some in Diaspora communities fear could be slowed down or halted altogether in view of the Armenia-Turkey rapprochement, is “not only a matter of the restoration of justice, but also a major circumstance from the viewpoint of the security of Armenia and the Armenian people.” “It is a necessity,” the president stressed.
Sarkisian also dismissed concerns that the Armenian-Turkish normalization will increase Turkey’s role in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan, its ethnic ally in the region.
“The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will get a solution only when we see that we’ve got what our people have struggled for since 1988,” he underscored.
Armenian and Turkish officials are expected to sign the protocols on October 10 in Switzerland. The agreement will then go to the respective parliaments for ratification.
From Rostov-on-Don Sarkisian is scheduled to leave for Moldovan capital Chisinau where he will participate in the summit of leaders of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, and on the eve of the summit, on October 8, will meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for another round of talks on Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group cochairman from Russia, Yuri Merzlyakov, stated in Baku on Tuesday that no document will be signed by the two countries’ leaders during their meeting in Chisinau.