ANKARA (RFE/RL)–Turkey will not normalize relations with Armenia before a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, raising more questions about the implementation of Turkish-Armenian agreements signed the previous night.
“I want to reiterate once again that Turkey cannot adopt a positive attitude unless Armenia withdraws from occupied Azerbaijani territories,” he was reported to tell a news conference held in Ankara after a high-level meeting of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Erdogan made clear that an internationally brokered agreement on Karabakh acceptable to Azerbaijan is critical for the ratification by the Turkish parliament of the two protocols envisaging that the establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of the border between the two nations.
“If the problems between Azerbaijan and Armenia are solved, then it will be easier for the Turkish community to embrace the normalization of the relations between Turkey and Armenia. Also, it will make it easier for the Turkish parliament to adopt the protocols,” he said. The parliament and the Turkish public will therefore be closely following the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks, he added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who signed the protocols with his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandian in Zurich late on Saturday, likewise linked their ratification with a Karabakh settlement. “We, the government, want the protocols to pass through Parliament but they need to be submitted for approval in an appropriate psychological and political atmosphere,” he told the state-run TRT television on Sunday.
“Not only Karabakh but also the seven Azerbaijani districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh are under occupation. That should come to an end,” said Davutoglu.
The remarks came just hours after Azerbaijan criticized Turkey for sealing a deal which it said “clouds the spirit of brotherly relations” between the two Turkic countries. “The normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia before the withdrawal of Armenian troops from occupied Azeri territory is in direct contradiction to the national interests of Azerbaijan,” the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Official Yerevan did not immediately react to the latest statements by the Turkish leaders. In a televised addressed to the nation on Saturday, President Serzh Sarkisian implicitly threatened to walk away from the agreements if Ankara fails to complete the ratification process “within a reasonable time frame.”
Sarkisian has for months been on the defensive at home and in the Diaspora in the face of criticisms over his pledges to make more concessions to Azerbaijan in the fence-mending talks with the Turks. He has been anxious to disprove any connection between the Karabakh issue and his policy of rapprochement with Turkey, despite the two processes having already been linked by Turkey.
That should explain why Nalbandian strongly objected to a speech which Davutoglu planned to deliver during the signing ceremony in Zurich attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other foreign dignitaries. According to the “Hurriyet Daily News” newspaper, Davutoglu would have declared that the normalization of the historically strained Turkish-Armenian relations “will lead to new reconciliations in the South Caucasus.” The paper said the Turkish side, for its part, protested against Nalbandian’s intention to refer to the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide in his statement.
The dispute delayed the high-profile ceremony by more than three hours. The two sides agreed not to make any statements there in what appears to have been a compromise personally brokered by Clinton. “We had a good night in Zurich,” she said afterwards, according to the Associated Press news agency.
U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly telephoned Clinton to congratulate her on overcoming the last-minute hitch that threatened to scuttle the deal welcomed by both the West and Russia. “He was very excited, he felt like this was a big step forward and wanted to check in,” the Associated Press quoted an unnamed senior State Department official as telling reporters aboard Clinton’s plane as she flew from Zurich to London.
Both Obama and Clinton stated earlier that the Turkish-Armenian agreements should be implemented “without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe.”