Settlement without settlement: U.S. offers new scenario on improving Turkish-Armenian relations

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern has spoken about “three tracks” for Yerevan and Ankara to settle their historical feud until 2015, the year when the centennial of the Armenian Genocide will be marked.

“Hopefully Turkey and Armenia will find a way to make 2015 an inclusive affair and part of a constructive process. 2015 will be a sensitive year. Therefore, it will be an opportunity to bring the two nations together,” said Heffern in an interview with the Turkish Today’s Zaman newspaper, recommending “three tracks” to be taken between the two countries.

The first track, he said, is the ratification and the implementation of the protocols. The U.S. hopes, in this sense, that both sides will ratify and implement the signed protocols.

The second track involves economic measures, including the reopening of railroads between Kars and Gyumri. “If the railroad reopens there will be a tremendous boost in trade and tourism,” said Heffern, adding that the railroad could be opened without opening the full border.

The third track outlined by Heffern is the reconciliation of the people and cross-border exchanges. “We [the US] will continue to stimulate cross-border exchanges between journalists, students and businesspeople,” he said.

In the statements by Ambassador Heffern there is a key point that the railway can be opened without the opening of the entire border. This is part of the so-called “settlement without settlement” project, which is now being actively lobbied also by the European Union. Its essence is that the conflicts between Armenia and Turkey and between Armenia and Azerbaijan may remain without final settlement or without peace agreements, but the borders should be opened up for regional energy and transport projects.

The Karabakh conflict appears a sticking point in this sense. Azerbaijan and Turkey are trying to achieve an Armenian withdrawal from at least a couple of districts now being held by the Karabakh military, promising to open the border in that case. However, this position seems unacceptable to many. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who made a regional tour last week, clearly stated that such a price is not acceptable for her country and that processes in the Karabakh conflict and Armenian-Turkish relations should be evolving separately.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reiterated that the Turkish-Armenian relations won’t be normalized “until Armenian forces leave the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”. In addition, in these days in the Turkish city of Trabzon, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia signed an agreement on energy cooperation, again bypassing Armenia.

At a joint press conference the foreign minister of Turkey, a country that occupied the northern part of Cyprus nearly four decades ago, again called “unacceptable” the “occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territories”. “Frozen conflicts can turn into a hot spot any moment. It is very important that instead of freezing the conflict a speedy solution to it be sought,” said Davutoglu.

Turkey itself has temporarily ceased contacts with the EU for the duration of Cyprus’s presidency in this organization. Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia Ruben Safrastyan reminds that the Cyprus problem is a major obstacle to Turkey’s European integration. “Turkey keeps its occupation troops in Cyprus, which is actually an act of aggression against a member of the EU, an organization that Turkey is seeking to accede,” said the expert.

Some experts suggest that as a price for Turkey’s accession to the Schengen agreement Europe may demand that Ankara open up a railway with Armenia and “convince” Azerbaijan to partially list the blockades of Karabakh.