Terminated Armenia-Turkey Protocols Should be a Lesson for Armenia’s Leaders

Harut Sassounian
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian


Finally, the Armenian President officially declared null and void the infamous Armenia-Turkey Protocols during a meeting of the National Security Council last week. President Sarkisian had made several announcements since 2009, warning that he would remove the Protocols from the Parliament’s agenda unless Turkey ratified them shortly. Sarkisian’s most recent such warning was made last September during his remarks at the United Nations General Assembly, stating that he would declare the Protocols null and void before the Spring of 2018.

The Protocols were signed by Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on October 10, 2009, in Zurich, Switzerland. Also present at the signing ceremony were the Foreign Ministers of Russia, France, Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State, and high-ranking officials of the European Union.

The lengthy text of the Protocols called for the opening of the borders between Armenia and Turkey, and establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Protocols also included many other unrelated matters, such as recognizing the existing Armenian-Turkish border, and the establishment of a historic commission to examine problems between the two countries, meaning the Armenian Genocide.

As a result, there was a worldwide outcry against adoption of the Protocols with protests both in Armenia and many Diasporan communities. Shortly before the signing of the Protocols on October 10, 2009, Sarkisian embarked on a worldwide tour of major Armenian communities in Paris, New York, Los Angeles,
Beirut, and Rostov-on-Don (Russia) ostensibly to listen to their concerns regarding the Protocols. However, it was clear from his remarks at these meetings that he had made up his mind to go ahead with the Protocols, and the intent of the tour was to persuade Diaspora Armenians to give up their objections. During his visits overseas, Sarkisian was greeted with angry protests and confrontations making his propaganda tour a failure.

During Sarkisian’s stop in Los Angeles on October 4, 2009, he met with leaders of 60 Armenian organizations with the overwhelming majority criticizing the pending Protocols, while thousands of Armenians demonstrated outside the hotel where the meeting was taking place.

In my remarks at that meeting, I cautioned Sarkisian that Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s President, by objecting to the Protocols would block their eventual ratification by Turkey. Ironically, such an outcome would mean that Azerbaijan’s President, not Armenian’s President, would be inadvertently defending Armenia’s interests.

It was clear to many Armenians, both inside and outside of Armenia, that Turkey had no intention of opening its mutual border. The Protocols were a Turkish ploy to pressure Armenia to make territorial concessions to Azerbaijan on Karabakh (Artsakh).

In fact, the signing ceremony in 2009 was delayed by several hours when it became known that Turkey’s Foreign Minister, in his remarks, would link the unrelated subject of the Karabakh conflict to the Protocols. Only the last-minute intervention by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton temporarily resolved the dispute and the two sides proceeded to sign the Protocols.

However, in the years following the signing ceremony, the Turkish leaders made repeated statements that they had no intention to ratify the Protocols unless Armenia made concessions on Karabakh. Indeed, Azerbaijan had vigorously protested the signing of the Protocols and warned Turkey not to proceed with ratification. Azerbaijan intended to pressure Armenia to make territorial concessions on Karabakh by keeping Armenia’s borders with Turkey closed.

Armenia’s leaders had allowed major foreign powers to pressure them into making a decision that was contrary to the Armenian people’s interests. As a small state, it is understandable that Armenia could not act like its larger and more powerful Turkish neighbor which repeatedly flaunts the wishes of the international community. Nevertheless, Armenia’s leaders could at least make an effort to keep foreign intervention to a minimum.

Another lesson Armenia’s leaders should learn from the Protocols’ debacle is that before they embark on initiatives that affect Armenian interests worldwide, they should hold serious consultations to make sure that the majority of Armenians in Armenia and the Diaspora are on board with their decisions. Naturally, internal matters affecting those living within Armenia’s borders are their prerogative, however, issues that affect all Armenians, such as the Armenian Genocide, Armenian territorial demands from Turkey, and the final settlement of the Artsakh conflict are major concerns to all Armenians. Long before signing any documents on these subjects, Armenia’s leadership should ensure that most Armenians agree with them. Otherwise, we shall see the repetition of ugly confrontations in Armenia and the Diaspora with Armenian authorities.

I raise these concerns in response to Sarkisian’s two statements last week:

1. “When we started the negotiation process, we naturally predicted two outcomes — positive or negative.”

2. “If we get proposals tomorrow, or the next day, we will be ready to discuss them.”

Sarkisian’s statements indicate that Armenia’s leaders have not recognized their mistaken approach to Armenian-Turkish issues. It is not true that Armenia did not lose anything. Turkey manipulated the Protocols to ensure that no foreign country meddled in the Armenian Genocide issue. In fact, Obama also exploited the Protocols to refrain from using the term Armenian Genocide in his April 24 statement of 2009 and in the subsequent seven years.

Furthermore, Sarkisian’s statements indicate that Armenia is apt to make the same mistake again. For years, he had been declaring that Armenia is ready to ratify the Protocols the same day that Turkey ratifies them. Fortunately, Turkey never ratified the Protocols, preventing Armenia from taking an action contrary to its own national interests!

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  1. Zareh said:

    It would be naïve to conclude that the reason why the Obama administration did not “recognize” the Armenian genocide because of the Protocols. In fact it is correct state, as Mr. Sassounian says, that the Obama administration simply exploited the existence of the Protocols to avoid declaring the recognition of the genocide. There would have been another reason to avoid the issue had the Protocols not existed.

    I think the Armenian diplomacy has marked an achievement, directly or indirectly, in a) Showing the world that Armenia, as a state, can rise up to the challenges of international diplomatic processes and make difficult decision even if it is not popular by the masses. b) Has shown the world that Turkey cannot be trusted. Most damning to Turkey is the demonstration that Ankara does not honour its own signature nor official declarations. This, I think is a huge diplomatic victory for Armenia, albeit inadvertently, as well as a lesson in avoiding future deceitful rapprochements. In this context, President Sarkisian’s assertion that “we will be ready to discuss” any future proposals is right on the mark.

    As a neighbour to Turkey Armenia cannot be seen shutting all doors, and at the same time complain of Turkey closing the borders. The onus is on Turkey to fix things now and no one will be fooled in believing that Turkish attitude towards Armenia is anything less than doubtful and untrustworthy.

    • Masis said:

      I commend you for thinking critically. But you are off the mark in several points.

      1. “There would have been another issue if the Protocols had not existed” is similar to the Russians saying if they hand t sold arms to Azertbaijan, other countries would. We must try to stifle every hi France that comes up.

      2. Armenia didn’t rise up, it just did what it was told. Also making a difficult decision not popular with the masses is another way of saying it veered from democracy. And agreeably, it has.

      3. Showing the world that Turkey cannot be trusted. The World as of yet doesn’t care. Look at what they did and doing to Kurdish fighters. To be the bigger person doesn’t work in today’s political stage. It seems you are following the ideology of Switzerland, which is commendable. However, in reality what functions is the ideology of an African jungle.

      I strongly feel if we formally relinquished claims to western Armenia, part of our past would be erased. Also this group that was going to be set up to determine if there had been a Genocide was going to be tainted by Turkish money and threats.

      We lucked out because Turkey got greedy and wanted even more. That finally woke our leaders up and they stood their ground.

      Opening the Turkish border is going to bring nothing but headaches for us.

      • Raffi said:

        I agree: ‘Opening the Turkish border is going to bring nothing but headaches for us.’

  2. Arto said:

    I disagree. There is nothing written in the Protocols related to Karabagh. Armenia played it right—a country ready and willing to make difficult decisions for regional peace while Turkey looked untrustworthy and obstinate.

  3. Masis said:

    Thank you Mr Sassounian for having the courage to point out the limitations of our government. I would like the add that their demeanor to such a crucial international event showed their ineptness as leaders. Despite milking millions of Diaspora’s donations, they completely disregarded our stance, much in the same manner they disregard the popular voice of Armenia’s interests and stifle whatever views go against the ruling party. Women are beaten at Parliamentary meetings, Artsakh freedoms fighters are jailed, voters are bribed, and even Diasporan citizens are threatened. Clearly this government is spurting the last of its venom as its excesses have become uncontainable.

    Through our patriotic financial aid to Armenia, we have enabled this system to continue, as I’m sure it skims of the top of foreign assistance.

    Admittedly, there was US pressure for Armenia to sign the protocols. Consequently, Hillary Clinton lost my vote. There is international pressure on Turkey or Azertbaijan. However, they seem to do whatever they please. Our current leaders offer unconditional sycophantic support to Russia and The US in order to not be rebuked for their corruption and non democratic methods of government.

    Time has come for the Diaspora and Armenian citizens to demand a new government with a leading party for Armenia and to isolate the current leadership from any support.

    • Raffi said:

      So far Armenia can trust more to Russia than US who so far did not recognize officially the Armenian Genocide.

  4. Fredrick Badalian said:

    The Protocols were the death nail for the Serve Treaty. Up until then the Serves treaty was the legally binding treaty. In effect the Kars Treaty between the Russians and the Turks is not a legally binding treaty. So since the nullification of the Protocols. Officially Turkey are occupying lands of Armenia. So I for one am celebrating the death of the Protocols. Because there is hope for us to get our lands back without fighting. In a legal international court by nullifying the Kars treaty.

  5. shahe said:

    Again you can look at this from several angles
    They key thing in this debate is the fact that the diplomatic and political knowledge of the Armenians in Armenia proper has not been up to standard. Yes I agree that we gave it a try and we were hoping for a good outcome.
    The danger would not have come from our ratification, but that of Turkey! What killed the protocol was their bombastic ego! Had they ratified the protocol, then the borders would have been opened and within maximum of 50 years they would have swallowed us financially, economically and socially, even without the need of Azerbaijan.
    Eventually they would have perpetrated another genocide as well and taken us beautifully away from the Russian defense pact making us vulnerable from all sides.
    Let us thank God that they did not sign!!! and let us hope that the diplomats have learnt something, or at least learnt that Turkey cannot be trusted. I sincerely hope that the “hastaviz” thick neck pompous idiots in the defense and foreign ministry remind themselves to open a few Armenian historic textbooks and read a few chapters, rather then pre-occupy themselves with” pizzness”.
    Our history is rich enough with examples Mr Sarkissian , so please stop your ridiculous endeavors and STOP playing CHESS, the world is not about armies and maneuvers, it is about opportunities!!!!

  6. Ari said:

    All Soviet Era treaties with Turkey shall be nolified by Russia and Armenian Government, and Wilsonian Armenia established.

    Armenia must demand from the international community the restoration of justice and restitutions from Turkey and its culprits (Germany, the Kurds, the Russians)for the anhialation of the Armenian civilization in Western Armenia.