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September 04, 2009, Friday

Normalization and changing the status quo

Yesterday's international media outlets were perplexed by the mind-boggling speed with which Turkey is dealing with some of its decades-long intractable issues.

Watching Al Jazeera's prime time news last night, one could not escape noticing that Turkey is getting to the bottom of two tough regional issues at the same time. On one hand, Turkey is progressing on the “democratic opening,” which aims to end terrorism and address some of the grievances and concerns of our Kurdish citizens; on the other, we announced protocols aimed at normalizing our relations with Armenia. Some of our foreign friends are shaking their heads: some in disbelief, some with interest and some with discomfort.

The protocols announced mean a number of things: First, they confirm Turkey's genuine desire for normalizing its relations with Armenia. The government confirmed at the highest level that there is political will behind this process. Whatever will happen from now on, these protocols will confirm the desire of these two countries to establish diplomatic relations and deal with each other seriously. That said, the road ahead of us is also full of risks. Although, not mentioned in the protocols, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict looms over the normalization process. The protocols underline that the two countries “bear in mind … the importance of peace, security and stability of the whole region … to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.” The protocols also “confirm the mutual recognition of the existing border between the two countries.” We always said the conflict resolution process and the normalization efforts are “mutually reinforcing each other.” However, this dimension should not be the central focus of what has been achieved.

Instead, the focus should be on the fact that Turkey and Armenia confirmed their desire to change the status quo in the South Caucasus. They reaffirmed that the status quo is not sustainable. With these two protocols Ankara and Yerevan signaled their willingness to change the status quo.

We are now entering a period in which opposition to the protocols will be articulated loudly in both countries, and the challenge will be to stand firm. By asking for ratification by their respective parliaments, the leadership on both sides widens the scope of the debate and seeks further legitimacy by seeking parliamentary approval. This should be a healthy period, but it also puts considerable responsibility on the shoulders of the two governments, particularly in view of communicating to their public. If, in the coming weeks, there will be positive developments on the Nagorno-Karabakh side, we would enter a very optimistic period for the South Caucasus -- an important part of our neighborhood. If there is no movement on Nagorno-Karabakh, it will be up to the Turkish Parliament to assess the situation and judge accordingly. Regardless of how these steps will be played out, Turkey demonstrated clearly its will to stabilize this part of its diverse neighborhood. It did so in 2004 when it convinced the Turkish Cypriots to vote in favor of the UN referendum, and it does now when it pushes forward with this normalization process in the midst of a domestically charged period around the democratic opening. On three fronts, Turkey is thriving to change the status quo: Cyprus, Armenia and the Kurdish issue. No doubt, all three of them present serious challenges, but Ankara is determined to take them on with a proactive approach and change the status quo. Turkey has again entered a pro-reform cycle after the difficulties experienced domestically in 2007 and 2008. On the foreign policy front, we are determined to push forward with an aggressive agenda. These are times when we expect our friends and allies to be supportive of us.

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