“The Armenian government wants to normalize ties with Turkey. The problem is how to do it. This whole protocol process made clear to everyone that there are obstacles in the way. The question is how both sides could overcome these obstacles. The major obstacle is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As long as that issue is not being addressed or somehow resolved I really don’t see how we can move forward on Turkey-Armenia ties,” he said to a group of reporters on Monday from Turkey who came to Armenia with the sponsorship of the Hrant Dink Foundation and the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
Turkey closed its borders with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan after Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan in 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The issue of Armenia’s withdrawal from the area surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh is of importance for Ankara, which has frequently signaled that this step would ease the way for opening the border with Armenia.
However, the Zurich protocols, signed between Turkey and Armenia on Oct. 10, 2009, do not make any reference to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and say that both countries should have the protocols ratified by their parliaments within a “reasonable time frame.”
Declaring the protocols “dead,” Oskanian said that the Turkish policy has been clear that there will not be open borders between Turkey and Armenia before the conflict is resolved.
“Overcoming that obstacle depends not only on Armenia but also on Azerbaijan. So, our bilateral ties are held hostage to Turkey’s relations with Azerbaijan,” he said. “For me it is very clear that the border will not be opened unless the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resolved.”
Oskanian added that he was critical of the Armenian government’s position in signing the protocols with Turkey, explaining, “The current [Armenian] administration did not want to listen. They said no, there is a possibility that Turkey delinked our bilateral relations over the issue of Karabakh. But eventually they themselves became convinced eventually that is not the case.”
He added that the most Armenians understand that it is a priority for Turkey that Azerbaijani interests be addressed and met before Turkey opens its border with Armenia. Asked if there is hope for a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Oskanian said that it is difficult.
“I am not hopeless but it will not be easy. The Karabakh conflict has already lasted 20 years and it is not going to be resolved unless Turkey changes its position -- which I very much doubt will happen since they haven’t done it in 20 years,” he said. “Negotiations are continuing but the process as far as I am concerned is in a deadlock. After these [Armenian] parliamentary elections, I don’t know if the process will be resuscitated.”
On Sunday’s elections in Armenia, the incumbent Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican Party won about 68 seats, a majority in the 131-seat parliament, according to results released on Monday.
The Prosperous Armenia Party came out of the elections as the second most popular party. Oskanian is expected to run for presidential elections if the ruling Republican Party does not invite the Prosperous Armenia Party to form a coalition government. The Prosperous Armenia party, led by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, was the Republican Party’s coalition partner in the previous parliament but Sargsyan’s party will no longer need its backing to pass most laws, which require a majority.
“Prosperous Armenia doubled its number of members in Parliament, but still fell short of what we could have achieved had there been a cleaner election. Had there not been certain violations, I think we would have gotten better results. It is too early to assess the situation,” he said.
Asked if he is planning to run for the upcoming presidential elections, the ex-foreign minister sounded undecided. He said he is not even thinking about the presidential elections at the moment and that they have just concluded parliamentary elections.
“Let’s see what happens,” he concluded.
International monitors gave a mixed assessment of the elections, however, praising Armenia for holding a peaceful election but criticizing violations of campaign law and interference by parties.
The results in the former Soviet republic, where the Republican Party was just short of a majority in the previous parliament, give Sargsyan a strong platform to seek a second presidential term next year.
Asked by the Turkish reporters if Turkey’s proposal for the establishment of a historical commission to study the 1915 events was acceptable for the Armenians, Oskanian said:
“That would mean putting the whole genocide issue up for study again, something that has been done and conclusions have been reached by international scholars and by Armenians that the 1915 events are genocide. The Armenian side will never accept such a commission. So the demand that is put by Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan is not realistic as far as the Armenian side is concerned. We would suggest that Turkey opens the border without conditions, we normalize our ties and then, at the governmental level, we can address the issues that are raised by one side or the other. But to create a specific commission for genocide will not be acceptable by the Armenian side, in my view, under any administration.”