‘2015 will be opportunity to normalize ties with Armenia’

American Ambassador to Armenia John A. Heffern has said 2015, the centennial of the »»

American Ambassador to Armenia John A. Heffern has said 2015, the centennial of the events of 1915, will be an opportunity for Turkey to improve relations with Armenia, adding that it will be an important year for both sides.

“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 two nations together,” said Heffern, adding there was great anticipation of 2015 in Armenia.

“2015 should be a year of win-win for both countries, not win-lose,” said the ambassador. In an interview with Today's Zaman, Heffern stated that relations between Turkey and Armenia were not important solely for the sake of the two nations involved but also for the Unites States. He recommended three tracks to be taken between the two countries: “The first track is the ratification and the implementation of the protocols, which is the key and primary track. The US hopes both sides will ratify and implement the protocols, which have already been signed.”

“[The United States'] primary goal is to bring about reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia,” said Heffern, adding the US had not ceased to support the protocols.

A historic reconciliation process was launched between Turkey and Armenia in 2009 when the two sides signed twin protocols to normalize diplomatic relations, but the move was not well received in Azerbaijan. The protocols, signed in Zurich, shook Turkish-Azerbaijani relations as the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has yet to be peacefully settled.

The ratification of the protocols stalled after Turkey insisted Armenia first agree to resolve the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The issue of Armenia's withdrawal from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent territories is important to Ankara, which has frequently signaled that this step would pave the way for the opening of its border with Armenia.

Heffern also touched upon increasing tensions that rose along the Azerbaijani-Armenian border last Tuesday, resulting in the deaths of soldiers from both sides. “Nagorno-Karabakh is indeed an important issue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The recent clashes along the Azerbaijani-Armenian border shows that Nagorno-Karabakh is a critical issue and that the status quo is not acceptable to either side,” said Heffern.

The clashes come just as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has embarked on a tour of the South Caucasus in the hope of mediating advancement in territorial disputes in the region. Warning that Azeri-Armenian tensions could escalate into a broader conflict with serious consequences, Clinton said the US would continue to press on mediation efforts, along with France, Russia and other nations.

Heffern stated that the US, through the Minsk Group -- a multipartite platform established to seek a solution to the political and territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia -- had tried to find a peaceful solution to the dispute. “There is no other solution than a peaceful solution. The US believes that diplomacy is the right path to reconciliation,” said Heffern.

The ambassador also touched upon the further two tracks he recommends be run by the two countries. 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 was 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.

“I know relations between Turkey and Armenia are very emotional and sensitive, but the US has hopes that these three tracks will be followed,” concluded Heffern.