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Armenia suspends talks with Turkey

By the CNN Wire Staff
Armenian President Serge Sarkisian, pictured during a recent trip to Washington.
Armenian President Serge Sarkisian, pictured during a recent trip to Washington.
  • Armenia's president says his country is suspending talks with Turkey
  • Armenia accuses Turkey of failing to meet deadline for ratifying peace protocols
  • Turkey says it is considering its response to the call
  • Turkey
  • Armenia
  • Hillary Clinton

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- In a setback to an internationally-supported peace process, Armenia's president said his country is suspending talks aimed at normalizing relations with Turkey, Armenia's southern neighbor and long-time adversary.

Serge Sarkisian said Thursday that Turkey is dragging its feet as time frames in the peace process have elapsed. He said Turkey isn't ready "to move forward without preconditions in line," a stance he says would follow the peace process protocols.

"We consider unacceptable the pointless efforts of making the dialogue between Armenia and Turkey an end in itself; from this moment on, we consider the current phase of normalization exhausted," he said in a televised address.

"We shall consider moving forward when we are convinced that there is a proper environment in Turkey and there is leadership in Ankara ready to re-engage in the normalization process."

Sarkisian made the comments as the ruling coalition of political parties in Armenia's parliament also called for suspending talks aimed at normalizing relations with Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in reaction, "The Armenian Parliament is the authority to decide on the ratification process with regard to the protocols with Armenia.

"I would like to express here that the statement of the Armenian ruling coalition parties today, has been noted within this framework. Naturally, it is at their own discretion as to how they would manage the ratification process. I am in no position to tell them what to say or not. As we have stated numerous times earlier, we are loyal to the protocols, their essence and spirit as well as their implementation."

The United States European and Russian-supported peace process has been aimed at reopening the border between Armenia and Turkey and the establishment of embassies in both countries' capitals.

Last October, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov looked on, the foreign ministers from Armenia and Turkey signed a series of peace protocols. The ceremony was nearly canceled at the last minute because of a dispute between the Turks and the Armenians.

The Armenian president has since made a visit to Turkey to attend a football match between the two countries, but critics say there has been little movement since then toward ratifying the protocols before parliament.

Sarkisian said Turkey's "senior officials have not spared public statements in the language of preconditions."

The parliamentary coalition says the Turkish side's stance is "unacceptable," citing statements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan making ratification of peace protocols "directly dependent upon the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan."

Christian Armenia and Muslim Azerbaijan fought a bitter war over the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is now controlled by Armenian troops. The front-line is still volatile, with periodic deadly clashes taking place there.

Sarkisian said in his remarks that "two protocols aimed at normalization of the relations have been publicized, discussed in the public domain, and signed."

"The documents have for quite a lengthy time now been in the parliaments of Armenia and Turkey, awaiting ratification. Armenia has all along demonstrated her commitment to the process of normalization of relations, to the point of including the protocols in the agenda of the National Assembly.

"We have made clear to the whole world that our position is nothing but firmly constructive. We have stated that, if Turkey ratified the protocols, as agreed, without preconditions and in a reasonable time frame, failure by the Armenian Parliament to ratify them would be precluded."

But Sarkisian said that "Turkey has done everything to protract time and fail the process..."

Sarkisian said he is grateful to Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Barack Obama of the United States, Dmitri Medvedev of Russia and European groups for backing the process. He said Armenia's "political objective of normalizing relations" with Turkey is still "valid."

"The matter of the fact is that our partners have urged us to continue the process, rather than to discontinue it," he said. "Out of respect for them, their efforts, and their sincere aspirations, we have decided after consulting our coalition partners and the National Security Council not to exit the process for the time being, but rather, to suspend the procedure of ratifying the protocols. We believe this to be in the best interests of our nation."

He noted that the peace process began with the September 2008 football match between the teams of Armenia and Turkey,

"I express gratitude to President Abdullah Gul of Turkey for political correctness displayed throughout this period and the positive relationship that developed between us," Sarkisian said, referring to his Turkish counterpart.

Thursday's announcement comes just two days before Armenians around the world will commemorate the 1915 massacre of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.

Armenia calls the massacres a genocide, but Turkey furiously denies that position in describing the killings that took place in the last days of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. That issue has been a stumbling block in forging normal relations between the two nations.

Sarkisian said Armenia is grateful to others across the world who back Armenia's position, including Turkish intellectuals who conclude that the killings of the Armenians then was an extermination "under a state-orchestrated program for merely being Armenians."

"We will commemorate the 95th anniversary of the first genocide of the 20th century, the remembrance day of the Armenian genocide. Our struggle for the international recognition of the genocide continues. If some circles in Turkey attempt to use our candor to our detriment, to manipulate the process to avoid the reality of the 24th of April, they should know all too well that the 24th of April is the day that symbolizes the Armenian genocide, but in no way shall it mark the time boundary of its international recognition," he said.

-- CNN's Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert