Armenians protest against detente in Turkey relations

REUTERS , YEREVAN

Fri, Sep 04, 2009 - Page 6

Around 1,000 Armenian nationalists protested in the capital Yerevan on Wednesday against a historic thaw in relations with Turkey, underscoring the risks involved in the rapprochement.

Armenia and Turkey said on Monday they had agreed to establish diplomatic relations and open their joint border as part of a plan to end a century of hostility stemming from the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I.

They said they would sign accords after six weeks of domestic consultations, then submit them to their parliaments for ratification.

But nationalists in Armenia say there can be no thaw unless Turkey recognizes the World War I killings and deportations as genocide. Ankara rejects the term, saying many people died on both sides of the conflict.

Police estimated some 1,000 supporters of the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation, known as Dashnaktsutyun, protested outside the foreign ministry holding the flags of Armenia and the breakaway mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“This document puts into doubt the Armenian genocide, the question of compensation, and the right to our historical homeland,” party official Gegham Manukyan said.

The party traces its roots back to the period before the World War I killings and has a strong following among Armenia’s huge diaspora. It split from the ruling coalition after the rapprochement was first announced in April, but the government retains a majority in parliament.

Turkey closed its frontier with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with its Muslim ally Azerbaijan during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, where ethnic Armenians threw off Azeri rule with the backing of Yerevan.

Armenia, landlocked and suffering from the impact of the global economic crisis, hopes to gain new markets and trade routes from an open border and diplomatic ties with Turkey. Ankara wants to claim a diplomatic triumph and strengthen its bid to join the EU.

But Azerbaijan, an oil and gas supplier to the West and a potential supplier of gas for Europe’s planned Nabucco pipeline, is angry at the thaw. It fears it will lose leverage over Armenia on Nagorno-Karabakh, where a peace deal is elusive.

Azerbaijan said on Tuesday that the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border would be contrary to its national interest.

Armenia said it would be beneficial for all.

“If there are processes in the region and changes going on, they can reflect positively on Azerbaijan,” Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian told a news conference on Wednesday.

Turkey said on Tuesday it hoped the border would open by the New Year.