Armenia is ready to back out before it enters into a binding reconciliation agreement with its long-time foe, Turkey.
The Armenian parliament on February 25 approved legislative amendments by a 70-4 margin that make it easy for the country's leaders to suspend or abrogate international treaties. In effect, the amendments enable the Armenian government to withdraw from protocols signed last October with Turkey that govern a process to normalize relations. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The protocols will enter force only after they are ratified by the two countries' respective parliaments. So far, neither has done so.
Progress toward ratification has been at a standstill in recent weeks. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Officials and political analysts said that the amendments to the Law on International Treaties adopted on February 25 were a way for Armenia to hedge its bet on the reconciliation process. ""We will continue the process, the Armenian side wholeheartedly wishes for the protocols to become reality. However, we have to have necessary mechanisms for any possible scenario, and, come the need, the law will be applied to the protocols as well," Armenia's Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told EurasiaNet.
Representatives of the Heritage Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), two opposition parties with seats in parliament, said they weren't fully satisfied with the amendments. Even so, the ARF voted with the governing coalition to approve the amendments. The Heritage Party opted to oppose them.
"This is a step forward, however, according to this draft only the executive branch will have the power to suspend the signing and ratification processes of international agreements, and we demand that the legislative branch also have this right," ARF MP Armen Roustamian told EurasiaNet.
A Heritage leader, meanwhile, described the amendments as a "bad exit strategy."
"We believe that the draft needs a number of improvements and additions and because this is only a half-step; we do not approve of half-steps," the head of the Heritage faction, Stepan Safarian, stated in parliament.
Stepan Grigorian, the director of the Analytic Center on Globalization and Regional Cooperation in Yerevan, took issue with the timing of the parliamentary vote. He suggested that it unnecessarily put Yerevan on the defensive in what is now shaping up in a public-relations contest to assign blame for the stalemate in the reconciliation process.
"Armenia could have simply ratified [the protocols] and waited for Turkey's steps, and if Turkey failed [to ratify], then ? we could have appeared before the international community with a clear conscience," Grigorian told EurasiaNet. "In this case, Turkey can use the [adoption of] the amendments to say that Armenia is getting ready to pull-out."
Ratification of the reconciliation protocols remains a hot topic in Armenia. Earlier in February, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Samvel Nikoian hinted that Armenia might take the first move toward ratification. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Nikoian's statement generated a sharp reaction from representatives of the Prosperous Armenia party, a member of the governing coalition. Prosperous Armenia leaders have insisted that Yerevan should consider ratification only after the Turkish legislature has already done so.
At this point, many with ties to the governing coalition are sceptical about ratification. "I consider it most unlikely that Armenia might ratify the protocols first," former Justice Minister David Harutyunian told EurasiaNet.
Gayane Abrahamyan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan.