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Turkey, Armenia Sign Accord to Normalize Ties

Over the weekend, Turkey and Armenia’s foreign ministers signed an accord to establish ties between the two countries and open their shared border, but an occupied territory in Azerbaijan remains a major sticking point for final approval.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandiana signed the Swiss-brokered agreement to establish ties on Saturday.

Also attending the ceremony in Zurich were U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

“The essence of the documents is evidence of both countries’ firm resolve to do their part. … Not one of the steps can be interpreted as damaging to any third party,” Lavrov said, according to Reuters.

The Turkish and Armenian parliaments must still approve the deal, which marks a first step in reconciliation after nearly 100 years of bitterness over the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I.

Armenians have been pushing for Turkey to acknowledge the WWI-era massacre of more than 1 million Armenians as genocide. Turkey denies genocide and contends the death toll is inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war.

The agreement calls for a panel to discuss “the historical dimension” of the killings, according to the Associated Press. The discussion is to include “an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations.”

Another pressing issue is the Armenian-occupied territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan.

Turkey cut ties with Armenia and closed its border in 1993 in support of Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan, which was fighting a losing battle against Armenian separatists in Karabakh at the time.

Azeri officials responded angrily to Saturday’s agreement. Azeri Foreign Ministry said: “The normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia before the withdrawal of Armenian troops from occupied Azeri territory is in direct contradiction to the national interests of Azerbaijan,” reported Reuters.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan also said Sunday that Armenia must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh region before parliament will ratify the deal.

“Turkey cannot take a positive step towards Armenia unless Armenia withdraws from Azerbaijani land … if that issue is solved our people and our parliament will have a more positive attitude towards this protocol and this process,” he said in Ankara.

U.S., Russian and French mediators have reported progress in talks over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, and analysts say a deal is close but question whether the two sides have the will to push it through, Reuters reported.

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