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Opinion: Turkey and Armenia must move ahead

With diplomatic relations stalled, Ankara and Yerevan should focus on the less controversial parts of their agreement.

The Turkish government decided that it could not ignore Azeri pressure and with difficult negotiations going on concerning constitutional reform, it does not want to pick a fight over border opening with the nationalist opposition in parliament. There is little chance that the twin protocols can move until after the next round of Turkish elections in 2011, or until Azerbaijan and Armenia sign the long-awaited agreement on basic principles on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkissian is also under pressure. Even though a quick ratification in Armenia would firmly put the ball in Turkey’s court and give Yerevan credit internationally, domestic opposition is strong.

The decade of confidence-building that preceded the Turkey-Armenian protocol signing could now be lost unless there is progress soon. The best step now would be for Ankara and Yerevan to temporarily put aside the most difficult aspects of the protocols and move ahead with the less controversial parts. Despite current troubles, they could proceed with the establishment of diplomatic ties and recognition of their mutual border. These need no parliamentary approval, are purely about bilateral relations and are not linked to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey and Armenia have a mounting number of bilateral issues to address requiring simple consular services. There are up to 40,000 Armenian citizens living in Turkey, tens of thousands of Armenian tourists visit the Turkish Riviera every year and countless Turkish truck drivers and small businesses operating in Armenia.

There are easy opportunities to develop many other cross-border activities. But currently none of them can get effective support from their home country while abroad.

For such basic practical matters, Obama’s speech is really a distraction. Even in the current difficult diplomatic climate, the leaders of Turkey and Armenia can and should take these initial steps to ensure their people can build up a prosperous future and help them come to terms with their shared traumatic history.

Sabine Freizer is Crisis Group's Europe Program Director.