By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife at BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
|Armenian Foreign Minister Edouard Nalbandian, left, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during the signing ceremony of a peace accord in Zurich, Switzerland. Via VOA News|
BUDAPEST/ISTANBUL/YEREVAN (BosNewsLife)– The former Soviet republic of Armenia and Turkey have signed a historic accord on normalizing relations after a century of hostility.
The signing on Saturday, October 10, in Zurich, Switzerland came after a last minute delay caused by a dispute over the final statements the two nations would make.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped get the signing back on course. But the agreement has been met by protests in Armenia, where many people say it does not fully address the 1915 killing of over a million people, including many Christians
Some 10,000 people marched through the Armenian capital Yerevan to protest against the planned normalization of diplomatic relations with Turkey.
They said ties can only be restored if Turkey recognizes that the massacre during the last days of the Ottoman Empire of as many as 1.5 million Armenians was genocide.
But Turkey has denied the mass killings in 1915 amounted to genocide, saying many people died because of hardship and fighting during World War One.
Despite these remaining disagreements, the governments of predominantly Christian Armenia and mainly Islamic Turkey agreed to sign a peace accord to normalize relations.
They also agreed that a special commission of experts would investigate the circumstances surrounding the mass killings of Armenians.
The Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers, Edward Nalbandian and Ahmet Davutoglu, signed protocols to restore diplomatic ties and open the countries’ sealed border.
United Sates Secretary of State Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were among other officials attending the ceremony.
The protocols will establish diplomatic ties and open the Armenian-Turkish border, provided their respective parliaments subsequently ratify them.
Commentators say domestic opposition in both countries will likely slow the process.
Armenians have mixed feelings about the agreement.
“The protocols are very humiliating. And there are points in them that hinder our development as a society as a country as a people and preventing the international recognition of the Armenian genocide,” said one man who apparently did not want to be identified.
Another Armenian man says the agreement with Turkey carries too many risks. “It is a risky situation because we can lose, but we also can win. But the risk [of this agreement] also gives us possibilities,” he said.
Similar sentiments have been expressed in Turkey.
Yet European and American diplomats view the agreement as a landmark pact that seeks reconciliation, after nearly a century of bitterness between the two nations, over their blood stained history.
It was not immediately clear what impact the accord would have on the tiny Christian minority in Turkey, where believers have reported attacks by Turkish nationalists, prompting concern among human rights groups and the European Union.
In one of the most published violence, prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was killed in January 2007 in Istanbul by a young nationalist gunman, in an attack that was linked to his columns in which he described the killings of Armenians as genocide.
The stabbing of an Italian Catholic priest in 2007 highlighted the attacks. Also in 2007, three Christians were killed at a Bible-publishing house at the Zirve publishing house in Malatya, a city in the country’s southeast region.
Andrea Santoro, another Italian Catholic priest, was shot dead in the Turkish Black Sea city of Trabzon in 2006.
The number of Christians has now fallen to around 100,000 in a total population of more than 70 million, according to several estimates. Most of them, some 70,000, are Armenians, the rest include Syriac Christians, who speak the language of Jesus, Greek Orthodox, Catholics. Among them are also evangelical believers.
Modern Turkey, where one of the first evangelists of the Christian church, Apostel Paul, is believed to have been born, was founded as a secular republic by Kemal Mustafa Ataturk on the Ottoman Empire’s ashes, in 1923.