David L. Phillips, director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, and Ambassador Michael C. Lemmon discussed the findings and recommendations in Phillips’ newly-published Diplomatic History: The Turkey-Armenia Protocols. Carnegie’s Thomas de Waal moderated.

Diplomatic History: The Turkey-Armenia Protocols

The publication provides an inside account of the negotiations that led to the 2009 Protocol on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations and the Protocol on the Development of Bilateral Relations between the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of Armenia, based on interviews with the U.S. and Swiss officials who were involved in the mediation, as well as envoys from both Turkey and Armenia.

Historical Context

The normalization process between Armenia and Turkey is currently stalled, with parliaments in both countries failing to ratify the protocols signed in October 2009. Phillips gave a brief history of the Armenia-Turkey relations.

  • “Genocide”: Using the word ‘genocide’ to refer to the mass deportation and killing of the Armenian population in Eastern Anatolia by the Ottoman Young Turk regime in the years following 1915 is a point of controversy between Turkey and Armenia. Philips justified its usage based on a February 2003 study from the International Center for Transitional Justice, which provides the legal analysis for applicability of the term genocide.

  • Civil Society Engagement: The Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission, started in July 2001 by Phillips, and the Turkey-Armenia Business Development Council were important in initiating the links between the two countries and opening space for engagement by the civil society groups, said Phillips.

  • Hrant Dink: The 2007 assassination of Istanbul Armenian newspaper editor, Hrant Dink, caused outrage in Turkey. Dink had played an important role in starting the Armenian-Turkish dialogue, and tens of thousands mourned him by taking to the streets and chanting “we are all Armenians,” said Phillips.

  • Swiss Facilitation: The Swiss foreign ministry began to facilitate confidential meetings with foreign ministers and other diplomats from Armenia and Turkey in 2007, he added.

  • Football Diplomacy: Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian invited Turkish President Abdullah Gul to an Armenia-Turkey soccer match in Yerevan in 2008, which the President of Turkey accepted. Phillips commended President Gul for initiating the contact by writing to President Sarkisian and the latter for inviting his Turkish counterpart for a soccer match.

  • The Zurich Protocols: Armenian and Turkish officials initiated the protocols normalizing the relations between two countries. In a ceremony held on October 10, 2009, the foreign ministers signed the two protocols, supported by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which required ratification from parliaments of both countries. In an effort to de-link issues, the protocols also did not mention the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh. They also did not include a deadline for ratification, said Phillips.

  • Stalled Normalization Process: The protocols faced immense criticism in both countries, with some Armenians accusing their government of selling out and some in Turkey upset that the protocols did not refer to the Nagorny Karabakh issue. All parties negotiated too hard on small details and the Turkish side did not proceed with ratification, said Phillips, resulting in Armenian President Sarkisian’s suspension of Armenian involvement in the process.


“There was a view on both sides that the other party would never go forward,” said Phillips, “and the parliamentary ratification requirement provided a political cover for both Turkish and Armenian officials.” He added that there was reason to criticize the policies of several countries in the process.

  • U.S. Policy: The U.S. State Department bureaucratized the process after the protocols were signed, said Phillips, assuming things would just follow through. As a result, the United States had poor communications with Turkey and Yerevan and lacked the necessary engagement to aid the ratification process in both countries.

  • Turkey: In turn, Turkey underestimated the intensity with which Azerbaijan would oppose the protocols, added Phillips.


Despite the disappointment and bitterness resulting from the stalling of the normalization process, the Turkey-Armenia protocols represent an incredible achievement and valuable work, said Lemmon. The protocols complement and provide a strong foundation for the Track I and II efforts, he added. Phillips suggested that the Protocols can still represent a way forward for the Armenia-Turkey normalization process. Phillips and Lemmon provided several recommendations:

  • Upcoming Centennial of Armenian Tragedy: The relations between the two countries would witness transformative change if the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan were to apologize to Armenians ahead of the upcoming centenary of the Armenian genocide in 2015, said Phillips.

  • U.S. Financing: The United States government needs strategic coherence in crafting its financing projects in Armenia and Turkey, said Phillips.

  • Inter-Governmental Contacts: Turkey and Armenia should cooperate on such issues as disaster and emergency preparedness, recommended Phillips.

  • Track II Efforts: It is important to shift the normalization strategy from state-to-state efforts supported by the Protocols to broader Track II efforts, added Ambassador Lemmon.

  • Win-Win Initiatives: The process needs to stop being perceived as a zero-sum game by the actors, concluded Lemmon, and potential for win-win initiatives needs to be considered.