Around five years ago, on October 10, 2009, Armenia-Turkey Protocols were signed in Zurich. I was among the journalists who attended the event and witnessed what was going on there. And I would like to open the brackets a little bit and present what I saw.
At exactly 16:00 on October 10, an hour before the historic event, I was already in the premises of Zurich University, ready to cover a significant event toward which the public attitude was not unequivocal, to say the least. It was an ordinary day in Zurich; only by approaching the university could one guess that something important was going to happen there.
The press pool of the solemn ceremony of signing of Turkish-Armenian Protocols was located in a large oval auditorium which looked like the YSU Charents Hall to me. When the Armenian journalists entered the auditorium, our Turkish and Russian colleagues had already “occupied positions” there. The organizers promised that they would allow us to enter the guest lodge at the beginning of the event. Meanwhile, they offered us to have coffee and taste sandwiches. We still had time and as I didn’t have anything to report, I started walking along the rows peering at what my foreign colleagues were doing.
The Russian journalists were already ready to cover their Foreign Minister Lavrov’s speech provided by good-looking associate of Russian Foreign Ministry accompanying the journalists. She would come to the journalists every 15 minutes to tell them what “the boss” was doing at the moment: “the boss is talking to the Swiss”, “the boss is watching the Russian national football team’s match with Solana” and so on and so forth.
The Turks had their own source of information: a young diplomat dressed in a suit entered the hall from time to time, bringing together his compatriots, whispering something in their ears and quickly leaving to shun our questions. The open laptops of our Turkish colleagues suggested that everything was ready and they would only click on “Send”- and the text would appear on the pages of their media outlets a couple of minutes later.
At around 16:50, I saw smiling Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu enter the building. He was greeted by a high-ranking official of Swiss Foreign Ministry. Of “the leading characters”, only the Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were absent. But it didn’t seem suspicious or surprising to us at the moment. At 17:00 sharp, we were taken to the lodge of the large hall.
A number of officials of Swiss Foreign Ministry and European Commission were already seated in the hall and the classical quartet was getting ready to play a seemingly familiar tune. Shortly, the officials unexpectedly left their seats to go in various directions and only musicians stayed in the hall. Journalist from Armenian Public TV Channel Artur Grigoryan who sat next to me and I learnt that “something was wrong” from a conversation between two European diplomats: one of them mentioned that “one of the parties changed his mind”.
I should digress from the topic to recall that on the same day and hour, the Armenian national football team was playing with the World Champion Spanish national team. The match was going to be broadcast on the Armenian Public TV but out of the significance of the event, the Public TV leadership decided to interrupt the game broadcasting and show the ceremony of signing Turkish-Armenian Protocols.
It was at that moment that someone called to Artur from Yerevan asking to comment live what was going on in Zurich. While my colleague was trying to play for time to find out the problem, a female journalist from Turkey approached us in the corridor and asked in English: “Don’t you know why your Minister refused to sign the documents?”.
It’s hard to describe what was going on in the press pool within next 1.5 hours. The Turks were inquiring our journalists, ours - to the Russians, - and everyone went out to the corridor to call somewhere or answer the calls. For at least an hour, it was clear that the Armenian side refused to arrive and sign the documents but the reasons were still unknown. And at that moment, American journalists accompanying Hillary Clinton entered the press pool… One could guess looking at their faces that they were absolutely aware what was going on. Minutes later, I approached one of them and asked: “Would you please tell me what had happened? We are from Armenia and don’t know about anything”.
The American looked at my face said after a while: “Your Minister refused to sign the document as the Turks’ speech contained some preconditions on Nagorno Karabakh. At the moment, Hillary is trying to persuade him but she’s failing as of now”.
I at once called Yerevan to present the situation. A return call followed in a couple of minute: the information was verified and the Armenian side commented on what had happened. Shortly, the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan was available. He explained that the sides were supposed to address 5-minute speeches before the signing of the documents.
According to a diplomatic tradition, the sides exchanged the speeches and the Armenian side found out that despite the preliminary agreement, there is a point in Davutoglu’s speech mentioning unsettled NK conflict. Naturally, Edward Nalbandian refused to take part in the event if Davutoglu presents the text. When the Turkish Minister was being persuaded to omit the point from the text, he demanded to eliminate some provisions from the Armenian side's speech which paralyzed the whole process...
Two hours after the scheduled time, no one had the hope that the ceremony would take place. And suddenly we were again invited to the hall to be informed that there wouldn't be speeches: the sides would just sign the documents and shake hands only. The Russian journalists bragged while talking to me that the solution was hinted by their Foreign Minister Lavrov who wrote on a sheet of paper, ''Agree on the option of without speeches'', sending it to Nalbandian. I don't know whether it was true or not. However, it was the only right decision at the moment.
As a result, only Micheline Calmy-Ray, who was the Foreign Minister of Switzerland at the time, addressed a very short foreword which was followed by signing of Protocols. And the foreign policy chiefs of the superpowers stood behind them as guarantors of the enforcement of the documents. When Nalbandian and Davutoglu signed and exchanged the documents, those present in the hall at last took deep breaths and started applauding. Only the musicians standing in the corner were sad: they didn't manage to play at that historic event...
Davit Alaverdyan is the Chief Editor of Mediamax