Zurich Ceremony Baffles Armenians

Live TV feed interrupted by Armenia v Spain football game, as last minute hitches delay signing of historic deal with Turkey.

Zurich Ceremony Baffles Armenians

Live TV feed interrupted by Armenia v Spain football game, as last minute hitches delay signing of historic deal with Turkey.

Friday, 16 October, 2009
At 7.30 pm, on October 10, thousands of Armenians sat in front of their televisions as a live feed from Zurich showed the room where the future of their country was to be decided.



An excited presenter, speaking from the studio, told his audience the ceremony of signing the peace deal between Turkey and Armenia was just about to begin.



His excitement was understandable. The deal would end a century of animosity, which started with the genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, and continued more recently with Armenians’ control over Nagorny Karabakh, which is internationally considered to be part of Azerbaijan, home to Turkey’s ethnic kin.



The hall, in the history faculty of the University of Zurich, was an appropriate venue for such a historic event, but the presenter began to run out of things to say. No one entered the room, and no one spoke, leaving him with the task of explaining why nothing was going on.



“10 October, 2009, the signing of the protocols between the Republic of Armenia and the Turkish Republic,” said the banner on the screen, although that was clearly not happening.



After 15 minutes, the live feed was interrupted, apparently for technical reasons, with viewers none the wiser. Speculation was frantic. Had the two sides pulled out at the last minute?



The Associated Press reported that the two sides had disagreed on statements their foreign ministers would make after the ceremony. Officials later said it took three hours to persuade the two foreign ministers not to make speeches about their respective grievances after the signing ceremony, and to let the “protocols speak for themselves”.



Armenian public television viewers knew none of the fraught negotiating process, in which American, French, Swiss and Russian officials shuttled back and forth between the two camps, since TV bosses decided to show a live feed of Armenia playing Spain at football in a World Cup qualifying match in Yerevan.



After the first half, by which time Spain were beating their hosts 1-0, the live feed of the empty hall resumed, and viewers were left listening to the same announcer promising that the signing ceremony would start soon. Suddenly, the voice told viewers Armenian foreign minister Eduard Nalbandian and his Turkish counterpart Ahmed Davutoglu were about to enter the room.



But then half-time ended, and coverage returned to the football at the Yerevan stadium. The match ended at last, Armenia losing 1-2 and the two ministers finally appeared on the screen. At 11.15 pm, four hours later than planned, a close-up showed their hands signing the documents laying out the future ties between their two countries.



It was clear from Facebook that thousands of Armenians had stayed awake to watch the ceremony. Status messages on the networking site reflected the new reality of their country having diplomatic relations with its giant neighbour, despite the fact that Turkey still refuses to recognise that its mass slaughter of Armenians was genocide, and Armenia refuses to pull its forces from territories internationally considered to belong to Azerbaijan.



“How did his hand not shake?” asked one user.



“Why was Nalbandian so pale?” asked another.



“The protocols are signed, Turkey is rejoicing,” was the conclusion of a third who reflected the doubts of the whole country after this strange, unsatisfying evening.



Seda Muradyan is IWPR’s Armenia country director.
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