Turkey seeks talks with Azeris, Armenia on Karabakh

San Diego Union Tribune, CA
April 19 2004

Turkey seeks talks with Azeris, Armenia on Karabakh

ANKARA – Turkey called Monday for tripartite talks with neighboring
Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of
Nagorno-Karabakh in the latest sign that Ankara wants an end to the
long-running row.

Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia because of the tiny
ex-Soviet republic’s occupation of Karabakh, a territory populated by
Christian ethnic Armenians but assigned to mainly Muslim,
Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan in Soviet times.

However the European Union, which Turkey wants to join, and the
United States have both urged Ankara to lift its trade blockade of
Armenia to help promote regional peace. Every aspiring EU member
state is required to seek good relations with all its neighbors.

“In the coming months we predict … a three-way meeting (between
Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan),” Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah
Gul told the Anatolian state news agency.

“Putting the (Karabakh) problem in the deep-freeze is wrong because
there is an occupation there. We say this problem should be solved
and we need to discuss the problem to solve it.”

But Gul also ruled out any early lifting of Turkey’s economic
blockade, despite lobbying by Turkish businessmen.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev won reassurances during a state visit to
Ankara last week that Turkey would make no unilateral moves which
might upset oil-rich Azerbaijan, diplomats said.

Turkey and Azerbaijan share not only close cultural and linguistic
ties but also important energy interests.

An international consortium is building an oil pipeline worth around
$3 billion which is due to start carrying crude from 2005 from the
Caspian Sea to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Asked about Gul’s comments, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan
said his country would not accept Turkey as a mediator in the
Karabakh dispute because it was biased against it.

But speaking at a news conference in Yerevan, he said the three
countries had met before to discuss regional cooperation which had
also touched on bilateral problems such as Karabakh.

“If a similar agenda were offered this time, I see no problem in
(Armenia’s) participation in such talks,” he said.

Gul said the tripartite meeting, if given the go-ahead, would take
place before a planned NATO summit in Istanbul in late June. Armenia
is expected to take part in that meeting as a country with NATO ties.

Oskanyan recently met his Azeri counterpart in Prague and they are
expected to hold fresh talks in May.

About 35,000 people died in six years of fighting over Karabakh which
ended in a 1994 cease-fire. A decade of diplomatic efforts by the
United States, Russia and France to end the deadlock have so far

(Additional reporting by Hasmik Lazarian in Yerevan)