ANKARA: Turkish Minister Discusses Status Of Religious Freedoms


Anatolia news agency
July 16 2008

Turkey’s foreign minister expressed thought on Wednesday [16 July]
that there were serious problems in Turkey regarding freedoms.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan once more reaffirmed his support for
the remarks he made at the European Parliament last May and said that
there were serious problems in Turkey regarding freedoms.

"Some of them have been solved, but there are still many problems to
be solved in coming days," Babacan told the private NTV channel.

Replying a question on the status of religious freedoms in Turkey
at the external relations committee of the European Parliament in
May, Babacan said that not only non-Muslim minorities in Turkey
had problems regarding religious freedoms but the Muslim majority
experienced similar problems as well.

On Kirkuk referendum, Babacan said that for what the referendum would
be held and who would vote were not so certain.

"We (Turkey) think that an approach like ‘let’s hold the referendum
and let’s take this step if the votes in favour are around 51 per
cent’ will cause a disaster in Kirkuk and entire Iraq because Kirkuk’s
demographic structure has been manipulated and been changed in time,"
Babacan told the private news channel.

Babacan said Turkey saw Kirkuk as a small model of Iraq in which
different groups were represented.

"Any disagreement in Kirkuk may be spread to entire Iraq," he said.

Babacan said any step in Kirkuk should be taken with a compromise of
all groups in the city.

The foreign minister said that Turkey had launched a more-active
Iraq traffic.

On relations with Armenia, Babacan said that Turkey’s priority in
its foreign policy was to have zero problem with its neighbours.

"We have taken many unilateral steps to normalize our relations with
our neighbour Armenia so far," Babacan also said.

Babacan said that there were direct flights between a few cities in
Turkey and Armenia’s capital Yerevan and there was indirect trade
between the two countries.

The foreign minister also said that Turkish President Abdullah
Gul wrote a letter to Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan after he
was elected, and similarly Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and he sent
letters to their colleagues in which they said that Turkey was ready
for a dialogue and was willing to normalize relations.

Babacan said that Senate’s or House of Representatives’ adopting
a resolution that recognized the Armenian allegations regarding
incidents of 1915 would seriously harm Turkish-US relations.

"We (Turkey) think that politicians should look ahead, and historian
and experts should deal with history," the foreign minister said.

Babacan said that Turkey was economically vital for Armenia and told
the private channel that it was the Armenian government who would
either undertake responsibilities to open a new page or maintain the
status quo.