ANKARA: Turkey, Armenia Enter Serious Negotiations For Reconciliatio

Cansu Camlibel

Turkish Daily News
July 19 2008

Turkey and Armenia have moved closer to a round of negotiations
to normalize relations, creating new hope for a long-awaited
reconciliation between the two nations. Positive signals from Armenian
President Serzh Sargsyan since he took office after elections in
February have encouraged Ankara to pursue a fresh round of informal
talks. Though Foreign Minister Ali Babacan tried to play down the
seriousness of recent talks, the Turkish Daily News has learned that
the contacts of last three months mark an important stage for future

Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Ertugrul Apakan and his deputy
Unal Ceviköz headed the Turkish delegation during the first round,
which took place in May, and the second round in July, the TDN has
learned. Both rounds were carried out in Bern, Switzerland, which
is considered an impartial country that has hosted similar secretive
talks on issues like Cyprus and Iran.

Babacan, down played the significance of the talks, kept secret until
now while admitting yesterday that from time to time officials from
his ministry have contacts with their Armenian counterparts. "These
contacts are important for normalization of relations. There are
problems and also disagreement over events of 1915, but we favor a
constructive approach and dialogue to overcome these," he said. Armenia
calls "genocide" World War One mass killings of Armenians at the hand
of the Ottomans, an allegation strickly denied by Turkey.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Burak Ozugergin, issued a
similar written response, noting that Turkey recognized Armenia
in 1991 and since then there have been contacts between Ankara and
Yerevan. "There is no need to attribute different meanings to these
contacts," Ozugergin added.

The timeline of the secretive negotiations, coinciding with some
recent positive statements by Sargsyan, stands out, however, as a
strong sign for improving the conditions in the run up to substantial
solutions. The Armenian president has proposed a fresh start with
Turkey with the goal of normalizing relations and opening the border
between the two countries, which has been closed for almost 15
years. In his article published July 6 in The Wall Street Journal’s
online edition, Sargsyan said he expected to "announce a new symbolic
start in the two countries’ relations" with his Turkish counterpart
Abdullah Gul whom he invited to Armenia to watch a football game
between the countries’ national teams this September.

Diplomatic sources said setting up different committees to discuss
different aspects of bilateral ties is a mutually considered option
for a fresh start. "There are other vital questions to be discussed
primarily, before the events of 1915," noted the same sources. A
previous offer of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to establish a
committee of historians to study events of 1915 was rejected by former
Armenian President Robert Kocharyan. This time a more comprehensive
approach is reportedly being considered.

Closed border key issue

The opening of the border between Turkey and Armenia continues to
be a key issue for reconciliation. "A more prosperous, mutually
beneficial future for Armenia and Turkey and the opening up of a
historic East-West corridor for Europe, the Caspian region and the rest
of the world are goals that we can and must achieve," Sargsyan wrote
in his article, underlining Armenian expectations for border opening.

Meanwhile Babacan also emphasized the border issue Wednesday, saying
because Armenia is a landlocked country it needs Turkey to open up
to the world. "Although the borders are closed with Yerevan, trade is
ongoing through indirect routes. Turkey is a door of life for Armenia,"
he noted.

The Turkish side is still evaluating Sargsyan’s invitation to Gul,
while diplomatic sources say developments until the game on September
6 will determine Ankara’s decision.

Although Turkey recognized Armenia as an independent state after
the demise of the Soviet Union it has never established diplomatic
relations due to the conflict in Nagorno Karabagh, an Azeri territory
claimed by Yerevan.