Abdullah Gul Will Send Neighboring Armenia A Conciliatory Message


21.07.2008 14:50

President Abdullah Gul will send neighboring Armenia a conciliatory
message wrapped in a warning over regional isolation when he visits
the Turkish-Armenian border next week.

Gul will visit Ani, an uninhabited medieval Armenian city in the
province of Kars on the Armenia border, on July 23, during a visit
to the region to attend a ceremony to inaugurate the construction
of the Turkish part of a regional railway passing through Turkey,
Georgia and Azerbaijan; the line excludes Armenia. The presidents of
Azerbaijan and Georgia will also attend the inauguration ceremony,
scheduled for July 24, Today’s Zaman reported.

Despite Turkish efforts to deepen cooperation with other regional
countries at the expense of landlocked Armenia, Gul’s visit to Ani
is a sign of readiness to improve ties with Yerevan. Armenia wants
Turkey to restore medieval churches in Ani and Turkish authorities
began renovation works in the city early this year.

The president’s visit to Kars comes as the two estranged neighbors
exchange warm messages, raising hopes for dialogue. Foreign Minister
Ali Babacan appeared to confirm a report in the Turkish media that
Turkish and Armenian officials had secret talks in Switzerland earlier
this month. The report in the Hurriyet daily said the officials met
for a few days starting on July 8 and that a senior Foreign Ministry
official headed the Turkish delegation.

"Such talks are held from time to time," Babacan told reporters. In a
statement, the Foreign Ministry also said there had been occasional
contacts between Turkey and Armenia – noting that Turkey had
recognized the neighboring state since it declared independence from
the now-defunct Soviet Union in 1991 – but warned that no specific
conclusion should be drawn from them. "Meetings between members of the
foreign ministries of the two countries are part of these contacts. We
believe no different meaning should be attributed to these meetings."

"We have problems about current issues and disagreements about the
1915 events. It is essential that these problems are handled through
dialogue," Babacan said.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan proposed "a fresh start" in relations
with Turkey in an article published in The Wall Street Journal earlier
this month. "The time has come for a fresh effort to break this
deadlock, a situation that helps no one and hurts many. As president
of Armenia, I take this opportunity to propose a fresh start – a new
phase of dialogue with the government and people of Turkey, with the
goal of normalizing relations and opening our common border," he said.

Sargsyan also invited Gul to a World Cup qualifying match between
Armenian and Turkish teams in Septe mber. Officials say the invitation
is still under consideration and that the president will decide
according to developments.

Sargsyan’s call to Turkey to launch "a fresh start" in relations
between the estranged neighbors has been met with a positive response
in the Turkish capital.