Armenian Leader Calls For Better Ties With Turkey


Mon Jul 21, 2008

Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan called on Monday for closer ties with
Turkey, 15 years after the two nations severed diplomatic relations
over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

They are also at odds over the question of whether ethnic Armenians
killed by Ottoman Turks during World War One were victims of
genocide. Armenia and Turkey broke off diplomatic links in 1993, when
Ankara closed the border and backed Azerbaijan during its war with
Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a mainly ethnic Armenian
enclave within Azerbaijan.

"The improvement of ties between Armenia and Turkey is mutually
beneficial," Sarksyan told a news conference on Monday. "I think we
should improve our relations."

"The important thing is that in relations between Armenia and Turkey
a trend is taking shape for being ready to start a healthy discussion
of the existing problems," he said.

Sarksyan said earlier this month he had invited his Turkish
counterpart, Abdullah Gul, to visit Yerevan and watch a football
match in September.

"The visit of Gul to Armenia could turn this trend into a stable and
positive movement," Sarksyan said, adding that Armenian diplomats
had recently met Turkish colleagues.

Armenian forces control the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Armenia and
Azerbaijan are involved in a long-running peace process but are still
officially at war over the mountainous area.

The tiny ex-Soviet republic of Armenia is sandwiched between Turkey
and Azerbaijan in a region that is emerging as an important transit
route for oil exports from the Caspian Sea to world markets, though
Armenia has no pipelines of its own.

Armenia also wants Turkey to recognise what it calls a systematic
genocide during World War One. Yerevan says that 1.5 million ethnic
Armenians died at the hands of Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923.

Turkey strongly denies the accusations and says that both Christian
Armenians and Muslim Turks died in the fighting. (Reporting by Hasmik
Lazarian, writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Tim Pearce)