GUL CALLS ON ARMENIA TO RESPECT TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY OF NEIGHBORS
July 24 2008
President Abdullah Gul stated yesterday that Turkey wants good
relations with its neighbors and stability in its region but sent
a veiled message to Armenia that it should respect the territorial
rights of neighboring Azerbaijan if it wants to be part of regional
"Countries in the region should support projects that will further
develop neighborhood relations and establish peace," Gul told an
Armenian journalist during a visit to the far eastern province of
Kars, on the border with Armenia. "If countries want to take part
in these projects, they should respect the territorial integrity of
other countries," he added.
Turkey severed its ties and closed its border with Armenia in 1993
in protest of Armenian occupation of the Azerbaijani territory of
Nagorno-Karabakh. Gul’s emphasis on respect for territorial integrity
is a sign that Turkey is not planning to reverse its policy on ties
with Armenia any time soon unless Yerevan agrees to take a step back
in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, despite a recent thaw in relations.
Ankara also says the normalization of ties depends on Armenia’s formal
recognition of the current borders with Turkey and changing its policy
of calling for worldwide recognition for Armenian claims of genocide
at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.
Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan has invited Gul to a World Cup
qualifying match between the national soccer teams of the two countries
in September and has called for dialogue to help the normalization of
ties, saying this will be mutually beneficial. Foreign Minister Ali
Babacan said last week that Turkish Foreign Ministry officials had
talks with Armenian officials in Switzerland earlier this month. But
the Foreign Ministry insisted that the talks did not mean a change
in Turkey’s policy.
Gul said yesterday he has not yet decided whether to attend the soccer
match between Turkish and Armenian national teams.
Gul yesterday visited Ani, an uninhabited medieval Armenian
city in Kars on the Armenian border, in a sign of reconciliation
with Armenia. Today, he will attend a ceremony to inaugurate the
construction of the Turkish part of a regional railway passing through
Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The route excludes Armenia. The
presidents of Azerbaijan and Georgia are also attending the
With Turkish-Armenian ties severed over disputes, Turkey has taken
steps to deepen regional cooperation on energy, transportation and
trade with Azerbaijan and Georgia. The planned Baku-Tbilisi-Kars
railway will link the three countries and revive the historical Silk
Road by connecting Central Asia and the Far East to Europe via Turkey.
Construction of the Georgian section of the railway, expected to
begin service in 2011, began in November of last year. Gul had joined
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Azerbaijani President Ilham
Aliyev at the inauguration ceremony. Some 1.5 million people and 6.5
million tons of cargo are expected to be transported via the railway
in the first year following its launch. The project is estimated to
cost $450 million.