TURKEY AND ARMENIA IN TENTATIVE TALKS
By Delphine Strauss in Ankara
November 25 2008 03:14
Turkey and Armenia’s foreign ministers met on Monday in Istanbul under
growing pressure to resolve one of the most intractable disputes in
the fraught politics of the Caucasus.
Both countries are working to mend relations after decades of mutual
suspicion. They have no formal diplomatic relations, and Turkey
closed its border with Armenia in 1993, supporting Azerbaijan over
the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
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Oct-20In September, Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish president
to visit Armenia, attending a football match between the national
teams. A return visit by Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan for the
next match, in October 2009, now looks on the cards.
Since the burst of "football diplomacy", grand gestures have given
way to low-key contacts – Ali Babacan and his Armenian counterpart,
Edward Nalbandian, met for dinner on Monday on the sidelines of a
regional economic forum.
But two developments have made it more urgent to resolve a situation
that causes Armenia severe economic pain, and makes it hard fo r
Turkey to win full acceptance in the international community.
Firstly, the summer’s conflict in Georgia drove Turkey to seek a
bigger diplomatic role in the Caucasus, where energy transit routes
now look more vulnerable, and for a time left Armenia able to trade
only across its border with Russia. Secondly, Turkish diplomats fear
Barack Obama will act on campaign promises and recognise the 1915
massacres of Armenians under Ottoman rule as genocide – or fail to
veto a Congress resolution on the issue.
Ankara contends thousands of Turks also died and that deaths were
due to war, hunger and displacement, not systematic planning. But
the threat of a major upset in US relations makes it imperative to
build warmer relations with Yerevan.
Mr Nalbandian called on Monday for Turkey to open its border,
telling reporters Armenia was ready to normalise relations "without
preconditions". However, the obstacles to progress remain formidable.
Turkey cannot afford to make a move that would alienate Azerbaijan at
a crucial stage in negotiations over energy supplies. It may make a
smaller gesture – Turkish Airlines, the national carrier whose routes
are usually approved by the foreign ministry, on Monday confirmed it
was considering starting charter flights to Yerevan.
For its part, Yerevan has become more open to Turkey’s proposal of
addressing the genocide issue through a historical commission but a
western diplomat said pressure from the Armenian diaspora, often more
hardline than national politicians, had scotched the latest initiative.
Given the difficulties, Turkey’s foreign ministry was keen to play
down the meeting’s symbolism. "It’s not a grandiose affair," said
spokesman Burak Ozugergin. "Historic was our two-nil victory over
the Armenian national team … Now it’s time to do business."
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress