EU Urges Turkey To Reopen Armenia Border

By Selcuk Gokoluk

Washington Post
April 15 2009

ANKARA (Reuters) – A top European Union official urged EU aspirant
Turkey to reopen its border with Armenia, piling pressure on Ankara
to normalize ties with Yerevan after U.S. President Barack Obama made
a similar call last week.

Turkey and Armenia last year launched high-level talks on establishing
diplomatic ties after a century of hostility.

The stand-off between Turkey and Armenia has destabilized the
energy-rich Caucasus region, isolated impoverished Armenia and
obstructed Turkey’s efforts to join the EU.

Peter Semneby, the EU’s special envoy for the South Caucasus, said
normalizing Turkish-Armenian ties would benefit the region and would
help Turkey’s hopes of joining the bloc.

"Fundamentally this would be a development that I think could lead to
further positive developments that would in return benefit us, benefit
the region and would therefore benefit Turkey and the European Union,"
Semneby told a panel interview including Reuters late on Tuesday.

"It (opening the border) will certainly not hurt Turkey’s EU
perspectives," he said.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to lend support to its
traditional Muslim ally Azerbaijan. Armenia and Turkey trace their own
dispute to 90-year-old claims that Ottoman Turks committed genocide
against Armenia in World War I.

Semneby said the EU is not putting pressure on Turkey to recognize
the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 as genocide,
a claim which Ankara strongly denies.

"I can only talk on the behalf of the European Union, and there is
absolutely no such pressure, absolutely not. This is not an issue of
ours. We are not involved on that issue."

Obama, in a visit to NATO ally Turkey earlier this month, also pressed
Ankara and Yerevan to complete talks soon.

But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said the deadlock over
the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, over which Armenia and Azerbaijan
fought a war in the late 1980s and early 1990s, must be resolved
before Turkey and Armenia strike a deal.

Azerbaijan, which sells gas and oil to Turkey, opposes its ally
opening the border because such a deal could take away the incentive
for Armenia to negotiate over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia has controlled Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies wholly within
Azerbaijan, since a war that broke out in the last days of the Soviet
Union. A ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, brokered by Russia, has held
since 1994.