Sarkisian Reaffirms Conditions For Turkey Visit

Karine Kalantarian
July 28 2009

Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian insisted on Tuesday that he will
not travel to Turkey in October to watch the return match of the two
countries’ national football teams unless Ankara moves to reopen the
Turkish-Armenian border.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul extended a relevant invitation to
Sarkisian after paying a historic visit to Yerevan in September
last year, during which the two leaders jointly attended the first
Turkey-Armenia game. The so-called "football diplomacy" ushered in
a Turkish-Armenia rapprochement that left the two historical foes on
the verge of normalizing their strained relations earlier this year.

"Given the existing situation, we certainly expect to witness soon
constructive steps with which our [Turkish] partners would try to
create a proper environment for the return visit of the president of
Armenia," said Sarkisian. That means taking "real steps" to honor
Turkish-Armenian agreements reached during the year-long dialogue,
he said.

"That is, I will leave for Turkey if we have an open border or stand
on the brink of the lifting of Armenia’s blockade," added the Armenian

The remarks reflected Sarkisian’s frustration with Turkey’s failure so
far to unconditionally establish diplomatic relations and reopen its
border with Armenia despite concessions made by him. Yerevan insists
that the Turks dropped their preconditions for normalizing bilateral
ties during months of fence-mending negotiations.

However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders
have repeatedly said in recent months that the Turkish-Armenian border
will remain closed as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains
unresolved. The statements came both before and after the Turkish and
Armenian governments’ April 22 announcement that they have identified a
"roadmap" to the normalization.

The announcement came on the eve of the annual remembrance of more than
one million Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Turks during World War
One. The timing is believed to have made it easier for U.S. President
Barack Obama to backtrack on his pledges to officially recognize the
massacres as genocide.

Critics accuse Sarkisian of willingly sacrificing U.S. recognition
of the Armenian genocide without securing the lifting of the 16-year
Turkish blockade. They have also condemned his apparent acceptance of a
Turkish proposal to form a panel of historians that would look into the
1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Sarkisian issued his latest warning to Ankara after talks with
Serbia’s visiting President Boris Tadic. He said he briefed Tadic on
his Western-backed diplomatic overtures to Turkey.

Sarkisian said the two leaders agreed on the need for a peaceful
resolution of ethnic disputes in the Balkans and the South Caucasus
"in accordance with the principles and norms of international law." "We
believe that there are no universal ways of solving conflicts," he
told reporters. "Every conflict has its own history, causes and its
own unique course."

It was an apparent rejection of parallels between the conflicts over
Nagorno-Karabakh and Kosovo, a breakaway Serbian region that has
been recognized as an independent state by much of the international
community. Kosovo’s secession in strong support for the principle of
territorial integrity voiced by Serbian leaders.

Tadic himself has called for the application of that principle to
the Karabakh dispute in the past. With journalists not allowed to
put questions to either president, it was not clear if he stands by
that statement.

Also, Serbia was one of the few European nations that voted in March
2008 for a UN General Assembly resolution that upheld Azerbaijani
sovereignty over Karabakh and demanded an "unconditional" Armenian
withdrawal from occupied Azerbaijani territories.