ANKARA: Turkish PM Erdogan Makes Gesture To Armenia Ahead Of US Trip


April 7 2010

Progress in repairing Turkish-Armenian relations is showing potential
again as Turkey’s prime minister sends a high-level diplomat to meet
with leaders of Armenia. Tall hurdles remain, but PM Erdogan says
there is a good chance for him to meet with the Armenian president
at an upcoming US conference if there’s positive feedback from the
visiting diplomat

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dispatched a top Turkish
diplomat to Yerevan for talks in an effort to revive the stalled
normalization process between Turkey and Armenia ahead of a key visit
to Washington next week.

Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu met
Wednesday with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and was
also scheduled to meet President Serge Sarkisian, diplomatic sources
told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Speaking in Paris, Erdogan said a possible meeting between himself
and Sarkisian on the sidelines of an international nuclear security
summit in Washington on April 12-13 depended on a positive response
from Armenia.

Sinirlioglu, who conducted talks in Yerevan as the prime minister’s
special envoy, delivered Erdogan’s letter to Armenian officials and
was exploring the possibilities of an Erdogan-Sarkisian meeting.

Ankara to Yerevan: ‘We’re ready to talk’

Diplomatic sources contacted by the Daily News said the letter included
Turkey’s commitment to the two protocols signed between Ankara and
Yerevan in October 2009 to establish diplomatic relations, Turkey’s
resolve to move forward with the normalization process and Ankara’s
readiness to discuss ways to remove the existing obstacles.

Ankara’s major concern stems from a January ruling of a top Armenian
court which ruled that the protocols were compatible with the Armenian
Constitution but said they could not contradict Yerevan’s official
position that the 1915 killings of Armenians amount to "genocide,"
a label fiercely rejected by Ankara. In the protocols, Turkey has
proposed the establishment of a joint history commission to study
genocide allegations.

Armenia claims up to 1.5 million Armenians were systematically killed
in 1915 during the Ottoman Empire. Turkey has denied this, saying any
deaths were the result of civil strife that erupted when Armenians
took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia.

In order to come to force, the Turkish-Armenian deals need
parliamentary ratification in the two countries’ parliaments, yet
the process has been held up by a blame game.

The process has been further marred by subsequent "genocide"
resolutions passed last month by a United States House panel and the
Swedish parliament, both of which labeled the 1915 events as genocide.

‘Objective is normalization’

Despite that, Ankara says the protocols are not dead but wants the
elements in the Armenian court ruling to be corrected for progress
in the normalization process.

"The objective is to normalize our relationship with Armenia," said
a senior Turkish diplomat to the Daily News, speaking on condition
of anonymity.

"The [normalization] process had already begun before Obama came to
power in the United States," said the diplomat, referring to a longer
phase of secret negotiations between the two countries’ diplomats
under Swiss mediation in 2007.

Open dialogue welcomed

Analysts welcomed the Turkish initiative to send an envoy to Yerevan as
a willingness to keep bilateral channels open in a "multi-actor game."

"Turkey is aware of the fact that it needs to take a step to refresh
the process because the blame policy has backfired," said Burcu
Gultekin Punsmann, a Caucasus expert at Ankara think tank TEPAV. "The
ball is in Turkey’s court," she argued.

Kamer Kasım, from the International Strategic Research Organisation,
or USAK, another Ankara think tank, said he believed the Armenian
court ruling had left the protocols empty but still considered the
Turkish diplomat’s trip to Yerevan as positive.

"This is an important initiative before Erdogan’s Washington visit,
both to keep the pulse in Yerevan and to show Ankara’s readiness to
engage in direct dialogue with Armenia," he said.

Erdogan-Obama meeting not yet clear

While the Erdogan-Sarkisian meeting depends on a response from Yerevan,
it is not yet clear whether Erdogan will hold talks with U.S.

President Barack Obama next week during the nuclear summit. The
White House announced Obama is currently planning to host a number
of bilateral meetings, one of which is with Sarkisian.

However, the final list of bilateral meetings and participating
countries is still pending. According to the current list, Azerbaijan
will not be represented at the summit, leading to speculation that
the U.S. is seeking ways to eliminate Baku’s pressure on Turkey
for progress in the Turkish-Armenian normalization. U.S. diplomatic
sources, however, earlier denied the speculation, saying the U.S. and
Azerbaijan were working closely on a wide range of areas, including
the Minsk process designed to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.

Ankara responds to EU official’s remarks

Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin said Wednesday that Turkey
has been displaying strong determination from the outset of talks in
an effort to normalize its relationship with Armenia under the vision
of regional peace, stability and harmonization.

"It is not necessary to remind Turkey of the mission it has already
shouldered," the spokesman said in a written statement.

His remarks come in response to EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan
Fule who urged Tuesday Turkey with reconciliation efforts with Armenia
and linked the issue with Ankara’s EU membership bid.

"Good relations with neighbors are very important in the framework
of any country’s entry to the European Union," Fule was quoted as
saying in Yerevan.

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