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Armenian Assembly of America

122 C Street, NW, Suite 350

Washington, DC 20001


CONTACT: Joan Ablett

(310) 360-0091

July 25, 2003

Washington, DC – Responding to a question from the Armenian Assembly, a State Department spokesman today confirmed during its regular press briefing that Secretary of State Colin Powell did in fact discuss Turkish-Armenian relations with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul this week. Spokesman Richard Boucher said that Secretary Powell raised the subject with the Foreign Minister, who then briefed Powell on the status of Turkey’s relationship with Armenia. Secretary Powell underscored the importance of that relationship to the U.S. and urged Minister Gul to encourage his government to work toward improving its relations with Armenia.

The conversation on Armenia-Turkish relations between Powell and Gul followed a concerted effort by several Senators and Congressman, strongly supported by the Assembly, to ensure that the Secretary raised Armenian issues with the Foreign Minister during his visit to Washington this week. The Assembly commended Senate and House leaders as they called for Turkey to open its border with Armenia. It supported their efforts with a similar request to the Administration and media alerts to the mainstream and foreign press detailing the impact of the blockade on Armenia’s economy.”

In Washington to repair strained relations between the US and Turkey, Minister Gul met with senior Administration officials including Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and several Members of Congress. Carefully controlled, the Gul visit included limited American press access and an invitation-only think tank appearance.

“Turkey’s blockade of Armenia is the last remnant of the Iron Curtain. US insistence that this border be opened is entirely appropriate and will result in substantial regional benefits for all parties,” said Assembly Executive Director Ross Vartian.

“We commend those in Congress and the Administration who are pressing for open borders. It is essential to peace and stability in the Caucasus and as such, is critical to US foreign policy objectives.”

Quoted on Radio Free Europe’s broadcast earlier this week, Assembly Executive Director Ross Vartian said that the Assembly had received assurances that “the press, congressmen and the Administration will convey the request for open borders [to Foreign Minister Gul] which will bring about mutually beneficial increases in trade.” Vartian noted that the Armenian government strongly supports this step.

Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), John Ensign (R-NV), and Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) jointly signed a letter to Secretary Powell urging him to tell Minister Gul that Turkey should “immediately cease its blockade against Armenia.” They wrote that “if there is to be a resolution of regional conflicts … and a reduction of tensions along borders, it is essential that Turkey move forthwith to lift this destructive blockade.”

Senator George Allen (R-VA) also wrote to Secretary Powell requesting that he consider addressing Turkey’s ten-year blockade against Armenia during his meeting with Minister Gul. Allen said, “I am greatly concerned that Turkey’s blockade of Armenia includes denying US and international humanitarian assistance from crossing its borders. This blockage is a violation of US law, international humanitarian assistance and human rights standards, and Organization for Security and Cooperation commitments to which Turkey is a signatory.”

Similarly, Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) urged the Secretary of State ” to discuss with Minister Gul the importance of improving Turkish-Armenian relations, both economic and political.”

He continued, “By facilitating the resumption of Turkish-Armenian relations, the United States can play a constructive role in continuing the development of infrastructure necessary for regional communications, transportation, energy and trade on an East-West axis. In your meetings with Minister Gul, I would ask that you press him to continue the tentative steps that have been made to date, and turn them into real progress toward opening the border and restoring trade with Armenia.”

Members of the House of Representatives also added their voice to the call for open borders. Writing to Secretary Powell on Wednesday, Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-chairs Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), joined by several colleagues from the House International Relations Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, Wednesday asked that he urge Turkey to lift its damaging blockade of Armenia.

In a letter dated July 23, the Representatives asked Secretary Powell to “call upon Turkey to immediately cease its blockade against Armenia and normalize relations with its neighbor.” The letter notes that both current and previous administrations have continually urged the government of Turkey to reopen the border for aid shipments and to normalize relations with Armenia. It concludes, “Your meeting with Foreign Minister Gul represents an important opportunity to reaffirm US-Turkish ties and to secure modifications in Turkish behavior that comport with achieving regional peace and stability.”

In addition to Representatives Knollenberg and Pallone, the letter is signed by Representatives Joe Crowley (D-NY), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), George Radanovich (R-CA), Steve Rothman (D-NJ) and Adam Schiff (D-CA).

Foreign Minister Gul arrived in Washington, DC Tuesday. Strained relations between the two countries were exacerbated recently when the American military arrested several Turkish officers in northern Iraq. US-Turkey relations suffered a major setback this year when Turkey refused to allow US troops on its soil as Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched, a move that delayed their direct access to northern Iraq at a critical phase of the war.

The Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. It is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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