By Gevorg Stamboltsian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian appeared on Wednesday buoyed by his talks with Turkish leaders in Istanbul this week, saying that he found a “sincere desire” to improve the historically strained relations with Armenia. But he indicated that the long-awaited opening of the Turkish-Armenian border is still not in the offing.
Oskanian met with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and had an impromptu 10-minute encounter with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of a NATO summit which finished its work on Tuesday. He described his brief conversation with Erdogan as “quite interesting.”
“It confirmed my impression…that the Turkish government really has a sincere desire to achieve progress in relations with Armenia,” Oskanian told a news conference in Yerevan.
Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning cabinet, Oskanian continued, is more willing to soften Turkish policy on Armenia than its more pro-Western predecessors were. “There is really a difference. This government does have a desire [to normalize ties], it’s just that conditions are not yet ripe,” he said, referring to the possibility of Turkey lifting its economic embargo imposed on Armenia in 1993.
Ankara signaled throughout last year its intention to stop linking bilateral ties to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and reopen the border only to reaffirm its traditional policy under apparent Azerbaijani pressure earlier this year. President Robert Kocharian decided to steer clear of the NATO summit in Istanbul in an indication of his administration’s frustration with the perceived Turkish intransigence.
The Erdogan government now seems anxious to find a solution that would be acceptable to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Political observers view Monday’s separate trilateral meeting between Oskanian, Gul and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov as part of that effort.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Erdogan welcomed such talks. “We hope that this process will continue and pick up speed and that we will reach a solution here as well based on the concept of win-win,” he said.
“We saw the sides had a positive approach,” the Turkish premier added. “Hope, however, is not sufficient. What is sufficient is to get results. At the moment we are in the phase of wishes. We see that they are determined to achieve results. We are saying that one should continue on this path.”
Oskanian confirmed that both Karabakh and the border issue were high on the agenda of the trilateral meeting. But he made it clear Turkey can not become a full-fledged mediator in the Karabakh peace talks because of its staunchly pro-Azerbaijani line. “Turkey understands very well that it can not act as a mediator because its policy is one-sided and tilted towards Azerbaijan,” he said.
In a related development, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev launched renewed verbal attacks on the Armenian side, addressing the NATO summit on Tuesday. “Azerbaijan will not compromise on its territorial integrity and sovereignty,” he said, describing the Armenian-populated territory as a “constant threat to security and stability in the South Caucasus.”