By Aza Babayan in Moscow
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday again ruled out an unconditional reopening of his country’s border with Armenia, saying that official Yerevan should first take unspecified “positive” steps.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, pledged to assist in the normalization of relations between the two historical foes.
“If we see positive approaches from Armenia’s government, we will open the border. But we don’t see such approaches now,” Erdogan said at a joint news conference with Putin during an official visit to Moscow. He did not elaborate.
In a newspaper interview last November, Erdogan mentioned Armenia’s refusal to officially recognize Turkey’s borders and its support for international recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide as the main reasons for the 12-year Turkish blockade. He also demanded that the Armenians recognize Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey shut the border in 1993, at the height of the Karabakh war, out of solidarity with Azerbaijan, with which it has close ethnic, religious and cultural links. Successive Turkish governments cited a resolution of the Karabakh dispute as the main precondition for reopening it, despite pressure from the United States and the European Union.
Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning cabinet signaled its readiness to drop those preconditions shortly after taking office in 2002. However, it eventually decided to keep the frontier close under apparent Azerbaijani pressure.
The Turkish premier’s stance contrasted with Putin’s positive assessment of the Armenian leadership’s efforts to improve relations with Turkey. Putin said Moscow is holding “constant consultations” with Ankara on the normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties.
“Armenia is looking for ways of improving relations with Turkey,” he said. “Russia will assist in this process as much as possible.”
Putin was also pleased with the current state of Russian-Turkish relations, pointing in particular to the booming trade between the two nations seen as longtime geopolitical rivals. “Our most optimistic forecasts about economic cooperation have come true,” he told Erdogan.
The Armenian government has repeatedly urged the EU to press Turkey to lift the blockade during accession talks that are due to begin later this year. The reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border is not among the official requirements for Ankara’s EU membership.