YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Two Turkish minority party leaders were asked to leave Armenia on Friday after being questioned by the country’s security services over their border crossing claims.
Tuna Beklevic, the leader of the Turkish Guclu Turkiye (Powerful Turkey) party, and his deputy Baybars Orsek were asked by Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) to clarify their statements shortly after they claimed at a press conference in Yerevan that they and several other Turkish politicians crossed the border into Armenia on October 10 in protest against the border’s remaining closed one year after the signing of Turkish-Armenian protocols.
They, in fact, repeated their earlier claim reported by Turkish media on October 11. The story was later picked by Armenian media as well.
The Russian border troops that guard the Armenian-Turkish border then denied the Turkish media reports and said no violations of the border had occurred during the period in question.
The Turkish-Armenian border has been closed since 1993 when Ankara blockaded it out of solidarity with regional ally Azerbaijan that was then locked in a fierce war with the newly independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Armenia and Turkey embarked on a rapprochement process in 2008, which, stalled last year amid dwindling hopes for an imminent opening of the border.
“We crossed via a place located about 150 meters to the north of a bridge near the ruins of Ani where the river narrows and becomes shallow. There were candy papers on both sides of the river, which means that the path has been in use,” Beklevic told journalists in Yerevan.
Both men were visiting Armenia legally this time around.
The NSS told RFE/RL’s Armenian service later on Friday that neither could substantiate their claims while being questioned on that account.
It said the Turks were warned that their behavior is “unacceptable” and “were asked to leave the country immediately.”
Earlier, the Armenian Foreign Ministry turned down Beklevic and Orsek’s request for a meeting.
In a statement on Thursday, head of the Ministry’s neighboring countries department Karen Mirzoyan advised that “Turkish political groups advocating Armenian-Turkish normalization should turn to Turkey’s authorities” which, he said, “by artificially raising obstacles, did not agree to the ratification and implementation of the signed protocols.”
“That answer broke our hearts,” Beklevic told the media. “All we wanted from the Armenian Foreign Ministry was a cup of coffee or tea and wanted to share with them our approaches and hear their views.”
When contacted on the phone by RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Friday evening, Orsek said the two of them were on their way to Georgia, being escorted by Armenian National Security officials.