YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Official Yerevan remains hopeful that Turkey will agree to unconditionally normalize relations with Armenia, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian said over the weekend.
Speaking at an international conference on regional security issues held in Yerevan, Nalbandian insisted that the governments of the two nations have made substantial progress towards the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border “without preconditions” in their fence-mending negotiations.
“The ball is in the Turkish side now,” he said. “And we hope that they will find the wisdom and the courage to make the last decisive step. We wish to be confident that the necessary political will can eventually leave behind the mentality of the past.”
The remarks came the day after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again made clear that his country will not establish diplomatic relations and reopen the border with Armenia as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. Erdogan explicitly reaffirmed that linkage also during his visit to Azerbaijan earlier in the week.
“Occupation of Karabakh is the cause here and closing of the border is the effect. It is impossible for us to open the border unless that occupation ends,” he told a joint news conference with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
Nalbandian and President Serzh Sarkisian said on Thursday that such statements can only undermine the Karabakh peace process. But they declined to comment on implications of Erdogan’s stance for the success of the year-long Turkish-Armenian rapprochement.
In his speech, Nalbandian described relations with Turkey and the unresolved Karabakh conflict as the two main security challenges facing Armenia. “These challenges are different, and by no means interconnected, even if some would like to see a linkage or parallelism in their resolution,” he said.
The Armenian president is facing growing domestic criticism over his conciliatory overtures to Ankara. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation says Sarkisian has helped the Turks scuttle an official U.S. recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide while failing to secure the lifting of Turkey’s 16-year economic blockade of Armenia. The government’s approach to the talks with Turkey, according to the ARF, have also given Ankara a chance to manipulate the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process by positioning itself as an actor in the negotiations.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Giro Manoyan, the ARF’s political director, urged the Armenian authorities to pull out of talks with Turkey before it is too late, stressing that it is becoming increasingly evident that the so-called “roadmap” discussions with Turkey are proceeding with preconditions, despite continuous claims by the government of the contrary.
The Armenian leadership should immediately withdraw from the “roadmap” talks and pursue a policy, vis-à-vis both Karabakh and Turkey, that guarantees Armenian national interests and security, Manoyan said, adding that Armenia should not fall prey to the fallacy that if it pulls out from the talks it will lose credibility within the international community.