ANKARA (RFE/RL)–Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reported on Monday to have again linked the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations with a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would satisfy Azerbaijan.
“We will not take steps contradicting Azerbaijan’s interests,” Erdogan told the Azerbaijani Trend news agency in an interview. “We can accelerate the process of the adoption of the agreement [with Armenia,] but that will depend on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
“Azerbaijan’s interests have always been important to Turkey. We will never betray Azerbaijan,” he said.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly made clear that it would consider the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border before a Karabakh settlement a serious blow to its national interests. Baku reiterated that immediately after the August 31 publication of two Turkish-Armenian draft protocols envisaging border opening and diplomatic relations between the two states. Neither document makes any reference to the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute.
Erdogan was quoted as telling Turkish media chiefs earlier this month that Ankara will not lift its long-running economic blockade of Armenia “as long as Azerbaijan’s occupied territories are not returned.” The Armenian government criticized the remarks, with Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian saying that they run counter to “the letter, spirit and aims” of the Turkish-Armenian agreements.
Ending a visit to the United States, Erdogan told journalists on Sunday that the two protocols will be signed by Nalbandian and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu on October 10. The AFP news agency cited an unnamed Turkish official as saying that the signing ceremony will take place in Zurich, Switzerland.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry declined to confirm or refute the information. But President Serzh Sarkisian’s spokesman, Samvel Farmanian, indicated that no dates have been set for the ceremony yet. “When there is clarity about the next phases of the process, we will make a statement,” he told the News.am information agency.
The agreements, welcomed by the United States, the European Union and Russia, need to be ratified by the Armenian and Turkish parliament in order to come into effect. Erdogan told Trend that his government will send it to the Turkish parliament ratification “if we don’t encounter some obstacles and if that step does not take into account only domestic political interests.” He did not elaborate.
The Turkish-Armenian rapprochement was reportedly on the agenda of Erdogan’s weekend meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama held on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. According to “Hurriyet Daily News,” the Turkish premier told Obama that the U.S., Russian and French mediators “would make things easier” if they pressed for an Armenian-Azerbaijani agreement on Karabakh “more actively.”