MOSCOW, BAKU (Combined Sources)—In separate statements, the European Union’s envoy to the South Caucasus and the Turkish Ambassador to Azerbaijan have said the Armenia-Turkey “roadmap” talks are stalled.
Turkey has taken a “tactical step backwards” on normalizing relations with Armenia because of hostile domestic reaction to the move, the EU’s envoy to the region, Peter Semneby, said late last week in an interview, reported Reuters.
Armenia and Turkey said in April that they had agreed to a road map for normalizing relations, but Turkey has stalled the negotiations since the announcement.
The still unpublicized “roadmap,” which was revealed on the eve of the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, was seen as a ploy by Turkey to get U.S. President Barack Obama to backtrack on his earlier pledges to recognize the Armenian Genocide in his April 24 statement.
Ankara vehemently denies this crime against the Armenian people and publicly threatened to derail its US brokered negotiations with Armenia if Washington acknowledged the Genocide in April.
“There is no progress in the implementation of the roadmap signed between Turkey and Armenia,” Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan, Hulusi Kilic was quoted by the Azeri APA news agency as saying on Tuesday. “Nothing is being done. Nothing has changed,” reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Kilic gave no reasons for that. He reportedly said last month Turkey will not reopen its border with Armenia until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resolved, echoing statements repeatedly made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in recent months. Erdogan insisted on that linkage even after the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries announced the roadmap agreement in a joint statement reportedly brokered by U.S. diplomats.
“A step back was taken by the Turkish side … but this is not a U-turn,” said Semneby. “We expect the conversations will continue.”
Semneby said in the interview, conducted at the end of a visit to Moscow last week, that it was important the “pause” in the peace process between Turkey and Armenia did not last too long because of the risk that impetus would be lost.
“The normalization (with Armenia) became the subject of quite widespread and heated discussion in Turkey,” he added in earlier remarks to a small group of reporters. “It seems to me, this discussion became more heated than was expected.”
Shortly after the agreement was revealed, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey would not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia until a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict favoring its ally Azerbaijan is reached.
Erdogan promised Azerbaijan during a visit to Baku last month that Ankara would not open its border with Armenia, which it unilaterally closed in 1993, until Armenia ended what he termed its occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“I see this as a Turkish tactical step backwards,” Semneby told Reuters. “But fundamentally, the new foreign policy that has been pursued by the Erdogan government, I don’t see that this policy is changing.”
Earlier this month, the newly appointed U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Phillip Gordon, urged Armenia and Turkey to make progress in the stalled reconciliation talks.
Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan, he reaffirmed Washington’s strong support for the year-long negotiations but called for an unconditional normalization of their relations.
“Turkey-Armenia normalization would benefit Turkey, it would benefit Armenia and it would benefit the entire region. Because of that we don’t think it should be linked to anything else,” he said, commenting on Turkish leaders’ renewed linkage between the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border and a resolution of the Karabakh conflict.
Semneby, for his part, said that he believes real progress is being made in the Karabakh peace talks. “It is clear that if you look at the negotiating process, it is intensifying,” he told Reuters. “We had in a month two meetings and there will be another relatively soon between the presidents.”
But a deeper look reveals a process in danger of being derailed. Turkey, which is a non-actor in the Minsk Group mediated Karabakh negotiations, has been frustrating progress as it seeks to leverage its position with Armenia to carve out a role for itself in the peace process.
The Minsk Group warned Ankara in May to drop its efforts to link the two unrelated issues and said that linking the Karabakh peace process with the normalization of Armenia-Turkish relations can jeopardize the new momentum in the Karabakh talks, as well as the talks between Ankara and Yerevan.
Armenia has also criticized Turkey for its uncompromising position in the negotiations, echoing statements from the US State Department and the Minsk Group that statements linking the two unrelated issues could hamper both the Armenian-Azerbaijani, as well as the Armenian-Turkish negotiations.
Asked about the risk of conflict, Semneby said it would be foolish to neglect it but he felt both sides understood the enormous costs which would be involved in any large-scale military engagement.
“Even with this very dangerous posturing that we see sometimes and the fact that the forces are not separated and there are incidents all the time, the two sides are by now used to managing incidents,” he said.
“If anything, the Georgia war (last year with Russia), demonstrated the risks of military engagement … it was also a wake-up call to both countries how vulnerable they are.”