BAKU (Combined Sources)–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Baku on Wednesday where he promised Azeri President Ilham Aliyev that Turkey will not open its border with Armenia until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been resolved in Azerbaijan’s favor.
“There is a cause and effect relation here. 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,” Erdogan told a joint press conference with Aliyev.
Erdogan was in Baku to ease Azerbaijan’s concerns over moves by Turkey and Armenia to normalize relations and open their borders. Before his departure to Azerbaijan, Erdogan told reporters that his trip would seek to “eradicate misunderstandings and misperceptions” because Baku’s interests remain a priority for Ankara.
Turkish media has been reporting that the Yerevan-Ankara thaw has “disturbed” and “angered” Azerbaijan, which sees the opening of the border as a threat to its national interests. Some reports have also suggested that Azerbaijan may halt sale of its natural gas to Turkey if a deal is signed without Azerbaijan’s interests represented.
“It was written that Turkey gave up stipulations about Karabakh to normalize its relations with Armenia. First of all, I want to say it is slander to even utter that Turkey gave up Karabakh. I refute this slander,” Erdogan told reporters in Baku.
“The current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be accepted and will never be accepted,” Erdogan said. “I want to repeat once more that until the occupation ends, the border gates [with Armenia] will remain closed.”
Turkey closed the Armenia-Turkey border in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan, which had launched an offensive war against the newly established Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The Karabakh conflict has been frozen since a 1994 cease-fire agreement brokered by Russia with the OSCE Minsk Group mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan for a resolution.
Erdogan also urged the Minsk group, set up in 1992 and co-chaired by Russia, the United States and France, to speed up efforts to find a solution to Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Minsk Group announced on Monday they were hopeful the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan would succeed in finalizing a framework peace agreement along the lines of the basic principles put forward by the co-chairs. Sarkisian and Aliyev met on May 7 for talks on the sidelines of an EU Summit in Prague, where they met for more than two hours. The two also held separate meetings in Prague with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and are reportedly scheduled to meet again in St. Petersburg, Russia in June.
During his talks with Gul, Sarkisian told reporters that Armenia and Turkey have agreed to honor their agreements and move toward normalizing relations “without preconditions and within reasonable time frames.” This was an apparent reference to Turkey’s continued insistence that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict be resolved before the Turkish-Armenian border is opened.
Sarkisian’s assurances that negotiations are proceeding without preconditions, however, stand in contrast to Erdogan’s continued insistence that the Karabakh conflict be linked to the Armenia-Turkey rapprochement.
The Turkish Premier, as well as Turkey’s powerful military and National Security Council have all repeatedly and forcefully stated in recent weeks that Ankara will not reopen the Armenian border as long as the Karabakh dispute remains unresolved. Another precondition, once thought abandoned, is to have Yerevan agree to a joint historical commission to address the Genocide.
Erdogan was accompanied on his trip by several ministers, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Energy Minister Taner Yildiz. He also addressed the Azeri parliament on Wednesday.
After his visit to Baku, Erdogan will fly to Russia for talks Saturday with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The Kremlin, which fought a war with Pro-NATO Georgia last August, has remained unusually quiet and supportive of the Armenia-Turkey negotiations.
Russia, which serves as one of the three countries mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, is reportedly pushing for a new summit between Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian in June. According to Hurriyet, the meeting, which would follow recent talks in Prague between the two leaders, will seek to formally end the conflict.