YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian has stepped up his criticism of Turkey’s preconditions for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations, saying that they run counter to agreements reached by Ankara and Yerevan during their year-long negotiations.
The criticism was echoed by more than 80 U.S. lawmakers who accused Ankara of backpedaling on a U.S.-brokered “roadmap” to establishing diplomatic relations between the two neighboring nations and reopening their border.
“For one year, Armenia and Turkey held negotiations and agreed on two documents,” Sarkisian said in televised remarks aired late on Thursday. “But since that some political forces in Turkey have been trying to set conditions and link the establishment of diplomatic relations with Armenia with the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia’s relations with Azerbaijan.”
“We do accept that Turkey is a big country, we do accept its role both in the region and the entire world,” he said. “But at the same time, we Armenians are an independent nation, and it is inadmissible to talk to us in the language of preconditions. Any tough step brings about counter-steps.” He did not elaborate on the warning.
Sarkisian spoke during a visit to Lake Sevan where he attended a summer festival organized by his government for visiting young people from the worldwide Armenian Diaspora. Many in the Diaspora have followed with unease Armenia’s rapprochement with Turkey that began shortly after Sarkisian took office in April last year. Sarkisian has been criticized by Armenia’s opposition and the Diaspora for allowing Western-backed process to develop in Turkey’s favor without earning Armenia any tangible benefits.
The process thus far has allowed Turkey to couple its talks with Armenia to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and hamper efforts for US recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Sarkisian’s remarks came just two days after he again made clear that he will not travel to Turkey to watch the October 14 return match of the two countries’ national football teams unless Ankara takes “real steps” to reopen the Turkish-Armenian border. The two teams played their first game in Yerevan last September in the presence of Sarkisian and Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
Gul’s visit to Armenia was followed by more Turkish-Armenian talks, with the Turks reportedly agreeing to drop their long-standing linkage between the normalization of bilateral ties and a Karabakh settlement acceptable to Azerbaijan. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders have repeatedly said in recent months that the Turkish-Armenian border will remain closed as long as the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reaffirmed this precondition on Wednesday.
Despite these statements, Sarkisian until recently sounded cautiously optimistic about the success of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue. It was not until July 6 that he first publicly expressed his frustration with Ankara’s stance.
Highlighting that frustration, 82 members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama expressing concern about “Turkish backpedaling” on the still unpublicized “roadmap” deal that was announced on April 22. “Turkey’s public statements and actions since April 24th stand in sharp contrast to this agreement and undermine U.S. policy that normalization take place without preconditions,” the letter said.
“It would appear that Turkey, in an effort to block U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, agreed to a roadmap it did not intend to uphold,” the legislators charged. “Therefore, we urge your Administration to separate the issues of normalization and genocide recognition.”
In an April 24 statement, Obama refrained from properly recognizing the Genocide, implicitly citing the need not to undermine the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement.