ISTANBUL (Combined)–Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Tuesday his country is involved in efforts to solve the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, in addition to discussions over the normalization process with Yerevan.
Turkey aims to ensure peace, stability and normalization in the Caucasus by solving the region’s frozen conflicts, including the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, Gul told reporters before departing for Bahrain.
“Within this framework, as discussions on issues with Yerevan continue, we are also involved in efforts to solve the problems between Azerbaijan and Armenia,” he said, adding that diplomacy did allow him to speak publicly about the steps being taken regarding the issue.
The Turkish government appeared ready to drop that linkage when it embarked on an unprecedented dialogue with Yerevan last year to establish diplomatic relations and reopen its border with Armenia, which it closed in 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan.
But now, Turkey is saying it will be difficult to overcome its problems with Armenia unless the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resolved.
Gul, and his Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have been repeatedly echoing that concern, warning that the relations with Armenia will go nowhere while the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved.
“The Azerbaijan-Armenian dispute should be resolved first. Then, problems between Turkey and Armenia can be solved, too,” Erdogan told a news conference on April 8. “We hope the U.N. Security Council takes a decision naming Armenia as occupier in Nagorno-Karabakh and calling for a withdrawal from the region.”
The apparent shift follows threats by Baku to cut off gas supplies to Turkey, which it says is jeopardizing Azerbaijani national interests with its negotiations to lift the embargo on Armenia before a Karabakh settlement.
The official change in rhetoric also comes amid signals by US President Barack Obama that his views on the Armenian Genocide have not changed, despite repeated warnings by Ankara that a US recognition of the Genocide will torpedo reconciliation attempts between Armenia and Turkey.
Speaking in the Turkish National Assembly on April 6, the US President stood by his earlier statements recognizing the Armenian Genocide and said they should not hamper the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, which he stressed, should be based on a “process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.”
Armenia meanwhile remains committed to an unconditional rapprochement with its neighbor. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian Monday reiterated that the Karabakh conflict has not been on the agenda of the Turkish-Armenian talks and said he still hopes that the Turkish-Armenian border will be reopened by the time he attends a football match in Turkey between the two countries in October.
But the almost year-long negotiations between Armenia and Turkey now may end in failure because of the renewed Turkish preconditions, Sarkisian said speaking at a news conference on the first anniversary of his inauguration. “My optimism may not prove right,” the Armenian leader cautioned, adding that the Turks could “walk away from our agreements.”
“In my opinion, the ball is now in Turkey’s court,” said Sarkisian. “And speaking of football diplomacy, we have to say that the ball cannot remain in one court indefinitely. Every football game has a time limit.”