YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Turkey sent a diplomatic note to Armenia on Friday strongly condemning the fatal shooting of a Turkish man who illegally crossed the Turkish-Armenian border in unclear circumstances earlier this week.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry insisted that the victim, Mustafa Ulker, was a shepherd who entered Armenian territory to recover his livestock that went astray.
A Russian news report claimed, however, that Ulker carried a weapon and opened fire at Russian border guards patrolling the frontier before being shot and killed by them on Wednesday. Citing “preliminary data” from Russia security sources, the Itar-Tass news agency said that the 35-year-old man tried to “advance deeper into the republic’s territory.”
Sergey Grechin, the spokesman for the Russian border guards stationed in Armenia, declined to confirm or refute those claims when contacted by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). Grechin said the border guards are investigating the incident and will make an official statement after the inquiry is over.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry referred to Ulker as an “innocent Turkish citizen” who “crossed the Armenian border to round up his livestock.” “We strongly condemn the shooting and killing of an innocent Turkish citizen for a simple border violation which we understand to have had an innocent purpose. There is no explanation for the Armenian party’s use of disproportionate force in such an incident which may typically occur at the border,” the ministry said in a statement.
“This and other similar incidents reveal once again the need for a complete, sustainable and comprehensive normalization in the South Caucasus region and the prevalence of common sense in Armenia’s relations with its neighbors,” added the statement.
Ankara also sent a separate diplomatic note of protest to Armenia’s government through the Turkish Embassy in Georgia. According to Hurriyet Daily News, it demanded an official Armenian explanation for the incident.
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry was quick to respond to the Turkish note. The ministry’s press office told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that it regretted the loss of life and expressed hope that such incidents will not occur in the future.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also said that the Armenian side has already repatriated Ulker’s body. The Anatolia news agency released a photograph that shows Turkish officials putting the body into an ambulance.
Turkey has refused to establish diplomatic relations and to open its border with Armenia for the past two decades. Turkey makes the normalization of bilateral ties contingent on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would satisfy Azerbaijan.