YEREVAN (RFE/RL/Noyan Tapan)–A high-ranking Turkish official said Ankara still makes the improvement of relations with Armenia contingent on a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict based on the inviolability of internationally-recognized frontiers. State Minister Refahiddin Sahin indicated that Turkey will open its border and establish diplomatic relations with Armenia only if the latter recognizes Azeri sovereignty over the disputed Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Sahin said economic ties between Armenia and Turkey can develop only after the decade-long territorial dispute is resolved.
Turkey–which has strong ethnic and religious affinities with Azerbaijan–has supported Baku in the still unresolved conflict. Ankara closed its border with Armenia in 1993 after the armed forces of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic launched a successful offensive–leading to the occupation of large swathes of territory in Azerbaijan proper. A cease-fire agreement signed in May 1994 between the warring parties has largely held–but has not resulted in major progress in the negotiations sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
State Minister Sahin was speaking to reporters in Yerevan after the close of a ministerial meeting of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation–a loose grouping of 11 states adjoining the Black Sea. He said–however–that the Armenia-Turkey relationship has good prospects–which will not be clouded by the advent to power in Yerevan of a new government which takes a harder line over Nagorno-Karabakh. Sahin declined to directly comment on the new Armenian government’s stated intention to pursue international recognition of the 1915 Genocide of ethnic Armenia’s in the Ottoman Turkey. "We should look at the future rather than the past," he said. He added–"We should not presuppose that a shift of power in Armenia or Turkey may have a negative impact on the prospects of cooperation."
Saying that Turkey "has been always warm in relation to neighboring and friendly Armenia," and in 1991 was among the first to recognize Armenia’s independence–providing humanitarian and other aid to Armenia for that period–the Turkish state minister reported that Turkey votes for opening the borders. "First of all–we should admit that we are destined to live as neighbors and friends in this region–and to form a base for our future cooperation we will try to eliminate all problems we have. I hope that Armenia’s leadership will understand this responsibility and take steps in the future."
The Turkish state minister viewed as important the meeting between Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Haidar Aliyev of Azerbaijan held in Moscow earlier this week–which–according to him–"inspires hope." He hoped that the Karabakh conflict will be settled and Armenia will build its foreign policy based on international law. "We should not forget that public opinion in Turkey also reflects an emotional sentiment toward regional events," he said.
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told reporters that the meeting produced "pretty good" results with both sides now having a better idea of each other’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh. While refusing to give details–Oskanian said–"Many elemen’s in the position of the Armenian side were clarified for Azerbaijan."