Major obstacles ahead for Armenia-Turkey 'roadmap'

24th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

In the search for productive diplomatic relations after years of strained contact, Armenia and Turkey face many problems.

Yerevan -- Numerous obstacles lie ahead for Armenia and Turkey after they agreed on a "roadmap" for mending ties strained by years of distrust and resentment -- not least objections from eastern neighbour Azerbaijan.

As officials in Yerevan hailed the agreement as a step forward, neighbouring Azerbaijan warned that any final deal should be linked with the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh.

An influential Armenian nationalist party also threatened to quit the country's governing coalition over the agreement, saying no deal with Ankara should be reached before Turkey recognises World War I era massacres of Armenians as genocide.

A spokesman for Armenia's ruling Republican Party, Edik Sharmazanov, said the deal would help end the country's long isolation.

"This is a positive step, all the more so because all of our partners, the European Union, the US State Department and Russia welcome any steps toward establishing relations," he said.

Turkey has refused to establish ties with Armenia over Yerevan's efforts to have the Ottoman-era killings of Armenians internationally recognised as genocide, a label strongly rejected by Ankara.

Turkey also closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan over the Nagorny Karabakh dispute.

Azerbaijan on Thursday urged Ankara to link reconciliation efforts with the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Karabakh.

"Every country has the right to establish bilateral relations with other countries. We believe, however, that the normalisation of Armenian-Turkish relations must proceed within the context of the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from Azerbaijan’s occupied territories," Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Elkhan Polukhov told AFP.

Baku has long insisted that any deal should be contingent on Armenian concessions in the dispute over Nagorny Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave that broke away from Azerbaijan's control during a war in the early 1990s.

Officials have hinted that energy-rich Azerbaijan would consider cutting gas supplies to Turkey if Ankara ignored the Karabakh issue in its talks with Armenia.

Opposition also emerged within Armenia, with the influential Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) calling the deal "reprehensible."

"Friendly relations with Turkey can only be established after the recognition of the Armenian genocide and restitution," the party said in a statement.

"We consider it unacceptable and reprehensible that the Armenian foreign ministry has signed this statement with Turkey," it said.

"The Dashnaktsutyun party sees this development as a negative change in Armenia's foreign policy and over the next few days will review its participation in the (government) coalition."

The ARF, Armenia's oldest political party and one of its most influential, has 16 seats in the 131-seat parliament and three ministers in the Armenian cabinet.

Its departure from the ruling coalition would not affect the government's ability to rule, but would be a seen as a major symbolic blow.

Still, analysts said the deal was a step forward after years of talks and that reconciliation efforts were gaining momentum.

"The process is moving forward and this is already positive. The border will not open soon, but this is very important for Armenia," said Yerevan-based political analyst Alexander Iskandarian.

"The opening of the border will open a direct road for Armenia to Europe and will open up a very important market for the Armenian economy in the eastern region of Turkey."

Mariam Harutunian/AFP/Expatica

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