Turkish PM casts doubt on landmark deal with Armenia

12th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comments came less than a day after top US and European officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, engaged in frenetic diplomacy to help Armenia and Turkey overcome last-minute differences.

Istanbul -- Turkey's prime minister cast doubt Sunday on landmark deals signed with Armenia to end decades of hostility, seeming to pose conditions on the opening of their common border.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comments came less than a day after top US and European officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, engaged in frenetic diplomacy to help Armenia and Turkey overcome last-minute differences.

The two countries eventually signed historic pacts to normalise ties and open the border at a ceremony in Zurich Saturday, but not before a three-hour delay and a decision to scrap speeches that were to be made there because of a dispute over them.

At a meeting of officials from his party on Sunday, Erdogan raised concerns over the disputed Nagorny-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan, which has long been one of the stumbling blocks toward reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

"We want all the borders to be opened at the same time..., but as long as Armenia has not withdrawn from Azerbaijani territory that it is occupying, Turkey cannot have a positive attitude on this subject," Erdogan said.

Armenia has rejected any link between Nagorny-Karabakh -- an Armenian-majority enclave which broke free from Turkish-backed Azerbaijan after a war -- and its reconciliation efforts with Turkey.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to support Azerbaijan.

Erdogan maintained that he would submit the signed pacts to normalise relations and open the shared border with Armenia to his country's parliament, but warned of potential problems.

"We are going to transmit the protocols signed yesterday by our foreign minister to parliament, but our deputies, in order to ratify them, are undoubtedly going to ask about the Armenian-Azerbaijani question," he said.

"If Azerbaijan and Armenia begin to look for a resolution to their problems, public opinion here will have a greater appreciation of the normalisation of Turkey-Armenia relations. And that will facilitate the ratification of the protocols by parliament."

The deals, which must be approved by both countries' parliaments, are aimed at ending decades of hostility over the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians under Ottoman rule.

Turkey had long refused to establish diplomatic links with Armenia over Yerevan's efforts to have the massacres recognised as genocide -- a label Turkey strongly rejects.

An Armenian diplomat said Sunday that the delay in signing the deals the previous day was sparked by Ankara's intention of raising the genocide issue.

The agreements signed Saturday set up a panel of Turkish, Armenian and international experts who will review the historical claims and issue proposals.

But Nagorny-Karabakh has long posed problems as well.

The complex diplomacy linked to it was evident on Sunday, when Azerbaijan slammed Turkey for agreeing to normalise ties with Armenia.

It also warned that the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border could cause instability in the volatile South Caucasus.

The bridge-building by the two countries after more than a year of Swiss-mediated talks faces fierce opposition from critics at home, even though both the Turkish and Armenian governments can command parliamentary majorities.

Turkish analysts and media warned that concerns in Turkey over Nagorny-Karabakh and Armenia's genocide claim remained major stumbling blocks.

Some 10,000 people protested against the protocols in Yerevan on Friday and the nationalist Armenian opposition party, Dashnaksutyun, warned that it would organise more demonstrations.

"Every day, we will explain to people in the street and in their homes and to deputies in parliament that we must stop the ratification process," said Dashnaksutyun leader Gegam Manukian.

AFP/Expatica

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