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By Emil Danielyan

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has reportedly reaffirmed Ankara’s preconditions for normalizing relations with Armenia, again endorsing Azerbaijan’s position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Ecevit was quoted by an Azerbaijani newspaper as saying he told US Secretary of State Colin Powell last week that Turkey will not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia until it ensures Karabakh’s return under Azerbaijani control. “I voiced our view that diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey will resume after Armenia ends the occupation of Azerbaijani territory and after those two states normalize their relationship,” he told reporters in Ankara, according to the Russian-language daily “Ekho.”

Ecevit said the situation in the South Caucasus was on the agenda of Powell’s talks with Turkish leaders. He gave no details of the discussions and it is not clear whether or not Powell advocated a change in Turkish policy on Armenia.

Successive White House administrations have viewed a rapprochement between the two neighboring states as vital for regional stability. But Washington’s attempts to get Ankara to soften its stance against Yerevan have been unsuccessful so far.

Ecevit’s comments suggest that Turkey remains adamant in its unconditional backing of Azerbaijan, with which it has close ethnic and cultural similarities. Turkey’s new envoy to Baku, Ahmet Unal Cevikgoz, told Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev on Friday that “Armenia's occupation policy is the greatest problem thwarting the development of Azerbaijan,” Turan news agency reported.

The Turkish premier raised eyebrows in Yerevan in June when he set a new precondition for the bilateral normalization, demanding that Armenia cede part of its territory for a “security corridor” between Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave. Ecevit referred to a 50-kilometer strip of land in Armenia’s southeastern Meghri district that would give Turkey a conduit to Azerbaijan proper and other Turkic republics of the former Soviet Union.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian rejected the demand as “unacceptable” and “absurd.” Speaking at a recent session of the UN General Assembly, Oskanian renewed calls for Ankara to lift the economic blockade and establish diplomatic ties with Armenia.

The idea now appears to be backed by retired senior Turkish officials making up the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission.
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