By Harry Tamrazian – Prague
“ We welcome Turkey’s decision to lift visa restrictions on travel by Armenians to Turkey and hope it will contribute to improving Turkish-Armenian relations”, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker announced on Wednesday following a meeting between President George W. Bush and the Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. Reeker added that the US encourages private and government engagement “ to work out further concrete steps that can be taken along the road to normalized relations.”
However, one of the two Armenian American lobbying groups, the Armenian National Committee of America issued a statement dismissing the Turkish move as “ a short-term measure aimed at distracting attention from Turkey’s illegal blockade of Armenia.” In an interview with RFE/RL, the Executive Director of the ANCA, Aram Hamparian said that the visa restrictions were put in place by Turkey “to punish the people of Armenia” for resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide by various countries.
According to Aram Hamparian, Turkey now lifts these restrictions so that Mr. Ecevit on his visit to the US can be in a good position to ask for huge American financial support. He said that this is a “ token…very transparent…hollow gesture of friendship towards Armenia”. “ We told the Bush administration many times that the foundation of any improvement in Armenian-Turkish relations requires that Turkey comes to terms with the Armenian Genocide, lifts its blockade of Armenia and moves beyond token gestures, such as this.”
In a separate development yesterday, the US Ambassador to Armenia, John Ordway told the Armenian community in California that US sees improving Turkish-Armenian relations as a priority. He said that the Turkish decision to ease the visa restrictions is a sign of improving relations between the two countries.
The other large Armenian advocacy group in Washington D.C., the Armenian Assembly of America praises the Bush administration for its efforts to persuade Turkey to improve relations with Armenia. The AAA considers easing of the visa restrictions as the result of US efforts.