By Hrach Melkumian
Senior diplomats from Armenia and Turkey met in Yerevan secretly late last week to prepare for the upcoming meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers, it emerged on Saturday.
The Armenian foreign ministry revealed to RFE/RL that the head of its Middle East department, Karen Mirzoyan, and his visiting Turkish colleague, Ertan Tezgor, finalized the agenda of the meeting which will take place in Istanbul next Tuesday.
The ministry spokeswoman, Dziunik Aghajanian, said Foreign Ministers Vartan Oskanian and Ismail Cem will discuss ways of normalizing the strained relations between Armenia and Turkey as well as the situation in the South Caucasus. She declined to give further details.
The two men have met twice this year, most recently in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik on May 14. Oskanian described the talks as “very constructive and useful” afterwards.
Cem has likewise expressed his satisfaction. "Quite contrary to my expectations, that meeting was very agreeable and substantive. I was not expecting that," he said in Ankara last week.
The recent direct diplomatic contacts seem to have somewhat eased the long-running tensions between Ankara and Yerevan, raising the prospect of an eventual normalization of bilateral ties. The latest preparatory meeting between Mirzoyan and Tezgor was a rare example of a Turkish diplomat visiting Armenia. Mirzoyan is said to have paid a confidential visit to Ankara shortly before the Reykjavik negotiations.
The two nations, deeply estranged since the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, have no diplomatic relations.
The pro-establishment newspaper “Turkish Daily News,” said on June 10 that Turkish observers now see a “golden opportunity for the two states to break the historical barriers” which has been created by global geopolitical changes since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
The unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is likely to be high on the agenda of the Oskanian-Cem meeting. Successive governments in Ankara, driven by solidarity with Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan, have until now linked the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations to its resolution.
Cem said earlier this week that he and Oskanian might have a separate trilateral meeting with Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev, who is also due in Istanbul next week. Aliev has ruled out such a possibility, however.