By Hrach Melkumian in Istanbul and Shakeh Avoyan
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Monday that Turkey can play a “positive role” in defusing long-standing tensions in the South Caucasus, but ruled out Turkish mediation in the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict -- the main source of regional instability.
Starting a rare visit to Turkey by a top Armenian official, Oskanian said he looks forward to meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem in Istanbul on Tuesday. He told reporters at the Istanbul airport that they will try to build on progress they made at their two previous meetings earlier this year and to remove “numerous obstacles” to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.
The meetings have raised hopes for an imminent rapprochement between the two feuding neighbors that have no diplomatic relations. Senior Turkish and Armenian diplomats met in Yerevan secretly earlier this month to prepare for the next Oskanian-Cem talks, officials told RFE/RL over the weekend.
Oskanian said the talks will cover a broad range of issues related to not only bilateral ties but also the overall situation in the region. “Turkey -- not as a mediator, but as an equal, responsible partner -- has a role to play,” he said.
Oskanian thus reaffirmed Armenia’s view that Turkey can not act as a mediator in the Karabakh peace talks because of its total and unconditional support of Azerbaijan, its close ally. Yerevan says Ankara should be more even-handed toward the three Caucasian states and stop setting the Karabakh settlement as a precondition to normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations.
The meeting between the two foreign ministers will be held on the sidelines of a summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, a loose organization of which both Armenia and Turkey are members. President Robert Kocharian, unlike his Azerbaijani and Georgian counterparts, is conspicuously absent from the high-level
gathering, ostensibly because of his ongoing official tour of the three Baltic states.
Oskanian was on Monday due to meet with French, Russian and U.S. mediators spearheading the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. But the meeting was postponed because of his later-than-expected arrival in Turkey’s biggest city.
The three co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group are also scheduled to meet with Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev in Istanbul. They will fly to the Estonian capital Tallinn later this week for similar discussions with Kocharian.
In Yerevan, meanwhile, two female members of the Armenian and Turkish parliaments said they will promote dialogue between women’s groups in their respective countries in a bid to facilitate their reconciliation. Hermine Naghdalian of Armenia and Gonul Saray of Turkey said they have already launched a “small process” of permanent contacts between non-governmental organizations.
Saray, who is affiliated with Turkey’s governing Democratic Left Party, complained that she was unable to enter Armenia by land, through the Turkish-Armenian border which has remained closed for nearly a decade. She said the two sides will initially avoid dealing with contentious issues in bilateral relations, such as the 1915 Armenian genocide, to build up mutual trust.