By Emil Danielyan
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Monday that Turkey is unlikely to reopen its land border with Armenian in the coming months despite the ongoing thaw in relations between the two neighboring states.
“I have no grounds to state at this point that the opening of the border is imminent,” Oskanian told a news conference, commenting on the results of his September 25 meeting in New York with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul.
It was their second encounter in the last five months which saw speculation that Ankara may be ready to lift its economic embargo of Armenia without preconditions favoring its closest regional ally, Azerbaijan. The most important of them until now was a Turkish demand that Armenia agree to a peace deal that would restore Azerbaijani control over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Oskanian insisted that the New York talks were an “important step” towards the normalization of bilateral ties regarded by the United States as important for regional stability. “The Turkish side has a desire to register progress in relations with Armenia,” he said. “My impression is that in the Turks’ mind the Karabakh issue is not as strictly tied to our bilateral relations as it was in the past. This itself is a positive shift.”
Oskanian confirmed that the two governments have been discussing the possibility of opening their frontier for traffic and commerce before establishing diplomatic relations. But he would not speculate on when that might happen, echoing the skepticism of President Robert Kocharian voiced recently though a spokesman.
Another influential Armenian official, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, has sounded more upbeat on the subject. “I remain of the opinion that the likelihood of the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border is great,” he said in a newspaper interview published on September 30.
Sarkisian and most other members of the Armenian government believe that an open border with Turkey would benefit Armenia’s economy by reducing the disproportionately high transportation costs in its external trade. But their position is not shared by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party, a junior partner in the governing coalition which fears that trans-border commerce would make Armenia dependent on its historical foe.
Oskanian argued that both Turkey and Armenia as well as the entire region would benefit from direct commercial links. “Opening the border is not a matter of life or death for us,” he said. “It is also needed by Turkey and would have a positive impact on the entire region as well.”