By Hrach Melkumian
A senior official from the European Union called on Armenia Tuesday to do more to normalize its relations with Turkey, saying that EU pressure on Ankara alone can not break the ice.
Ambassador Heikki Talvitie, the special EU representative to the South Caucasus, said that the prospect of Turkey’s accession to the union has given “a new impetus” to the long-standing efforts to improve Turkish-Armenian relations. Armenian officials say EU leaders have promised to raise the issue with the Turks during accession talks that are expected to start by the end of this year.
“That does not mean that Armenia should do nothing and sit down comfortably in the arm-chair,” Talvitie told reporters in Yerevan. “There also needs to be a very special effort from the Armenian side, [in which case] I’m sure this problem will be solved.”
The diplomat was vague about what specifically Yerevan should do, pointing only to the need to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which has been the main obstacle to the reopening of the border and establishment of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. He said a Karabakh settlement is also important for Armenia’s integration into the EU.
The three South Caucasus states were included last June in the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy, a move that will entitle them to privileged relations with the expanding bloc. Each of them is to negotiate separate “actions plans” with the EU on economic and political reforms. Those plans will in turn be based on written assessments to be submitted by the European Commission.
“It’s quite evident that if there is any progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict it will naturally have a huge impact on the preparation of the action plan because one of its basic ideas will be regional cooperation,” Talvitie said. He added that the EU report on Armenia will be unveiled by the end of March.
Armenia’s participation in EU’s European Neighborhood Policy and relations with Turkey topped the agenda of Talvitie’s talks with President Robert Kocharian and other officials in Yerevan this week.
Armenian leaders also discussed Karabakh on Tuesday with Bernard Fassier, the recently appointed French co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. Fassier was in Yerevan as part of his first tour of the conflict zone. He is scheduled to begin another regional tour together with the Russian and U.S. co-chairs as early as Friday.
The mediators will be accompanied by a fact-finding mission from the OSCE that will investigate Azerbaijani allegations about illegal resettlement of Armenians on occupied Azerbaijani territories around Karabakh.
Yuri Merzlyakov, Russia’s chief Karabakh negotiator, told RFE/RL in Moscow on Tuesday that he expects considerable progress in the peace process this year, basing his optimism on the meeting in Prague earlier this month between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers. But Merzlyakov cautioned that “there are no agreements yet.”
(RFE/RL photo: Heikki Talvitie.)