By Heghine Buniatian
President Robert Kocharian could meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later this month to discuss ways of normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey, his spokesman told RFE/RL on Monday.
Victor Soghomonian, the presidential press secretary, did not deny a Turkish newspaper report saying that the two leaders plan to follow up on their high-profile exchange of letters which was sparked by worldwide commemorations of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. But he added that “there are no concrete agreements yet” on the venue and date of their meeting.
Citing sources in Erdogan’s office, the “Zaman” daily reported on Sunday that the meeting is likely to take place in Warsaw on the sidelines of a summit of Council of Europe member states scheduled for May 15-16. “The high-ranking officials of the two countries will for the first time discuss the genocide claims face to face,” the paper said.
A government source in Yerevan confirmed that the likelihood of the meeting between is great.
Armenian and Turkish leaders have had sporadic face-to-face encounters in the past but made no progress towards the improvement of bilateral ties after them. The first-ever talks between Kocharian and Erdogan would inevitably address the latter’s calls for the creation of a Turkish-Armenian commission of historians that would look into the 1915-1918 mass killings of Armenians and determine if they constituted a genocide.
The Turkish premier formally conveyed the offer to Yerevan in a letter to Kocharian last month. The Armenian leader effectively turned down the offer, saying Ankara should instead drop preconditions for establishing diplomatic relations with Yerevan and opening the Turkish-Armenian border. He also suggested that the two governments set up a commission that would tackle all issues of mutual concern.
Reacting to Kocharian’s letter, Erdogan said the lifting of the Turkish embargo is conditional on an end to the Armenian campaign for international recognition of the genocide. In a newspaper interview published on Friday, he clarified that “political relations” with Yerevan could be established parallel to the joint genocide study.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, however, was quick to quash speculation about a major softening of Turkish policy on Armenia. Commenting on Erdogan’s statement, Gul said Ankara has no plans to reopen the Armenian border or establish diplomatic ties.