By Emil Danielyan
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to rule out a unconditional softening of Turkey’s policy on Armenia on Thursday as he demanded an end to Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh during an official visit to Azerbaijan.
He indicated after talks with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev that the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations remains contingent on a pro-Azerbaijani resolution of the Karabakh dispute.
“We continue to take the same position on events around Nagorno-Karabakh,” Erdogan said. “As for Armenia, Turkey will continue to stand by Azerbaijan just like it has done until now. On the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, our position is the same as that of the Azerbaijani authorities.”
“The Council of Europe has recognized Armenia as an invader in Nagorno-Karabakh as a result of special efforts made by Turkey,” he added, according to news reports from Baku. “Therefore, the invader must retreat from the occupied land.”
The demands are certain to be shrugged off by Yerevan which has long been urging Ankara to drop its preconditions for reopening the border and establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia.
The United States and the European Union take a similar view, saying that a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement would ease tension in the volatile region. They both have for years pressed successive Turkish governments to soften this policy.
A senior official in the administration of President George W. Bush told RFE/RL earlier this month that Ankara is adamant in linking Turkish-Armenian ties to the Karabakh issue and that there is little Washington can do about this. “Turkey is a sovereign nation and we can not force it to change this policy,” the official said.
This stance has been criticized by pro-Armenian members of the U.S. Congress. One of them, Adam Schiff, introduced late Wednesday legislation to the House of Representatives calling on Bush to demand an end to the Turkish blockade of Armenia. The bill also requires Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to report to Congress on specific U.S. steps to end the embargo, Schiff’s office said in a statement.
"President Bush and the Secretary of State can no longer stand by and allow Turkey to blockade Armenia without voicing any opposition or concern," another congressman, Frank Pallone, was quoted as saying in the statement.
Meanwhile, Turkey is facing stronger pressure from the EU as it prepares to open accession talks with the bloc this October. The EU’s EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn mentioned on Wednesday improved relations with Armenia among conditions for Turkish membership in the EU. Other European politicians have been even more categorical on the issue.