By Armen Zakarian
Armenia and Turkey have confirmed reports that their senior diplomats have held secret talks in an undisclosed “European city” to discuss ways of normalizing the strained bilateral relations.
News of the meeting was first reported by Turkish media earlier this week. The Turkish government was reportedly represented by Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ahmet Uzumcu and Ankara’s ambassador to Georgia, Ertan Tezgor. It is not clear who represented the Armenian side.
The spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Namik Tan, on Thursday confirmed the fact of the meeting but refused to disclose any of its details. “I think I wouldn’t be able to elaborate on that because we have had such meetings before,” Tan told RFE/RL by phone from Ankara. Those are sort of routine meetings. When necessary, we will choose to meet with them and we did it before.”
“We do have contacts with Armenian authorities,” the official said.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamlet Gasparian, was also tight-lipped about the confidential negotiations. The Arminfo news agency quoted him as saying only that they were held by “mid-level officials” from the two governments.
Turkish newspapers reported that the two Turkish diplomats presented their Armenian interlocutors with unspecified proposals on easing long-running Turkish-Armenian tensions that are a major source of instability in the region. According to the “Hurriyet” daily, the Armenian side will respond to them and come up with its own ideas at the next round of the talks. But it is not known when they will take place.
Ambassador Tezgor’s participation in the talks suggests that they may have been held in Tbilisi. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a letter to President Robert Kocharian last April via Ankara’s diplomatic mission in the Georgian capital.
In that letter, Erdogan proposed that Ankara and Yerevan set up a commission of historians who would jointly study the 1915-1918 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and determine whether they indeed constituted a genocide. Kocharian responded by calling for the creation of a Turkish-Armenian inter-governmental body that would tackle this and other issues of mutual concern.
The exchange of letters raised hopes for a long-awaited rapprochement between the two historical foes. However, it was followed by renewed mutual recriminations, with the Turks furious with continuing Armenian campaign for international recognition of the 1915 genocide.
A halt to that campaign is one of Turkey’s preconditions for establishing diplomatic relations and reopening its border with Armenia. Ankara also makes bilateral ties conditional on the restoration of Azerbaijani control over Nagorno-Karabakh, a stance reaffirmed by Erdogan during a recent visit to Baku.
Armenia, by contrast, insists on an unconditional normalization of the relations. The United States and the European Union take a similar view. But a senior official in the administration of President George W. Bush told RFE/RL last month that there is little Washington can do to get Ankara to drop its preconditions. The official also said that recent months’ progress in the Karabakh peace process bodes well for an improvement in Turkish-Armenian relations.
Diplomatic sources in Yerevan told RFE/RL last week that Armenia and Azerbaijan have already agreed on the main points of a Karabakh peace accord which they said could be signed by the end of this year or at the beginning of next. They said the lifting of the Turkish blockade is one of those points.
Asked to comment on this, Tan, the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman, said, “We are following very closely the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan on that subject and we hope that an amicable solution will be found soon.”