Diplomats from Turkey and Armenia have held exploratory talks since last year in a bid to normalize bilateral ties, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday.
Three rounds of talks have been held so far between deputy undersecretaries of the two foreign ministries "to determine whether there is common ground on which to make progress with respect to bilateral ties," spokesman Namik Tan told a press conference in Ankara. Preparations are under way for the next round of talks, he added.
Tan said Ankara is determined to pursue efforts to normalize relations, but said Armenia too must do its part. "Naturally, getting a result from these efforts would depend on Armenia adopting a more flexible and constructive attitude, as well as acting in line with international law in current bilateral and regional problems," Tan said.
Ankara has refused to set up diplomatic ties with Yerevan since the former Soviet republic gained independence in 1991 because of Armenian efforts to secure international condemnation of the controversial 1915-1917 killings as genocide. In 1993, Turkey also shut its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with its close ally Azerbaijan, which was at war with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, dealing a heavy economic blow on the impoverished nation. Ankara wants Armenia to both abandon its campaign for the recognition of the massacres as genocide, and make progress in its dispute with Baku before formal diplomatic relations can be established.
Tan explained that the recent talks were launched after an exchange of letters in April 2005 between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Armenian President Robert Kocharian.
In initiating the correspondence, Erdogan proposed the creation of a joint commission of historians to study the genocide allegations as a first step towards normalizing ties. Kocharian accepted the Turkish proposal in principle, but underlined that Ankara should first unconditionally normalize relations with Yerevan.
Ankara is under pressure from the European Union, which it is seeking to join, to re-open its border with Armenia, and has faced mounting calls from EU countries to address the genocide allegations. The Armenian massacres remain one of the most sensitive periods in Turkish history despite a burgeoning debate among Turks on the issue. Several Western countries have recognized the killings of that period as genocide, much to Ankara's chagrin.