By Emil Danielyan
The United States hopes to defuse the latest surge in Turkish-Armenian tensions and will make a fresh attempt to help normalize Turkey’s strained relationship with Armenia, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza said the controversy surrounding the possible passage of a U.S. Congressional resolution recognizing as genocide the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey underscores the need for the two neighboring states to have diplomatic relations and an open border.
“This incident has demonstrated in America, Armenia and Turkey how important it is that there be a serious initiative to fully normalize Armenian-Turkish relations,” he told RFE/RL in Yerevan.
Bryza, who was visiting the Armenian capital in his capacity as the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, said he will travel to Ankara on Thursday to discuss the matter with Turkish leaders on the margins of a Black Sea economic forum. “One of my own main goals is to explore the possibility of rejuvenating efforts to bring the countries together,” he said.
“The resolution will either pass or won’t pass. Either way, there is still going to be this problem out there that he is behind the whole controversy over the resolution. We have to get the two sides together,” he added.
Official Ankara has reacted furiously to the draft resolution’s approval by a key House of Representatives committee earlier this month, warning that its passage by the full chamber would not only damage U.S.-Turkish ties but have negative consequences for Armenia. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated on October 16 that his government would be even more unwilling to unconditionally normalize ties with Yerevan.
"Those who expect openings from Turkey will be left alone with their problems," Erdogan said. "They will have to pay the cost of their hostility towards an important country like Turkey."
"I don't understand what the Turks are saying," Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian told the Associated Press news agency in Washington on Tuesday. "We have no relations now. We cannot harm something that is non existent."
While reaffirming Yerevan’s support for the House bill, Sarkisian stressed that his country does not view genocide recognition as a precondition for improving relations with Turkey.
Successive Turkish governments have made the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border and establishment of diplomatic relations conditional on a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and a halt to the decades-long campaign for international recognition of the Armenian genocide. The U.S. has for years tried unsuccessfully get them to drop those preconditions. It has also urged Armenia to explicitly rule out territorial claims to Turkey.
In Bryza’s words, many officials in Ankara now recognize the need to reconsider Turkey’s policy towards Armenia. “It is outrageous that the [Turkish-Armenian] border is closed,” the official said. “I think that there are a lot of people in the upper reaches of the Turkish government who recognize that an open border would change the strategic map here in a very positive way. I hope that we can convince everybody in the region, including in Azerbaijan, that that’s indeed the case.”