Armenia and Turkey are as close to normalizing their strained relations as never before, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said in an newspaper interview published on Tuesday.
"A resolution between Turkey and Armenia has never been that close,” he told “Today’s Zaman” newspaper. “Where we stand now is the closest point ever to a settlement with Armenia since 1915. I'm not saying we've reached a solution, but we are getting close to it."
The two neighboring states have been edging towards the establishment of diplomatic relations and reopening of their border since Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s September 2008 historic visit to Yerevan. Babacan and Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian have met frequently in recent months. They are due to meet again in Yerevan next month on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization.
Babacan warned that the ongoing Turkish-Armenian rapprochement could be set back if the United States officially describes the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. He said he will make that clear to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visits Ankara later this week.
“We are not using a threatening rhetoric,” said Babacan. “We are not saying 'if you pass this resolution, we will do this and that.' Honestly, we are telling them [the Americans] about the current situation in the South Caucasus."
Both Clinton and President Barack Obama repeatedly called for U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide during the 2008 U.S. presidential race. Armenian-American lobbying groups hope that they will honor their campaign pledges and not block the passage of a draft genocide resolution introduced in the U.S. Congress last month.
In a related development, a Turkish court ruled Monday that criminal proceedings could be launched against the authors and signatories of a petition that apologizes to Armenians for the 1915 massacres. The decision by the court in Sincan, on the outskirts of Ankara, repeals a January 26 ruling by the prosecutor general that bringing charges would impinge on freedom of speech laws, the Anatolia news agency said.
Criminal proceedings can now be launched against the organizers of the Internet petition, which was launched on December 15, and the subsequent 29,000 signatories, Turkish media reported. The petition states that signatories regret "that we remain indifferent to the Great Catastrophe that Ottoman Armenians endured... and that we deny," and offers apologies. It has been signed by more than 29,000 people, among them intellectuals and artists.
A probe was launched in January after several Ankara residents filed a complaint asking for those involved with the petition to be punished for "openly denigrating the Turkish nation", an offence that carries two years in prison.