A top European Union official urged EU aspirant Turkey to reopen its border with Armenia, piling pressure on Ankara to normalize ties with Yerevan after U.S. President Barack Obama made a similar call last week.
Peter Semneby, the EU's special envoy for the South Caucasus, said normalizing Turkish-Armenian ties would benefit the region and would help Turkey's hopes of joining the bloc.
"Fundamentally this would be a development that I think could lead to further positive developments that would in return benefit us, benefit the region and would therefore benefit Turkey and the European Union," Semneby told a panel interview including Reuters late on Tuesday. "It (opening the border) will certainly not hurt Turkey's EU perspectives," he said.
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to lend support to its traditional Muslim ally Azerbaijan. Armenia and Turkey trace their own dispute to 90-year-old claims that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenia in World War I.
Semneby said the EU is not putting pressure on Turkey to recognize the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 as genocide, a claim which Ankara strongly denies. "I can only talk on the behalf of the European Union, and there is absolutely no such pressure, absolutely not. This is not an issue of ours. We are not involved on that issue."
Obama, in a visit to NATO ally Turkey earlier this month, also pressed Ankara and Yerevan to complete talks soon. But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said the deadlock over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, over which Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war in the late 1980s and early 1990s, must be resolved before Turkey and Armenia strike a deal.
Azerbaijan, which sells gas and oil to Turkey, opposes its ally opening the border because such a deal could take away the incentive for Armenia to negotiate over Nagorno-Karabakh.
In a related development, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Tuesday that Turkey should open its borders and normalize relations with Armenia without waiting for a settlement to Armenia's long dispute with Azerbaijan. "The politicized debate whether to recognize as genocide the destruction of much of the Ottoman Armenian population and the stalemated Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh should not halt momentum" in the talks, the ICG said.
The ICG offers governments advice and policy proposals on how to bring an end to conflicts. Armenia has said that Turkish recognition of the genocide is not a precondition for opening diplomatic relations.
"The unresolved Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh still risks undermining full adoption and implementation of the potential package deal between Turkey and Armenia," the report said. "Bilateral detente with Armenia ultimately could help Baku recover territory better than the current stalemate," it said.