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Turkey ‘May Open Armenia Border For NATO Exercise’


Turkey -- Dogu Kapi border gate to Armenia, in Kars, Akyaka province, 15Apr2009

Turkey -- Dogu Kapi border gate to Armenia, in Kars, Akyaka province, 15Apr2009

Turkey is considering temporarily opening its border with Armenia for a NATO disaster relief exercise due in September, a Turkish diplomat was reported to say on Thursday. Officials in Yerevan were quick to dismiss the announcement as a gimmick.


The AFP news agency quoted the unnamed diplomat as saying that Ankara has decided to participate in the exercise to be held in Armenia’s central Kotayk region by NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center.

The drills, scheduled for September 11-17, are due to bring together up to 1,000 participants from two dozen NATO member and partner states. They will simulate an multi-national response to a powerful earthquake resulting in a humanitarian and environmental disaster.

“We will be taking part in the exercise,” the Turkish diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“We are looking into the possibility on whether the border may be opened if such a necessity arises. ... There has been no decision yet,” she said.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan and has since made its reopening conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to its closest Turkic ally. Ankara has stuck to this linkage even after signing last October agreements with Yerevan to unconditionally normalize Turkish-Armenian relations.

Armenia -- A border-guard watchtower on the Armenian-Turkish frontier, 11Feb2010
The Armenian Foreign Ministry refrained from officially commenting on the possibility of a temporary border opening. But a diplomatic source in Yerevan shrugged off the Turkish statement as “a public relations stunt aimed at burnishing Turkey’s image.”

“Armenia has no desire to contribute to that effort,” the source, who asked not to be identified, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. The Armenian government might therefore refuse to let any personnel or vehicles enter the country from Turkey during the exercise, he added.

There has been speculation in both neighboring countries in recent weeks that Ankara could also temporary open its border checkpoints to Armenians planning to attend the September 19 mass at the 10th century Armenian Church of Holy Cross located on a lake island in Turkey’s Van province. The Turkish official cited by AFP said “this is out of the question,” however.

Armenia’s leaders have repeatedly blamed the Turks for the effective collapse of the two Turkish-Armenia “protocols” that envisaged the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two estranged nations and the opening of their border. President Serzh Sarkisian suspended in April the process of Armenian parliamentary ratification of the protocols because of the Turkish preconditions for their implementation. He indicated that he did not to annul the deal altogether at the request of foreign powers and the United States in particular.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed Sarkisian’s stance as “very statesmanlike and very impressive” when she visited Yerevan earlier this month. Clinton said the onus is on the Turkish government to revive the normalization process with “the steps that it promised to take.”
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