The newly appointed ambassador of the United States in Yerevan has reiterated his government’s continued support for rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey as he paid his first fact-finding visit to the northern Armenian town of Gyumri near the Turkish border.
Talking to reporters in what is Armenia’s second largest town on Monday John Heffern described the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border as one of the priorities of his work as ambassador to the South Caucasus country.
“Getting that border open is one of my top priorities,” said Heffern. “I hope to come here one day and ride the train to Kars. That’s my goal.”
The eastern Turkish province of Kars borders on the Shirak region of Armenia, but communication is hampered by the lack of diplomatic relations between Yerevan and Ankara.
The two nations signed normalization protocols in 2009 after a rapprochement process strongly backed by the United States. But the process remains stalled as the documents committing Ankara and Yerevan to establishing diplomatic relations and opening the border still await ratification in both parliaments amid new conditions being advanced by the Turkish leadership to their counterparts in Armenia.
Speaking at a Turkish-Armenian business conference in Yerevan last week Heffern said that reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia still remains a goal. He also spoke about the United States continuing to sponsor people-to-people contacts between the two neighboring nations in the hope of facilitating the eventual normalization of their relations.
On his visit to Gyumri on Monday, the U.S. ambassador also spoke about projects being implemented by the United States government in conjunction with Armenian partners all over the country, including in Gyumri.
“I am very proud of what we have been able to do together with the Armenian people in terms of economic development, health and a number of areas, and we do have partners in Gyumri. And that’s why I met with some of our local partners who are doing good social work and good health work here in Gyumri,” said Heffern.
Asked about what social needs are particularly obvious in Gyumri, the U.S. ambassador said: “Everybody that we talked to here talked about the need for jobs in this part of Armenia. And then with jobs and with economic development, the hospitals will be better, the housing will be better, everything will improve with better job growth in this region.”
Heffern also spoke a few words in Armenian that he said he had already learned during his stay in Armenia. He promised to speak more fluently the next time he visits Gyumri.