Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu paid a first-ever visit to Armenia on Thursday, underlining Ankara’s declared attempts to initiate a new thaw in Turkish-Armenian relations.
Davutoglu arrived in Yerevan to attend a meeting of top diplomats from 11 countries aligned in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) organization. Only three of them -- Turkey, Bulgaria and Armenia -- were represented by their foreign ministers. The other member states sent lower-level officials to the one-day meeting mostly held behind the closed doors.
Nalbandian and Davutoglu shook hands at a conference hall in a Yerevan hotel where the gathering took place. They met separately for more than an hour later in the day.
The two ministers did not address the press after the talks. Davutoglu did not answer a question from RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) before giving an exclusive interview to Turkish journalists, two of them ethnic Armenians.
According to Ara Gocunian, editor of the Istanbul-based Armenian-language daily “Jamanak,” Davutoglu described the talks with Nalbandian as “warm” and “frank” and claimed that the two sides overcame a “psychological barrier” to renewed dialogue. Gocunian also quoted the minister as saying that Ankara and Yerevan could narrow their difference with more frequent contacts between their top officials.
Nalbandian did not comment at all. An ensuing statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said he told Davutoglu that Armenia continues to insist on establishing diplomatic relations and opening the Turkish-Armenian border “without any preconditions.”
“I hope that my visit to Yerevan will contribute to comprehensive peace and stability efforts in the BSEC region and the Caucasus,” Davutoglu wrote on Twitter ahead of the trip, according to “Hurriyet Daily News.” “As Turkey, we will continue to make efforts to solve conflicts in the periphery.”
The chief Turkish diplomat thus appeared to have reaffirmed the importance of a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations. Ankara has stood by this precondition since it began making new overtures to Yerevan in October.
A Turkish diplomat accompanying Davutoglu confirmed that decisive progress in Armenian-Azerbaijani talks remains a necessary condition for the Turkish-Armenian normalization. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) before the meeting with Nalbandian, the diplomat said Davutoglu will not present his Armenian counterpart with any concrete proposals. The main purpose of Davutoglu’s visit is to try to rebuild trust between the two estranged neighbors, he said.
Nalbandian, meanwhile, again rejected Ankara’s Karabakh linkage. “Our and the international community’s position is clear: the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations must take place without any preconditions,” he told reporters before meeting Davutoglu. “Therefore, the Turkish side’s attempts to link it with other issues and set preconditions are futile and meaningless.”
Earlier this week, one of Nalbandian’s deputies, Shavarsh Kocharian, accused Davutoglu of making “provocative” statements undermining international efforts to bolster stability in the region. The verbal attack reflected Armenia’s view that Turkey is not prepared for normalizing bilateral ties. Officials and pundits in Yerevan feel that Ankara is only keen to keep more countries from recognizing the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire ahead of its 100th anniversary to be marked in 2015.
President Serzh Sarkisian, who had earned plaudits in the West for the 2008-2009 Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, highlighted the Armenian skepticism by failing to receive Davutoglu.
Davutoglu made his way into the Marriott Armenia hotel from its back entrance apparently to avoid facing about 100 people who demonstrated against his visit outside the meeting venue. The protesters, most of them young members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), chanted slogans and held banners demanding Turkish recognition of the Armenian genocide. Some of them also denounced the long-running Turkish economic blockade of Armenia.
“Turkey must talk to Armenia without preconditions, refrain from intervening in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and unconditionally open the border [with Armenia,]” Artur Ghazarian, a Dashnaktsutyun activist, told RFE/RL’s Armenia service (Azatutyun.am).