By Armen Zakarian
Prospects for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations were high on the agenda of a meeting in Yerevan on Thursday between senior members of the US Congressional staff and Armenian parliament leaders.
Two officials from the Foreign Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives, Sam Statman and David Abramovich, were in the Armenian capital as part of a tour of the three south Caucasian states. They met with the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, Tigran Torosian, and the chairman of the parliament committee on international relations, Hovannes Hovannisian.
Hovannisian said the two sides agreed that an improvement in relations between Armenia and Turkey is vital for peace and stability in the region. He said he and Torosian reaffirmed official Yerevan’s insistence on the establishment of diplomatic relations without any preconditions.
“They were interested in hearing how and when we see the start of a dialogue,” he told RFE/RL. “We are not against the possibility of an inter-government dialogue preceded by direct contacts between non-governmental organizations.”
But Hovannisian said the Armenian lawmakers repeated their overwhelmingly negative attitude to the recent setting up of a non-governmental Turkish-Armenian reconciliation commission. Political parties and groups holding the majority of seats in the National Assembly issued a joint statement on July 31, dismissing the initiative, reportedly backed by the US State Department, as “artificial.”
“Such actions indirectly aim to remove the fact of the Armenian Genocide from agenda and ensure Turkey’s meaningful presence in the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) negotiations,” the statement said. A copy of the document was handed to the Congressional staffers.
The American officials also discussed the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with Hovannisian accusing Azerbaijan of backtracking on a framework peace agreement which Armenian officials say was finalized earlier this year. Baku denies that the main principles of a peace settlement were worked out at the talks in Paris and Florida mediated French, Russian and US negotiators.
Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev slammed the international community on Wednesday for failing to uphold his country’s sovereignty over Karabakh, in a sign of further hardening of his negotiating position on the issue. Armenian President Robert Kocharian said Thursday his most recent meeting with Aliev, held in the Russian resort city of Sochi last week, was “difficult.”
The two leaders announced no further progress in the peace process after the meeting.