By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
Armenia on Wednesday welcomed Turkey’s decision to soften its visa regime for Armenian nationals. A foreign ministry spokeswoman said the move “will have a positive impact on contacts between the two peoples and improve the overall atmosphere” in the strained Turkish-Armenian relations.
The Associated Press quoted unnamed Turkish officials in Washington as saying that said the new visa procedures have been in place since January 10. Under the new procedures, Armenians can get a visa at any border point rather than being required to obtain one before arrival.
According to the ministry spokeswoman, Dziunik Aghajanian, official Ankara did not formally inform Yerevan of the unilateral measure as of late Wednesday. “We have not received official notification as yet,” Aghajanian told RFE/RL.
The two neighboring states have no diplomatic relations. Ankara has made the normalization of ties conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would respect Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
The visa restrictions were imposed by Turkey in late 2000 after several European countries passed resolutions recognizing and condemning the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. They were eased as a goodwill gesture on the eve of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s official visit to the United States which began Wednesday.
A leading Armenian-American lobbying group in Washington claimed that the administration of President George Bush played a major role in securing the move. The Armenian Assembly of America commended the Bush administration in a statement.
But the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which favors a tougher line on Turkey, played down the significance of the latest development. The ANCA spokeswoman, Elizabeth Chuljian, argued that the softer visa regime will primarily benefit the Turkish economy as it will facilitate purchase of Turkish goods by Armenian traders.