by Harry Tamrazian and Armen Zakarian
Speaking to RFE/RL on Tuesday, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that the speculation in the Turkish and Armenian press about opening the land border between Turkey and Armenia does not correspond to the letter and spirit of his recent meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.
After Oskanian and Gul met in Madrid last month, Turkish and Armenian newspapers reported that the two ministers agreed to open the land borders between their countries without first establishing diplomatic relations.
Some Turkish newspapers even suggested that Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan could announce the opening of the border when he visited the Turkish city of Kars later in June. But the Turkish leader instead said that Turkey might change its policy towards Armenia only after Armenians abandon their campaign for international recognition of the 1915 genocide.
"Let us leave this issue to historians and deal with politics and turn this century into a century of peace, friendship," the Yerevan daily "Azg" quoted Erdogan as saying. Erdogan's remarks came after several high-profile meetings between top Turkish diplomats and leaders of Armenian Diaspora in the US.
Ambassador Ecvet Tezcan, a high ranking Turkish Foreign Ministry official, held talks last month in New York with the leaders of three major Armenian organizations in the U.S. Ross Vartian, the executive director of Armenian Assembly of America, an influential Armenian advocacy group in the U.S., told RFE/RL on 4 July that the Turkish diplomat was told by Diaspora leaders that Armenians around the world will not give up on the genocide recognition campaign. "If that's their expectation, then it is just not going to happen," Vartian said.
Vartian also said that the American government has made it a very high priority to pressure the Turks at every level, at every meeting to open the border with Armenia without any pre-condition. The Turkish diplomat told the leaders of Diaspora that Turkey realizes that it has to deal with the genocide issue in parallel with Turkey's rapprochement with the Republic of Armenia, Vartian said.
Speaking to our correspondent in Yerevan on Tuesday, Oskanian admitted that the speculation about improving relations between two regional adversaries are not that far from what has been discussed during his talks with his Turkish counterpart Gul. "Both sides expressed willingness to make headway in Armenian-Turkish relations," Oskanian told RFE/RL. He said they agreed to start with smaller steps.
Oskanian declined to specify whether the opening of the border is also planned as a step to improve relations between two countries. "We have to wait for the next meeting," Oskanian told RFE/RL, without saying when and in what format it will be held.
The Armenian minister gave a positive assessment to the current atmosphere in relations with Turkey. "But the euphoria that was created has nothing to do with reality," Oskanian said, adding that Armenia has planned its own "small steps" that will be proposed to the Turkish side when he next meets with Abdullah Gul.