By Anna Karapetian in Prague
Armenia and Turkey have taken a further step towards normalizing their strained relations, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told RFE/RL late Thursday after a closely watched meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul. But he stopped short of announcing a breakthrough on the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border sought by the United States.
“I have no practical positive results to report at this point,” Oskanian said in a phone interview from New York. “But I find this process positive. This meeting was an important circumstance in this process.”
“Judging from our discussions today, we are on the right track in terms of finally registering progress in our bilateral relations,” he added.
Oskanian would not go into details of the talks held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, saying only that they were a “continuation” of the two ministers’ first meeting which took place in Madrid last May. That meeting raised hopes for the lifting of the decade-old Turkish blockade imposed on Armenia at the height of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Some observers predicted that Ankara will decided to open the frontier with Armenia as early as this year.
However, Turkish leaders have yet not committed themselves to such a move, which is vigorously resisted by Azerbaijan, their main regional ally. Armenian officials, who believe that their economically struggling country would benefit from cross-border commerce with Turkey, have expressed skepticism about chances of a U-turn in Ankara’s pro-Azerbaijani policy. According to Oskanian, the two sides are now trying to normalize their ties “with small steps.”
The unresolved Karabakh conflict, the main obstacle to a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, was also high on the agenda of the Oskanian-Gul encounter. Oskanian said the two ministers discussed the problem in the light of the upcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan and “their possible results.” He said they also talked about regional problems, notably the situation in Iraq and Turkish military participation in post-war stabilization efforts there.
Karabakh was a major theme of Oskanian’s speech earlier on Thursday at the 58th session of the UN General Assembly. He used it to rebut Azerbaijani allegations of “terrorism” and “aggression” voiced by Prime Minister Ilham Aliev the previous day.
“Indeed, Azerbaijanis are victims, but of their own aggression,” Oskanian charged. “They started the war, one-sidedly. They began massacring Armenians, citizens of Azerbaijan’s cities: Sumgait, Baku, Ganja…The war that followed changed the world for two generations of Armenians who have never lived under Azerbaijani rule.”
He added that Baku will fail to bring Armenia to its knees by capitalizing on its oil resources and continuing its economic blockade. “Dreaming of future oil sales whose revenues will be used to buy armaments, Azerbaijan is anticipating the day when it will have the resources to pursue a military solution, again. This is self-deception, too. Azerbaijan has forgotten that similar fantasies led them to respond militarily to the peaceful demands of Nagorno Karabakh’s population for self-determination in 1992.”