By Michael Stott and Margarita Antidze, Reuters
Armenia criticized NATO and the European Union on Friday for turning a blind eye to Turkey's long-running blockade of its borders, saying Ankara's refusal to open land routes was costing the small, landlocked state a third of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
"Europeans are shy over these issues. They love to talk about human rights, about democratic values but it's much easier to talk rather than to implement anything," Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian told Reuters in an interview.
Turkey shut its borders to Christian Armenia in 1993 to protest against the capture by Armenian forces of territory inside Azerbaijan, Ankara's historic Muslim ally, during fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region Ankara says it will not reopen its frontier until Armenia reaches a peace agreement with Azerbaijan.
The blockade, coupled with similar measures by Azerbaijan, means Armenia has to route its trade through its land border with Georgia, or over treacherous mountain passes that link it to Iran. Those difficulties greatly increase costs.
Sarkisian said Armenia wanted to resume relations with Turkey without preconditions and would not obstruct Turkey's desire to join the EU because this might make Ankara "more predictable".
"Although NATO officials tell us that Turkey is predictable as it's a member of NATO, I don't believe it because even before our blockade Turkey was a member of NATO when it occupied Cyprus," the prime minister added.
Armenia and Turkey have a long history of enmity, arising from the killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman empire in 1915-17. Armenians and some European nations describe the deaths as genocide. Turkey says they were part of a partisan conflict during World War One. It is a crime in Turkey to refer to the killings as a genocide.
Sarkisian, tipped by analysts as a likely future president of Armenia, said Armenia still needed help from its strategic ally Moscow to defend itself. Russia has 5,000 troops stationed here. "I do not think that the Turkish threat has disappeared and our Russian military base is a guarantee against the Turkish threat," he added.
Sarkisian also said that if Western nations granted independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo, they "could not fail to recognize" the right of the majority Armenian territory of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination.
"I see the solution of this issue based on compromise but I do not see any steps or reactions from the Azeri side," Sarkisian said. "We have done all we can".
Asked about his own political ambitions, Sarkisian said it was "likely" he would be the presidential candidate of Armenia's ruling Republican party, although a final decision would not come until a party congress in the autumn.
Armenia holds presidential elections next year and incumbent President Robert Kocharian cannot stand after serving two terms. The elections that gave Kocharian his second term in 2003 were marred by allegations of ballot-stuffing although international monitors deemed this year's parliamentary elections -- won by Sarkisian’s party -- an improvement.