Armenia criticized Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan late Friday for reportedly again making the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan.
“Turkey’s position has not changed,” the “Milliyet” daily quoted Erdogan as telling Turkish media editors earlier in the day. “We are repeating that as long as Azerbaijan’s occupied territories are not returned, the border with Armenia will not be opened.”
He noted at the same time that Armenia and Azerbaijan are now “close” to hammering out a peace accord.
Official Yerevan was unusually quick to react to the Turkish premier’s comments. In a late-night written statement, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian said they go against “the letter, spirit and aims” of draft Turkish-Armenian protocols made public on August 31. The protocols envisage the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states and reopening of their border and make no reference to the Karabakh conflict.
“The Turkish side is aware and, we are sure, realizes that we rule out any linkage between the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and steps to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. By attempting to link those two process, one risks botching both of them,” warned Nalbandian.
“The same position is held by many other countries, including the countries co-chairing the Minsk Group [on Karabakh,] which have repeatedly stated that the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey must be without preconditions,” he said. He did not specify whether Erdogan’s stance could affect President Serzh Sarkisian’s plans to visit Turkey for an October 14 match of Armenia’s and Turkey’s national soccer teams.
Citing unnamed diplomats in Ankara, Turkish media reported earlier this week that the Turkish-Armenian protocols will be signed the day before Sarkisian’s landmark visit. The documents will have to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries before they can come into effect.
Erdogan’s remarks raise more questions about the likelihood of the Turkish parliament, controlled by his Justice and Development Party, endorsing the deal. Opposition politicians and analysts in Armenia have already speculated that Erdogan will stall or block the ratification process if Yerevan and Baku fail to agree on basic principles of a Karabakh settlement in the coming months.