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Garo Paylan, an ethnic Armenian opposition member of the Turkish parliament, pledged on Friday to try to “build bridges” between Turkey and Armenia, while reiterating that Ankara is unlikely to normalize relations with Yerevan anytime soon.

“I would like to open, even slightly, the door of dialogue. I know that it will be difficult, but even in the darkest of times the door of dialogue must be kept a little open,” Paylan told a news conference held at the end of his weeklong visit to Armenia.

“I can see that Armenia’s leadership is prepared for such dialogue,” he said. “When I return to Turkey, I will ask our government whether they are ready for it or not.”

Paylan arrived in Yerevan to take part in a government-organized conference that brought together some 1,800 ethnic Armenians from around the world.They discussed with Armenian government representatives Armenia’s relations with its worldwide Diaspora.

Paylan met with Prime Minister Karen Karapetian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on the sidelines of the three-day forum that ended on Wednesday. He was received by President Serzh Sarkisian later on Friday.

Turkey - Garo Paylan (L), an ethnic Armenian candidate of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), casts a ballot at a polling station in Istanbul, 7Jun2015.
Turkey - Garo Paylan (L), an ethnic Armenian candidate of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), casts a ballot at a polling station in Istanbul, 7Jun2015.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, Sarkisian announced his intention to formally annul U.S.-brokered agreements to normalize Armenia’s relations with Turkey. He cited the Turkish government’s continuing refusal to ratify them before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh acceptable to Azerbaijan. Ankara has still not officially reacted to his announcement.

The protocols signed in Zurich in 2009 committed Turkey and Armenia to establishing diplomatic relations and opening their border which the Turks have kept completely closed since 1993.

“The 2009 protocols were really important documents,” Paylan said when asked to comment on Sarkisian’s plans to invalidate them. “But we now need a blank sheet of paper. That requires a dialogue.”

The 44-year-old parliamentarian affiliated with the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) stood by his view, voiced during the Yerevan conference, that only “a democratic Turkey” could open the Turkish-Armenian border and recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. He was deeply pessimistic about such a prospect, saying that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule has left Turkey on a “dictatorial path.”

Erdogan unleashed a massive crackdown on his real and presumed foes after surviving a coup attempt in July 2016. Some 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from jobs in the civil service and private sector and more than 50,000 detained for alleged links to the putsch.

The Turkish authorities also arrested last year more than a dozen HDP lawmakers, including the party’s top leader, Selahattin Demirtas. They are mostly accused of having links to the Kurdish militant group PKK, a charge they strongly deny.

Turkey - Selahattin Demirtas, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), addresses the Turkish parliament in Ankara on July 28, 2015
Turkey - Selahattin Demirtas, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), addresses the Turkish parliament in Ankara on July 28, 2015

“Independent media and courts do not function in Turkey these days,” said Paylan. “They are all controlled by Erdogan. The leader of my party and my many other comrades are now in jail. Many journalists are also in jail.”

“Kurds now demand what we [Armenians] were demanding 105-110 years ago: Turkey should become democratic,” he said. And they now face the kind of security risks which Ottoman Armenians did in the run-up to the 1915 genocide, claimed the former Armenian school principal from Istanbul.

Speaking to journalists at the Yerevan office of the Armenian Assembly of America, Paylan also insisted that the HDP is the only mainstream Turkish party genuinely committed to democracy and minority rights.

“Of course, we keep fighting against this fascist way but that is not enough,” he went on. “We really need support coming from all over the world. But the West has turned a blind eye to human rights violations in Turkey and other Muslim-majority countries. This is the problem.”

The HDP is the only major party in Turkey that has recognized the World War One-era deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians as genocide. Paylan has repeatedly called for genocide recognition on the Turkish parliament floor, angering Erdogan’s loyalists and secular nationalists. In July, Erdogan’s AK Party pushed through the parliament a law that banned Turkish lawmakers from mentioning the Armenian genocide in the chamber.

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