In a weekend letter to Istanbul’s Armenian Patriarch Sahak Mashalian, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his administration stands ready to “develop” Turkish-Armenian relations “on the basis of the principles of good neighborliness and mutual respect.”
Erdogan did not specify whether Ankara still sets preconditions for establishing diplomatic relations with Yerevan and opening the border between the two states.
“We are familiar with the Turkish president’s letter and the readiness expressed in it,” said Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian. “But I must say that we attach importance not only to words but also actions.”
“There have already been similar messages [from Ankara] in the past. There was even a signed bilateral document which never had a continuation,” he told a news conference with Lithuania’s visiting Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.
Ayvazian referred to the 2008 Turkish-Armenian protocols on the normalization of bilateral ties. Erdogan’s government refused to implement them, citing the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Ankara shut down the Turkish-Armenian border in 1993 and has refused to establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan since then out of solidarity with Azerbaijan. It has yet to clarify whether a Karabakh settlement acceptable to Baku remains a precondition for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations after last year’s war that resulted in the restoration of Azerbaijani control over all districts around Karabakh.
During the six-week war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10, the Turks supported the Azerbaijani army with weapons and expert advice. They also reportedly recruited thousands of Syrian mercenaries and sent them to fight in Karabakh on the Azerbaijani side.
Armenian leaders have repeatedly described the hostilities as a “Turkish-Azerbaijani aggression” against Armenia and Karabakh. Ayvazian said late last month that the Turkish government must end its “hostile” policies towards Armenia if it wants to contribute to peace and stability in the region.
Erdogan sent his letter to the spiritual leader of Turkey’s small Armenian community on the 106th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. He again offered his condolences to the descendants of Armenians who “died in the difficult conditions created during the First World War.”
Ankara denies a premeditated government effort to exterminate Ottoman Turkey’s Armenian population. Erdogan has claimed that Armenians themselves massacred Muslim civilians and that their mass deportations to the Syrian desert was “the most reasonable action that could be taken” by the Ottoman regime of the “Young Turks.”
U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday officially described the 1915 mass killings of some 1.5 million Armenians as genocide in a statement hailed by Armenia but condemned by Turkey. The U.S. ambassador in Ankara was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Sunday in connection with the “unacceptable” statement.
Ayvazian reiterated Yerevan’s strong approval of Biden’s move, saying that it will help to prevent more crimes against humanity.