Armenia Says Caucasus Stability Contingent On Normalization With Turkey

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’said Wednesday that the latest Turkish initiative to build a long-term stability in the Caucasus through economic integration will not succeed unless Ankara improves its strained relations with Yerevan.

Turkish President Suleyman Demirel suggested a "Caucasus Stability Pact" during a visit to Georgia last weekend. The document would provide a framework for an economic reconstruction of Armenia–Georgia and Azerbaijan impoverished by unresolved ethnic conflicts. It envisages a major role in the process for Western powers and lending institutions.

But a spokesman for the Armenian foreign ministry told RFE/RL that "without a normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations it is impossible to speak about regional programs." Spokesman Ara Papian said Ankara should drop its "preconditions" for such a normalization.

Turkey–which shares close ethnic and cultural ties with Azerbaijan–refuses to open its land border and establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan until the latter recognizes Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the decade-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Relations between the two neighboring states are burdened by a troubled past – most significantly–the 1915 genocide of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire.

The United States–which views a Turkish-Armenia rapprochement as vital for stability in the Caucasus–proposed the two sides last year to open unofficial "information centers" in each other’s capital as a first step in normalizing relations.

According to Papian–no progress has been made in that direction yet. He repeated Yerevan’s official line that development of bilateral ties should not be hostage to the Karabakh dispute. The spokesman also said the Armenian government is still ready to ensure restoration of a rail communication between Turkey and Azerbaijan disrupted by the conflict. The rail route runs across Armenia and the so-called "occupied territories."

Successive Armenian governmen’s have cited a perceived security threat from Turkey as a key reason for their close military cooperation with Russia.

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