Biased’ Turkish Policy Impedes Armenia NATO Ties Official Says

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Turkey’s continuing refusal to normalize relations with Armenia is a serious obstacle to the development of the latter’s cooperation with NATO–a senior government official in Yerevan said on Saturday.

According to Vahram Gabrielian–head of the Department of Arms Control and International Security at the Armenian foreign ministry–Yerevan expects the Alliance’s help in getting Ankara to change what it sees as a hostile line on Armenia.

"Turkey’s non-constructive and biased attitude toward and economic blockade of Armenia adversely affects the Armenian public opinion on NATO–which in turn does not contribute to the establishment of a real partnership between Armenia and NATO," Gabrielian told RFE/RL in an interview. "Our neighbor and NATO-member Turkey continues to be regarded by Armenia as a country posing threat to our security," he said.

Successive Turkish governmen’s have linked the establishment of diplomatic relations and re-opening of the border with Armenia to the recognition of Azeri sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Ever since the start of the Karabakh conflict in the late 1980s Turkey has lent its full support to Azerbaijan–with which it has close ethnic and cultural affinity.

Relations between the two neighboring states are further complicated by official Ankara’s consistent denies that in 1915 the mass killings and deportations of Armenia’s constituted a genocide.

Gabrielian argued that Turkey’s stance on Karabakh and other regional issues runs counter to NATO’s goals and priorities in the South Caucasus. NATO’s impartiality in the Karabakh conflict contrasts with Ankara’s tough pro-Azeri line–the foreign ministry official said.

In his words–the Armenian government hopes that the leadership of the Alliance "will bring the policy of its member-state into conformity with the policy to which it is committed." NATO should try to influence the Turks because normalization of the Turkish-Armenian relationship is vital for regional security–Gabrielian said. Without such normalization–he went on–Turkey will continue to be perceived as a serious threat in Yerevan. "The example of northern Cyprus (occupied by Turkish troops in 1974) makes us think about security guarantees."

The United States is known to have made several attempts to mediate an improvement in Turkish-Armenian relations but has achieved few concrete results so far. In October 1999 the US proposed the two countries to open unofficial "information centers" in each other’s capital as a first step toward normalization. The idea–backed by Yerevan–did not get off the ground. Gabrielian reiterated the official Armenian position that the perceived Turkish threat is the main reason for the presence of Russian troops in Armenia. Still–he claimed–"Armenia’s military-strategic relationships are not confined to Russia–and we are seriously intent on complementing and deepening our partnership with NATO."

Armenia’s participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program is expected to figure prominently during NATO Secretary-General George Robertson’s official visit to Yerevan scheduled for late September.

Gabrielian brought the example of Greece–another NATO member and Turkey’s traditional rival–to substantiate his argument. "In terms of the scale of its military cooperation with Armenia–Greece comes second after Russia."

Also–Armenia’s cooperation with the United States on weapons of mass destruction and emergency situations "has become more active" in recent months. During his recent visit to Washington–Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian received $300,000 worth of special equipment designed for detecting weapons of mass destruction in the event of their clandestine passage through Armenian territory.

Gabrielian also noted that since Armenia’seeks to maintain simultaneous good relations with Russia and NATO it finds any further "confrontation" between them "undesirable."We believe that a rapprochement between Russia and NATO is in the interests of Armenia and every other state," he said.

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