Armenia and Turkey Holding Diplomatic Contacts

ISTANBUL (NY Times)–According to the New York Times–the governmen’s of Armenia and Turkey have initiated quiet diplomatic contacts in recent weeks to evaluate prospects for cooperation and opening the border between them–said people outside the governmen’s who have been briefed on the talks.

The countries have no diplomatic relations–but mid-level officials from both foreign ministries have exchanged visits in the capitals–Yerevan and Ankara.

The signs of progress are small and come at a time of rising anxiety in Turkey over actions by the Armenian diaspora to persuade world governmen’s to recognize the killing of Armenia’s under the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

But the private government contacts have yielded more positive sentimen’s than the sometimes-harsh public statemen’s from the two capitals.

The talks are occurring as private organizations in Turkey have taken steps toward expanding contacts with Armenia and Armenian-Americans–an effort that has yielded some visible progress.

A Turkish-Armenian business group is stepping up efforts to promote trade between the countries–and in June 600 Armenian pilgrims are planning to visit ancient Armenian sites in Turkey under the sponsorship of the Armenian Church of America–which is based in New York.

In a rare public visit–Armenian officials are expected to attend a conference on regional stability on Saturday in Istanbul.

"The mere contact is an achievement under these circumstances," said Ozdem Sanberk–a retired senior Turkish diplomat who is director of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation–the conference sponsor. "It’s a bumpy road–and we must handle it with care," he said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the talks with Armenia–but a senior ministry official said Ankara wants to normalize relations if certain conditions are met. "That is an objective for us–and it would be good not only for Turks and Armenia’s–but for the region," the official said.

Dziunik Aghajanian–a spokeswoman for the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs–said in a telephone interview that she could not confirm recent meetings–but she said there have been numerous contacts between officials of the two countries in recent months.

No one is predicting substantial improvement soon. The issues that divide the countries are difficult. Armenia’s say 1.5 million people were killed by Turkey in 1915–and they want the deaths recognized as genocide. They also want the border between the countries reopened so trade can resume and Armenia can revive its stagnant economy.

Turkish officials say far fewer Armenia’s died as a result of partisan fighting–and they want Armenia’s to stop advocating the genocide legislation. They said the border would not be opened until Armenia withdrew its troops from the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan–which ethnic Armenia’s claim as their homeland.

Tensions increased last month after the French Parliament adopted a bill that recognized the 1915 killings as genocide. Turkey retaliated by excluding French companies from several public contracts–mostly in the defense field–and taking symbolic actions like banning French travelers from the V.I.P. lounge at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.

Turkish officials hope progress with Armenia will head off introduction of a similar resolution in the United States Congress.

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