Azerbaijan Warns Turkey against Lifting Armenia Embargo

(RFE/RL)–Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev warned Turkey over the weekend against reopening its borders with Armenia before a resolution over Mountainous Karabagh conflict is reached.

"If Turkey makes even a minor move towards Armenia–it may harm both Azerbaijan’s and its own national interests," Guliev told reporters. "Any move of this nature should be attentively examined–and we hope that in general–moves of this nature will not be made until the Karabagh conflict is settled."

"Turkey and Armenia are independent states and are conducting their policies independently," he said–according to an Azerbaijani TV report monitored by the BBC. "But naturally we have–so to speak–many expectations from Turkey because Turkey is a country that is giving much support to Azerbaijan with regard to the occupation that Azerbaijan has been suffering. That is why we are naturally following Armenian-Turkish relations with special sensitiveness."

Turkey closed its border with Armenia for travel and commerce at the height of the Karabagh war in 1993–making the lifting of the blockade conditional on the disputed region’s return under Azerbaijani rule.

But Ankara’s decade-long linkage of bilateral ties with Yerevan to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict appears to have been weakened by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the course of last year.

During a series of face-to-face talks between Gul and Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian–most recently in Brussels on December 5–Oskanian indicated that there is advancement towards normalization of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Pressure on Ankara to soften its Armenian policy mainly comes mostly from the US government.

Azerbaijan–however–fears that the lifting of the Turkish blockade would ease Armenia’s socioeconomic hardships and thereby strengthen its bargaining position in the Karabagh peace talks. Guliev said he "always" brings up the issue at his meetings with Gul and other Turkish leaders.

Associated Press reported that Gul ruled out the border’s opening "for now," while Turkish television quoted him as saying bluntly that such a move is "out of question" before a Karabagh settlement respecting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

Gul at the same time made it clear that Turkey will maintain diplomatic and civil society contacts with Armenia–the absence of which he said was in the past exploited by unspecified "other countries." He also called for a trilateral meeting on Karabagh between Armenian–Azerbaijani–and Turkish [foreign] ministers.

The Karabagh dispute was not among the preconditions for a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement set by Erdogan in a speech last June. He instead demanded a halt to the continuing Armenian campaign for international recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire.

That campaign achieved another success last December when the lower house of Switzerland’s parliament voted to recognize the slaughter of some 1.5 Armenia’s as genocide.

The Turkish authorities strongly condemned the Swiss vote in line with its long-running policy of genocide denial that has involved threats of economic sanctions against Western countries recognizing the Armenian tragedy.

That policy has been indirectly questioned by more than 500 Turkish intellectuals–among them scholars–artists–human rights activists–and journalists. The French daily "Le Monde" reported on Thursday that in a joint statement they denounced the Turkish Education Ministry’s recent history guidelines for the country’s schools that defend the Ottoman rulers’ treatment of Armenia’s and other Christian minorities at beginning of the 20th century.

The guidelines require Turkish teachers to instruct students about the "unfounded claims of Armenia’s–Greeks–and Assyrians" regarding the bloody events of 1915. The signatories of the protest statement reject them as "racist" and "hate-provoking."

"This decision by the Turkish authorities comes in a context marked by the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the French Parliament in January 2001 and the worldwide presentation of Atom Egoyan’s film ‘Ararat’ in 2002,"Le Monde" wrote.

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