Week in Review

Turkey ‘Sincere’ in Seeking Rapprochement with Armenia

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian was upbeat on Wednesday–after his talks with Turkish leaders in Istanbul this week–saying that he found a "sincere desire" to improve the historically strained relations with Armenia. But he indicated that the long-awaited opening of the Turkish-Armenian border is still not up for discussion.

Oskanian met with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and had an impromptu 10-minute encounter with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of a NATO summit which finished its work on Tuesday. He described his brief conversation with Erdogan as "quite interesting."

"It confirmed my impression?that the Turkish government really has a sincere desire to achieve progress in relations with Armenia," Oskanian told a news conference in Yerevan.

Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning cabinet–Oskanian continued–is more willing to soften Turkish policy on Armenia than its more pro-Western predecessors were. "There is really a difference. This government does have a desire [to normalize ties]–it’s just that conditions are not yet ripe," he said–referring to the possibility of Turkey lifting its economic embargo imposed on Armenia in 1993.

Chirac Slams Bush for Interfering in Turkey’s EU Bid

ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)–French President Jacques Chirac bluntly criticized George W. Bush on Monday for supporting Turkey’s bid to join the European Union–saying the US President had "gone too far".

On Sunday–Bush publicly endorsed Turkey’s bid–telling Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara: "I will remind the people of this good country that you ought to be given a date by the EU for your eventual acceptance into the EU."

Chirac told a news conference on the sidelines on the NATO summit here: "Not only did he go too far–he ventured into territory which is not his concern."

The French president–who is among the EU leaders most firmly opposed to Turkish membership of the EU–added–"It would be like me telling the United States how to run its affairs with Mexico."

In response to Chirac’s commen’s–Bush on Tuesday told an Istanbul university audience that the European Union is "not the exclusive club of a single religion."America believes that as a European power–Turkey belongs in the European Union," Bush said.

Karabagh Foreign Ministry Brushes off Azeri Assertions

STEPANAKERT (Armenpress)–A statement released on Wednesday by Karabagh’s Foreign Affairs Ministry–stressed that the upcoming August 8 elections is another step in building a civil society in Mountainous Karabagh Republic (MKR). "We proceed from the fact that only legally elected representatives of authority are empowered with necessary power and bear responsibility for the fate of people of Mountainous Karabagh," read the statement.

Azerbaijan has undertaken international efforts to stop the elections saying they run counter to international law as well as Azerbaijan’s legislation.

"Mountainous Karabagh has been living independently for 16 years and has nothing to do with Azerbaijan’s laws; citing them–therefore–is absolutely groundless," the statement says–describing Azerbaijan’s assertions as "cut off from current realities."

The statement scoffs at another assertion by the Azeri foreign ministry that the elections are invalid because the Azeri population of Mountainous Karabagh cannot participate. "If we follow this kind of logic then all national elections in Azerbaijan are invalid–as almost half a million of ethnic Armenia’s had to flee it as a result of ethnic cleansing," the statement says.

Armenian Patriarch Meets with Bush

ISTANBUL (Haybad/Zaman)–During his trip to Istanbul for the NATO Summit–George W. Bush took time out on Sunday to meet with various religious leaders–including Turkey’s Armenian Patriarch–Mesrob Mutafyan.

Patriarch Mutafyan had an opportunity to speak to Bush about the situation of Turkey’s non-Muslim population–and stressed that for minorities to exist in Turkey–or for any ethnic or national minority to exist anywhere–three institutions must be guaranteed: First–places of worship to preserve religious heritage and to nourish the spiritual life of the community; second–schools to teach language and culture; and third–foundations to fund religious and educational activities and the necessary personnel to keep them active. The minorities in Turkey–he stressed–are attempting to maintain those institutions for the future and well-being of their communities.

Mutafyan also handed a letter to Bush–in which the spiritual head criticized the US war effort in Iraq and noted–"the United States of America and her President–have the ability to preserve the values they struggle for without resorting to violence in all its terrible diversity. It is sufficient to maintain their trust in God–in their sense of vocation and ultimate potential for good. Whenever we embrace violence we are already diminished and the high moral and religious ideals to which we aspire are betrayed."

Safarov Trial for Gourgen Margaryan Murder Set for Fall

BUDAPEST (Combined Sources)–Criminal proceedings against Ramil Safarov for the brutal killing of Gourgen Margaryan is set to begin in Budapest sometime this fall.

Senior Lieutenant Ramil Safarov–an Azeri officer is accused of hacking Margaryan to death–and of attempting to murder a second Armenian officer Hayk Makuchyan. All three soldiers were attending a NATO Partnership for Peace training program in Budapest. Margaryan–26–was murdered with an ax as he slept in the early hours of February 19.

Safarov is charged with premeditated murder which carries a 10 to 15 years or life imprisonment. The court has yet to decide whether the trial will be public. If he is convicted–Sarafov could be transferred to his homeland to serve his sentence.

Rights Court Condemns Turkey for Expulsion of Kurds

STRASBOURG (AFP)–The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday condemned Turkey for expelling about 15 Kurdish villagers from their homes under a 1994 state of emergency and for preventing them from recovering their property. The decision is the first with a bearing on the inability of hundreds of Kurds to return home to their villages in southeastern Turkey until July 2003.

Ankara "had the essential duty and responsibility of guaranteeing the conditions–and providing the means–to allow the plaintiffs to return home of their free will–in security and with dignity…or to voluntarily make a new home elsewhere in the country," the court ruled.

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