Turkey Benefited More from ‘Soccer Diplomacy,’ Says Oskanian

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Turkey benefited more from last month’s visit of its president to Armenia, said Armenia’s former foreign minister Vartan Oskanian Wednesday following the opening of his new think tank, the Civilitas Foundation.

“Turkey gained more than Armenia from Gul’s visit to Yerevan. Actually, it positioned itself as a regional power, capable of resolving conflicts in the South Caucasus. However, Turkey, in no way, can be a mediator in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict since it is a party to that conflict,” said Oskanian adding his belief that Armenia would never accept Turkey as an intermediary. Oskanian also characterized Gul’s visit as symbolic.

“For me, that decision’s being right or wrong will be obvious later on,” said Oskanian. “There is one criterion for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. That is the opening of the [Turkish-Armenian] border or at least [cross-border] rail communication. There is no other criterion. Unless one of these two things happens in the coming months, I will say that Turkey has heavily exploited the political opportunity given to it.”

As to the possibility of opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, Oskanian said, "It will be a victory of Turkish diplomacy but opening of the border presupposes a number of conditions that Armenia will never accept, specifically the Armenian Genocide issue and Nagorno Karabakh. Discussions about the formation of a commission of historians is beneath criticism. The Armenian people will never renounce their principles."

Oskanian, who served as foreign minister throughout former President Robert Kocharian’s decade-long presidency, also commented on the Karabakh conflict resolution process.

Oskanian said that Armenia’should announce that it will not recognize the Nagorno Karabakh Republic as long as the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs acknowledge the right to self-determination of the people of Karabakh, a principle outlined in the Minsk Group’s Madrid proposal, the foundation document of the current negotiations process. He explained that the provision was secured in the document that is up for negotiation, and thus Armenia does not need to rush to recognition.

"And last but not least, no one should forget that the people of Nagorno Karabakh asserted their right to self-determination in a war launched by Azerbaijan. To prevent ethnic cleansing the people of Karabakh had to defend their territorial integrity," Oskanian emphasized.

On domestic issues, Oskanian expressed hope that President Serzh Sarkisian will grant an amnesty to dozens of arrested opposition members and sounded a note of caution about the Turkish-Armenian “football diplomacy.”

According to newspaper reports in Yerevan, Sarkisian could announce the amnesty in a speech at the Armenian parliament scheduled for Friday. Government officials declined to comment on this.

Oskanian said he was “very happy” to see those reports. “I don’t know if that’s true,” he told journalists. “The president will deliver a speech at the National Assembly tomorrow. There are expectations that he will declare an amnesty.”

Oskanian warned that Armenia increasingly risks being labeled by the international community as a country with political prisoners. “In that sense, we are already on the brink,” he said. “This issue needs a solution acceptable to the [government and opposition] parties and the Council of Europe.”

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