Babacan Claims Armenia Solution Closest it’s Ever Been

ANKARA (Hurriyet)–Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ali Babacan, on Monday claimed a solution for what he called lingering World War I era disputes between Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan has never been closer, the Turkish Hurriyet daily reported.

Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic relations and the border has been in under blockade for more than a decade. The two countries have seen an apparent thaw in relations since President Serzh Sarkisian met with his Turkish counterpart in Armenia to watch a soccer game between their national teams. The meeting, which kicked off a series of negotiations between the Turkish, Armenian and Azeri foreign ministers, raised prospects that Ankara was ready to normalize relations with Yerevan.

But negotiations with Armenia have instead seen a growing involvement by Turkey in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement process.

"The Serzh Sarkisian administration believes that solution of problems with both Turkey and Azerbaijan will bring stability and welfare to the country," Ali Babacan was quoted by Hurriyet as saying in an interview.

He said that both Sarkisian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev have expressed “the necessary will to find a solution.”

"If they progress, our job will also be easier," Babacan said. "We are not at the stage that we can put forward the final points, but we have made much progress," he added.

Babacan and his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov met in Baku on December 1 for talks on the Karabakh conflict. He also held separate meetings with Mammadyarov and Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian later that week on the sidelines of a high-level OSCE meeting in Helsinki.

Following each meeting, Babacan told reporters that a resolution to the Karabakh conflict would follow the establishment of normal relations between Turkey and Armenia.

Last Friday, however, he warned that negotiations between Turkey and Armenia could be derailed by an online petition initiated by 200 Turkish intellectuals apologizing what they call the “Great Catastrophe” in 1915. The campaign has thus far gained over 20,000 signatures from Turks endorsing the statement rejecting the “injustice” and empathizing with “the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers.”

"This is a sensitive issue for Turkey. There is a negotiation process going on [with Armenia]…. This kind of debate is of no use to anyone especially at a time talks continue and it may harm the negotiation process," Babacan was quoted by the Anatolian news agency as saying.

But Turkey’s unwillingness to budge on a series of deman’s requiring Armenia to drop genocide recognition, accept Turkey’s territorial integrity, and relinquish Karabakh, are the real roadblocks to reconciliation, according to Armenian Revolutionary Federation Political Director Kiro Manoyan, who spoke to reporters earlier this month about Turkey’s attempts to distort the present reality surrounding negotiations.

For years, Ankara and Baku have leveraged the dual blockade against Armenia to force Yerevan into making a series of undo concessions over Karabakh and the genocide issue. Ankara has hoped, in particular, that the economic strains caused by the embargos would make Yerevan buckle under pressure and accept an intergovernmental commission to examine the events of 1915. The Turkish-led commission would call the genocide into question, effectively discrediting and derailing any future attempts to gain recognition for Turkey’s crime.

The ARF has long urged Yerevan to be cautious in its diplomatic relations with Turkey. Earlier this month its Bureau issued a statement warning that the Turkish government was manipulating Yerevan’s olive branch to scuttle “the genocide recognition process,” and make “relations between the two states conditional on Armenia’s relations with a third country, Azerbaijan.”

The statement, issued on December 1 after a three day plenary session of the party’s governing body, stressed the strategic importance of Karabakh’s independence and genocide recognition for Armenia’s foreign policy.

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