Armenia, Turkey Schedule More Talks

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey will meet this weekend for the second time in just over a week in a further sign that the two countries are close to normalizing their relations.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan was reported to say on Friday that he will meet his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandian on the sidelines of a top-level international security conference that opened in Munich, Germany later in the day.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry confirmed this as Nalbandian flew to Munich with President Serzh Sarkisian.

The two ministers have met frequently in recent months, most recently in Davos, Switzerland, last week. The talks were followed by the first-ever meeting of President Serzh Sarkisian and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Sarkisian’s office said the two leaders “positively assessed” their encounter and assigned their foreign ministers to make “additional efforts to normalize bilateral relations.”

The office said on Friday that the Armenian president plans to meet foreign leaders on the fringes of the Munich conference. It did not say if Erdogan or Turkish President Abdullah Gul will be among those leaders.

Babacan told CNN-Turk television last week that he “won’t be surprised” if Turkey establishes diplomatic relations and opens its border with Armenia this year. According to “Hurriyet” newspaper, he will proceed to Baku from Munich to meet Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov on Monday.

Azerbaijani leaders have watched with unease the rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey that began shortly after Sarkisian took office in April last year. According to some sources privy to the Turkish-Armenian talks, Ankara is now ready to stop making the normalization of bilateral ties conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan. They say its main precondition now is Armenia’s acceptance of Erdogan’s 2005 proposal to set up a joint commission of historians that would look into the mass killings and deportations of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire.

Sarkisian has signaled his readiness, in principle, to accept the idea strongly opposed by influential political groups in and outside his government. One of them, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, urged Yerevan in December to exercise caution in its dialogue with Ankara, saying that the Turks are using it to scuttle worldwide recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Underscoring the ARF’s concerns, the Armenian Youth Federation of the Eastern United States has circulated an online petition expressing “grave concern” about the recent developmen’s in Armenia’s relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

“We, too, believe that Armenia can best prosper when it enjoys good relations with its neighboring states,” reads the petition. “However, these cannot be obtained at the expense of our national patrimony, our national security, or our basic rights as Armenia’s.” It challenges the Sarkisian administration to clarify, among other things, whether it has agreed to the Turkish-Armenian academic study.

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