Minsk Group Mediator Warns Turkey on Pressing Karabakh Linkage

ANKARA (Combined Sources)—The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict cannot be linked to the normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations, a top diplomat heading international efforts to mediate a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict said Monday, warning Ankara that any attempt to link the two can spoil both processes, reported the Turkish Hurriyet Daily Newspaper.

Ambassador Bernard Fassier, the French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, was in the Turkish capital Ankara meeting with Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ertugrul Apaka.

“There have recently been many visits from Turkey to Azerbaijan.” Fassier said at a press conference in Baku Saturday before flying to Ankara. “We will discuss them.”

Fassier visited Ankara on the last leg of a regional tour that included Yerevan and Baku. The tour comes as Turkey, a non-actor in the Karabakh conflict, has sought to boost its role in the peace process by conditioning the normalization of its relations with Armenia on a resolution to the Karabakh conflict favoring its ally Azerbaijan.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan explicitly reaffirmed that linkage during his visit to Azerbaijan last week. He traveled to Russia on May 16 where he sought a greater role for his country in the Karabakh negotiation process in talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“Occupation of Karabakh is the cause here and closing of the border is the effect. It is impossible for us to open the border unless that occupation ends,” he told a joint press conference in Baku with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.

Such a condition should not be expected, Fassier said Monday, speaking to reporters in Ankara. “There has to be a full settlement allowing the changing of all parameters comprehensively,” he said.

Despite Erdogan’s insistence, a linkage between the two issues does not exist and that the Turkish Prime Minister’s ongoing attempt to draw a connection between the two can damage regional relations, Fassier said.

“The normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations should not be confused with the Karabakh conflict,” the French diplomat said in Baku. “These are different and parallel processes.”

The French Embassy in Ankara reiterated the difference between the two processes the next day. “Normalisation of Turkish-Armenian relations and the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute are two separate processes which should continue in parallel but along their own paths,” the Embassy said in a statement.

Fassier had stressed that said the Minsk Group, co-chaired by France, Russia, and the US, also considers negotiations between Turkey and Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks to be separate processes.

The Minsk Group met with the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Prague on May 7 and described those talks as constructive and positive talks.

Fassier said that Armenia and Azerbaijan are closer than ever to a compromise solution and linking the Karabakh peace process with Turkey’s negotiations with Armenia can jeopardize the new momentum in the talks.

Armenia has also criticized Erdogan for making the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations conditional on a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, saying that such statements could hamper both the Armenian-Azerbaijani, as well as the Armenian-Turkish negotiations.

President Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian reacted to Erdogan’s statements as they separately met in Yerevan on May 14 with Brian Fall, Britain’s special representative for the South Caucasus.

In a written statement Sarkisian said that “any Turkish attempt to interfere in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem can only harm that process.” While Nalbanidan, in a separate statement said Erdogan’s stance “precludes further progress in the ongoing Turkish-Armenian fence-mending negotiations.”

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