Sarkisian, Erdogan Meet in Switzerland

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian held what he called “very useful” talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Switzerland late Thursday that were aimed at speeding up the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.

"I’ve seen a willingness of the prime minister to solve our issues. I think this is a positive signal," the Associated Press news agency quoted Sarkisian as telling reporters after the two met at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

A separate statement issued by the Armenian presidential press service on Friday said Erdogan “positively assessed the results of their first-ever meeting and assigned the foreign ministers of the two countries to make additional efforts to normalize bilateral relations.” They agreed that Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s historic September 2008 visit to Yerevan marked a “breakthrough” in the Turkish-Armenian contacts, the statement said.

The visit was followed by a series of meetings between the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers that seem to have brought Yerevan and Ankara close to establishing diplomatic relations and opening their border. "I won’t be surprised if a resolution happens this year," Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told CNN-Turk television on Wednesday.

According to the Associated Press, Sarkisian gave no details of the meeting that took place shortly before Erdogan stormed out of the Davos forum after publicly lambasting Israeli President Shimon Peres over the Gaza offensive.

“We can resolve [this issue] by taking certain steps,” Erdogan said ahead of the talks, according to the Anatolia news agency. “While resolving this, Turkey won’t be the party ‘giving unilaterally and losing.’ We will also be happy if there can be an agreement which will provide mutual advantages for both sides."

Speaking in Ankara on Wednesday, Erdogan claimed that Armenia’s worldwide Diaspora stands in the way of the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. “The Armenian Diaspora is working and we see very clearly that the Diaspora is up to certain things,” he told journalists. “But we also see that the current administration in Armenia does not agree with that.”

The Turkish premier clearly referred to efforts by the Armenian community in the United States to have President Barack Obama officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. Obama repeatedly pledged to do that during the U.S. presidential race.

Ankara has warned the new U.S. administration against honoring the campaign pledge, saying that would undermine the Turkish-Armenian dialogue. Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian dismissed the warning at a news conference last week.

According to some sources privy to the Turkish-Armenian dealings, Ankara is 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 events of 1915.

Still, Erdogan indicated on Thursday a Karabakh settlement remains essential for normalizing Turkish-Armenian ties. "We will never leave Azerbaijan alone concerning Nagorno-Karabakh,” he was reported to say. “That is to say that our issues are in a way connected with Azerbaijan.”

While in Davos, Erdogan also met with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev.


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