NEW YORK (RFE/RL)—Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed hope that President Serzh Sarkisian will pay a landmark visit to Turkey next month and said Ankara’s fence-mending agreements with Yerevan could be submitted to the Turkish parliament for ratification before that.
Sarkisian has been invited by his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, to watch with him the return match of the two countries’ national football teams in the Turkish city of Bursa on October 14. The two presidents’ presence at their first World Cup qualifying played in Yerevan in September last year gave new impetus to the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement.
“If the Turkish president can easily go to Armenia to watch a game, then it should be just as easy and simple for the Armenian president [to visit Turkey,]” Turkish media on Thursday quoted Erdogan as saying in a speech at Princeton University in the United States. “I think asking for certain conditions to be met to decide to come is not the right way forward in international politics anymore.”
Sarkisian has repeatedly stated that he will accept Gul’s invitation only if Turkey takes “real steps” to establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia. The August 31 publication of two relevant draft protocols finalized by Ankara and Yerevan is thought to have made his visit much more likely.
The trip would come just days after the anticipated signing of the Turkish-Armenian protocols, most probably in a third country. Various Turkish sources said last week that the signing ceremony has been tentatively scheduled for October 11-13.
But Erdogan implied in his speech that the two sides could put pen to paper on the Western-backed deal even before that. “If we don’t see prejudice or some domestic political considerations at play, I believe the preparation for the agreement, which has been initialed between Turkey and Armenia, could be taken to Parliament to be ratified,” he said, according to “Today’s Zaman” newspaper. “We hope to take those steps by the 10th or 11th of next month.”
Erdogan did not specify whether his government will seek to push the documents through Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, in which his ruling Justice and Development Party has a majority, if Armenia and Azerbaijan fail to achieve a breakthrough in their peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh. Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev are expected to hold a potentially decisive meeting on October 6.
The Turkish premier reportedly said late last week that the Turkish-Armenian frontier will not be reopened until “Azerbaijan’s occupied territories are returned.” Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian swiftly criticized the remark, saying that it contradicts “the letter, spirit and aims” of the Turkish-Armenian agreements.