WASHINGTON, ANKARA (RFE/RL)–U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed his strong support for the normalization of Armenia’s relations with Turkey in a weekend phone call with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.
The White House said Obama and Gul discussed on Saturday a range of issues of mutual interest, including the Turkish-Armenian agreements signed in Zurich on October 10.
“The two Presidents discussed the historic progress that is being made on normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia, and the importance of maintaining the momentum in this important effort,” it said in a statement. No further details were reported.
The U.S. support for the process was underscored by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presence at the signing ceremony in the Swiss city that was nearly disrupted by a last-minute dispute between the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers. Obama was quick to praise Clinton for helping to work out a compromise arrangement that salvaged the deal.
Obama made a point of phoning President Serzh Sarkisian earlier this month during the latter’s tense visit to the United States aimed at explaining his conciliatory line on Turkey to the influential Armenian-American community. He praised Sarkisian’s “courageous leadership” and encouraged the Armenian leader to stay the course.
Both Clinton and other top U.S. officials said that the two states should establish diplomatic relations and open the Turkish-Armenian border “without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe.” However, there were further indications on Monday that Ankara will not rush to ratify the agreements if the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved in the coming months.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that his government will continue to unequivocally support Azerbaijan in the bitter dispute with Armenia. “Azeri soil is as sacred for us as our own and liberating this soil from occupation is one of our primary national issues,” Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara.
“Even if the skies fall down, Turkey’s position will not change… Our policy on ending the occupation… will continue until the problem is resolved,” he said, according to AFP.
Gul also sought to reassure Baku, which believes that an open border with Turkey would only strengthen the Armenians economically and thereby discourage them from seeking a solution to the Karabakh conflict. “The fact that a country is occupying the territory of another country is unacceptable,” he told the French magazine “L’Express” in an interview published on Monday.
The statements came amid Azerbaijan’s growing frustration with the Turkish government’s policy of rapprochement with its arch-foe. President Ilham Aliyev on Friday threatened to stop selling natural gas to Turkey at low prices and said Baku will consider routes other than Turkey to ship the gas to Europe. Also, media reports said Turkish flags were removed from a Baku cemetery, where Turkish soldiers who fought for Azerbaijan in the early 20th century are buried.
In his interview with “L’Express” cited by “Hurriyet Daily News,” Gul also indicated that Ankara would accept any verdict by a Turkish-Armenian “subcommission” of historians which the two governments plan to form as part of their accord. The panel is expected to look into the Armenian Genocide.
“Let a committee of historians, even experts of the subject from third countries, work on this issue. We will recognize its conclusions,” said the Turkish president.
The Armenian government insists that the subcommission would not be tasked with determining whether the massacres constituted a genocide, as that is already a fact. But its critics in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora counter that the Turkish government would exploit the very existence of such a body to deter more countries, notably the U.S, from recognizing the crime against humanity perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey and denied by the current Turkish republic.
Gul chided the Armenian Diaspora for maintaining that Turkey must recognize the genocide before it can make peace with the Armenians. “The Armenians living in France are far from Armenia,” he said. “If they want to lend their support to the Armenians of Armenia, they must support the process.”