YEREVAN–Armenia’s longtime former Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanian, has said Turkey and Armenia will not be able to make progress in their efforts to normalize relations if Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to bring the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to the table, the Turkish Today’s Zaman newspaper reported on Thursday.
Oskanian’s remarks came during a discussion with a group of Turkish journalists who are in Yerevan this week participating in the International Hrant Dink Foundation’s Turkey-Armenia Journalist Dialogue Project.
Speaking to the journalists, Oskanian warned that Ankara could make relations with Armenia even worse if Turkish officials continue to politicize the negotiations.
“The moment we leave Karabakh out, we can improve Turkish-Armenian relations. If we bring Karabakh in, I really don’t see this happening. Karabakh is a separate issue,” Oskanian was quoted by Zaman as saying. “My conviction is that if Turkey normalizes its relations with Armenia first, then the Karabakh solution will be much easier.”
Oskanian said the Turkish Prime Minister began bringing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to the forefront of Turkey’s negotiations with Armenia three months ago.
“Until that time, I was really hoping that there was a change of policy on the part of Turkey and we would get results,” he said.
Visiting Baku last week, Erdogan reaffirmed his government’s intention to link the two issues. “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.
Turkey, a non-actor in the Karabakh conflict, has been seeking to boost its role in the peace process by conditioning its own negotiations with Armenia to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict being mediated by the US, France and Russia through the OSCE Minsk Group.
The French co-chair of the group, Bernard Fassier, on Monday warned Ankara to drop efforts to link the two unrelated issues. He said that linking the Karabakh peace process with the normalization of Armenia-Turkish relations can jeopardize the new momentum in the Karabakh talks.
Armenia’s Government has also criticized Erdogan for the statements, saying they could hamper both processes.
Oskanian reiterated those warnings, stressing also that Erdogan’s threats to Armenians deport Armenians working in Turkey were also not helpful to fence-mending efforts between the two countries.
“I am beginning to be concerned that not only will Turkish-Armenian relations not improve, but they may even get worse,” said Oskanian, who founded the Yerevan-based Civilitas Foundation late last year to advocate peace and stability in the Caucasus.