YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The almost year-long negotiations between Armenia and Turkey, which have brought the two neighbors close to normalizing their strained relations, could end in failure because of renewed Turkish preconditions, President Serzh Sarkisian said on Friday.
“Is it possible that we were mistaken in our calculations and that the Turks will now adopt a different position and try to set preconditions?” he said. “Of course it is possible. One cannot exclude such a thing by 100 percent.
“But I think even in that case we would emerge from this process stronger. With this process, we have once again emphasized — and the international community has seen that — that we are really ready to establish relations [with Turkey] without preconditions.”
The remarks came amid growing indications that Ankara is again linking the normalization of its relations with Yerevan with a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan. The Turkish government appeared ready to drop that linkage when it embarked on an unprecedented dialogue with the Sarkisian administration last year.
However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said twice over the past week that his country cannot establish diplomatic relations and reopen its border with Armenia as long as the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. President Abdullah Gul likewise underscored the importance of Karabakh peace when he commented on Turkish-Armenian ties in an interview with “The Financial Times” newspaper published on Wednesday.
“The major problem in the Caucasus is the Karabakh question between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” said Gul. “We wish that this problem is resolved so that a new climate emerges in the Caucasus.”
The statements by the Turkish leaders followed an uproar in Azerbaijan over reports that Ankara and Yerevan are poised to sign this month an agreement envisaging an end to the 16-year Turkish blockade of Armenia. Azerbaijani leaders publicly warned their Turkish counterparts against lifting the embargo before a Karabakh settlement.
Like his foreign minister, Eduard Nalbandian, Sarkisian insisted that the Karabakh dispute has not been on the agenda of the Turkish-Armenian talks and that Armenia continues to stand for only an unconditional deal with its neighbor. Speaking at a news conference on the first anniversary of his inauguration, he said he still hopes that the Turkish-Armenian border will be reopened by the time he attends a football match in Turkey between the two countries in October. “But my optimism may not prove right,” the Armenian leader cautioned, adding that the Turks could “walk away from our agreements.”
The Armenian and Turkish soccer teams already played against each other in Yerevan last September. Gul paid a historic visit to Armenia to watch the game with Sarkisian. The so-called “football diplomacy” raised high hopes for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation.
“In my opinion, the ball is now in Turkey’s court,” said Sarkisian. “And speaking of football diplomacy, we have to say that the ball cannot remain in one court indefinitely. Every football game has a time limit.”
Turkish leaders said until recently that possible U.S. recognition of the 1915-1923 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire is the main obstacle to the success of the Turkish-Armenian negotiations. U.S. President Barack Obama avoided publicly using the word genocide during his visit to Turkey earlier this week, arguing that those talks “could bear fruit very soon.” Obama is under strong pressure from Armenian advocacy groups in the United States to honor his campaign pledge to officially recognize the genocide.
Sarkisian said that Armenian-American lobbying efforts are not directed from Yerevan. “It’s not we who are prodding the United States to recognize the genocide,” he said.
“Naturally, we constantly consult and discuss issues with leaders of [Armenian-American] structures, but such a phenomenon cannot exist,” added Sarkisian. “Those people are very good citizens of the United States ; and it would not be right to issue instructions to them.”