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Armenia: Turkey's Government Links Karabakh Settlement To Normalization

By Hrach Melkumian

Yerevan, 1 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A high-ranking Turkish official yesterday said Ankara still links improvement of relations with Armenia to a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute - based on the inviolability of internationally recognized frontiers.

Turkey's State Minister Refahiddin Sahin said Turkey will open its border, and establish diplomatic relations with Armenia, only if Yerevan recognizes Azerbaijani sovereignty over the ethnic-Armenian-dominated Nagorno-Karabakh region. Sahin said economic ties between Armenia and Turkey can develop only after the decade-long territorial dispute is resolved.

Turkey, which has strong ethnic and religious ties with Azerbaijan, has supported Baku in the still unresolved dispute. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993, after Karabakh ethnic Armenian forces launched a successful offensive, occupying large swathes of Azerbaijani-controlled territory.

A Karabakh conflict cease-fire agreement in May 1994 has largely held, but there has been little progress in negotiations on a final settlement sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Turkey's State Minister Sahin was speaking to reporters in Yerevan, after the close of a ministerial meeting of the Black Sea Cooperation Council, a loose grouping of eleven states around the Black Sea.

Sahin said there are good prospects for Armenia-Turkey relations, which, he said, will not be clouded by the ascent to power of a new government in Yerevan, which takes a harder line on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Sahin declined to comment directly on Armenia's new government's stated intention to pursue international recognition of the 1915 genocide of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. "We should look at the future rather than the past," he said.

Meanwhile, Armenia's Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who presided over today's Black Sea meeting, told reporters that a meeting between Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan in Moscow this week produced "pretty good" results, with both sides now having a better idea of each other's position on Nagorno-Karabakh.