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Armenia: Foreign Minister Appeals For EU Pressure On Turkey

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian (file photo) (epa) October 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian today called on the European Union to press Turkey to open its border with Armenia, saying Yerevan has no preconditions for normalizing relations with Ankara.

Addressing the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels, Oskanian admitted that there are "outstanding issues" in the countries' relations, but said that none should stand in the way of dialogue.

Armenia and Turkey continue to disagree over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed ethnic-Armenian region in Azerbaijan, and are clearly at odds over the interpretation of the mass killings of Armenians that took place in Ottoman Turkey between 1915-18.

Oskanian's comments mirror those he made last week in New York, where he attended the 62nd session of UN General Assembly and met with his Turkish counterpart, Ali Babacan.

They also come as a U.S. Congressional committee prepares to consider on October 10 a draft resolution that would define the World War I-era killings as genocide.

Oskanian appealed to the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee to put more pressure on Turkey to open a dialogue with Armenia. He said land-locked Armenia is particularly keen to see Turkey lift the border blockade it imposed against Armenia in the early 1990s.

"The border opening is not only important for Armenia, but it's also important for the European Union, because Turkey is the natural bridge between the Caucasus and Europe, and the European Union," Oskanian said. "Without Turkey's equitable and even-handed policy vis-a-vis our region, our relationship is not as effective as it could have been under conditions of normal ties between Turkey and Armenia."

An Urgent Issue

Oskanian's call was met with some sympathy among the European deputies in attendance. The chairwoman of the European Parliament's delegation for the South Caucasus, Marie Anne Isler-Beguin, said the bloc was not putting enough pressure on Turkey during EU-accession talks.

Isler-Beguin said opening the border would greatly benefit both sides. An impact study on the effects of the border closure on both Armenia and Turkey found that it is "really urgent to open the border for the good of the populations on both sides," she said. The European Parliament is scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue in early November, during which the study will be made public.

Oskanian criticized the EU for its "neutrality" on the issue, an attitude he said was understandable, but misplaced.

He claimed that while Armenia has no preconditions to pursue closer links between the two countries, Turkey does. He dismissed Ankara's concern that Armenia harbors territorial claims against it, saying the border between the two countries is "clearly marked" and conforms to the boundary set out in a 1922 treaty between Turkey and the Soviet Union.

Oskanian also said Armenia's conflict with Azerbaijan over the ethnic-Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh does not involve Turkey and should not be raised by Ankara in a bilateral context.

He also rejected a call by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to set up a commission to study the events of 1915-18. He said talks on the issue remain impossible as long as Turkey's penal code continues to criminalize any depiction of the mass killings as "genocide." Oskanian also said dialogue was impossible as long as the border between the two countries is closed.

Balancing Between East And West

Armenia's difficulties with Turkey undermine much of the country's policy of "complementarity," its balancing act in relation to its neighbors and global players with an interest in the region.

Oskanian explained the policy as a refusal to "choose between East and West" in other countries' disputes and conflicts, and to remain "considerate" to everyone's interests.

"For countries like Armenia there is no reason to choose between one [side] and another. We will benefit from all the opportunities that are available from all sides in security terms, energy terms, economic, and otherwise, so that we augment the end product as much as we can," Oskanian said.

Oskanian defended Armenia's heavy reliance on Russia in security and energy issues, saying both were necessitated by blockades imposed by neighbors.

He also described as "absolutely inappropriate" Azerbaijan's attempts to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh at the United Nations. He said Armenia believes the OSCE Minsk Group remains the only appropriate venue for talks on the frozen conflict.

Oskanian said the OSCE talks have revealed "serious prospects of resolution," noting that only four issues remain from a three-page document addressing the "basic principles" of resolving the conflict. Oskanian said that so far the two countries' leaders have been unable to come to a consensus on the four issues, but expressed hope that the differences could be overcome before Armenia's presidential elections in February 2008.

South Caucasus

South Caucasus

REGIONAL APPROACH, INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION: International actors often take a regional approach when dealing with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. But the three states get plenty of individual attention as well.

European Union

-- has assigned Special Envoy for South Caucasus Peter Semneby to serve as a liaison between the EU and the region. Semneby describes his role as assisting Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia "on their way to moving closer to the EU and its core values."

-- in launching the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in 1999, a joint declaration on relations between the EU and the Caucasus countries was adopted.

-- has included Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in its European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) on an individual basis.

-- the European Commission has a joint Delegation to Georgia and Armenia.

-- the European Commission is currently working on concluding consultations with each of the three states on individual "action plans" intended to foster closer relations with the EU.

Council of Europe

-- in 2006 launched its "Stability Pact for the South Caucasus" initiative.


-- has assigned a lone special representative, Ambassador Robert Simmons, to represent the alliance in its dealings with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

-- The NATO Parliamentary Assembly recently suggested that, "given the very different relationships that NATO has with each country and the varying level of involvement, it might be sensible to expand his office to include separate representatives for each country."

-- Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have each agreed to Individual Partnership Action Plans with NATO.

-- Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are all signatories to NATO's Partnership for Peace, a program designed to facilitate cooperation on security issues following the fall of the Soviet Union.


-- under NATO's Science for Peace and Security program, NATO and the OSCE together conduct the South Caucasus River Monitoring project. The effort aims to help Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia develop their infrastructure and trans-boundary water quality.

Eurasia Foundation

-- in 1998 launched its South Caucasus Cooperation Program, an initiative to promote cross-border partnerships among Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

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