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Armenia Rejects Report Turkey May Open Border For NATO Exercise

Turkey has not opened its border to Armenia since 1993.
Turkey has not opened its border to Armenia since 1993.
YEREVAN -- Armenian officials on July 15 were quick to dismiss a report that Turkey is considering temporarily opening its border with Armenia for a NATO disaster-relief exercise in September, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The AFP news agency quoted an unnamed Turkish diplomat as saying Ankara has decided to participate in an exercise to be held in Armenia's central Kotayk region by NATO's Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center.

The drills, scheduled for September 11-17, are due to bring together up to 1,000 participants from two dozen NATO member and partner states. They will simulate a multinational response to a powerful earthquake resulting in a humanitarian and environmental disaster.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan and has since made its reopening conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that is acceptable to its closest Turkic ally.

Ankara has stuck to this linkage even after signing last October's agreements with Yerevan to unconditionally normalize Turkish-Armenian relations.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry refrained from officially commenting on the possibility of a temporary border opening. But a diplomatic source in Yerevan shrugged off the Turkish statement as "a public-relations stunt aimed at burnishing Turkey's image."

"Armenia has no desire to contribute to that effort," the source, who asked not to be identified, told RFE/RL. The Armenian government might refuse to let any personnel or vehicles enter the country from Turkey during the exercise, he added.

There has been speculation in both countries in recent weeks that Ankara could also temporary open its border checkpoints to Armenians planning to attend the September 19 mass at the 10th-century Armenian Church of the Holy Cross, which is located on an island in a lake in Turkey's Van Province, not far from Armenia.