ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Armenia's foreign minister has urged Turkey to restore full diplomatic relations and to reopen their shared border, in the latest sign of a diplomatic rapprochement between the two neighbors.
"Armenia is ready to establish bilateral relations without any preconditions and we are expecting the same from the Turkish side," Edward Nalbandian told a news conference in Istanbul. "It is in the interest of Turkey to open the border and this is in the interest of Armenia," he said.
Turkey closed its border with former Soviet Armenia in 1993 in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, a Turkic-speaking ally that was fighting Armenian-backed separatists over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian population broke away from Azerbaijan in a war as the Soviet Union fell apart. A solution to that dispute is seen as crucial to any move to establish diplomatic ties between Turkey and Armenia.
Relations between the two have been strained by accusations that Ottoman Turks committed genocide by killing ethnic Armenians in World War I.
Nalbandian's visit was part of a diplomatic push between Yerevan and Ankara to end a century of hostilities. Azerbaijani officials have also taken part in recent three-way talks.
A breakthrough would boost Turkey as a regional power, as the EU candidate country has strengthened ties in recent years with countries in the Caucasus.
Armenia may also become a transit route for Western-backed pipelines shipping oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to Turkey's Mediterranean coast, making Turkey a key energy hub.
Armenia is an attractive alternative for pipelines transporting Caspian energy for the West after Russia's war with Georgia made that route vulnerable.
Nalbandian said he was optimistic about reestablishing diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. "I don't think there are big obstacles to the normalization of relations very soon," he said.
President Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia in September for a soccer match between Turkey and Armenia.
Nalbandian said Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian had accepted an invitation from Gul to visit Turkey in the near future.
Hopes For An Open Border
RFE/RL's Armenian Service asked residents of the border village of Akhurik what an open border and restored transportation links with Turkey would mean for them. Video