ANKARA (Reuters) -- A top European Union official urged EU aspirant Turkey to reopen its border with Armenia, piling pressure on Ankara to normalise ties with Yerevan after U.S. President Barack Obama made a similar call last week.
Turkey and Armenia last year launched high-level talks on establishing diplomatic ties after a century of hostility.
The stand-off between Turkey and Armenia has destabilized the energy-rich Caucasus region, isolated impoverished Armenia, and obstructed Turkey's efforts to join the EU.
Peter Semneby, the EU's special envoy for the South Caucasus, said normalising Turkish-Armenian ties would benefit the region and would help Turkey's hopes of joining the bloc.
"Fundamentally this would be a development that I think could lead to further positive developments that would in return benefit us, benefit the region, and would therefore benefit Turkey and the European Union," Semneby told a panel interview including Reuters late on April 14.
Opening the border “would certainly not hurt Turkey's EU perspectives," he said.
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to lend support to its traditional Muslim ally Azerbaijan. Armenia and Turkey trace their own dispute to 90-year-old claims that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenia in World War I.
Semneby said the EU is not putting pressure on Turkey to recognise the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 as genocide, a claim which Ankara strongly denies.
"I can only talk on the behalf of the European Union, and there is absolutely no such pressure, absolutely not,” Semneby said. “This is not an issue of ours. We are not involved in that issue."
Obama, in a visit to NATO ally Turkey earlier this month, also pressed Ankara and Yerevan to complete talks soon.
But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said the deadlock over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, over which Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war in the late 1980s and early 1990s, must be resolved before Turkey and Armenia strike a deal.
Azerbaijan, which sells gas and oil to Turkey, opposes its ally opening the border because such a deal could take away the incentive for Armenia to negotiate over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia has controlled Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies wholly within Azerbaijan, since a war that broke out in the last days of the Soviet Union. A ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, brokered by Russia, has held since 1994.
Barred From The Border
The closed border with Turkey makes life difficult for residents of the Armenian village of Margara. But as speculation grows about the border reopening, the villagers have high hopes for new opportunities. Play