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Turkey Sees Opportunity To Resolve Karabakh Dispute

Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev (right) meets with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, in Baku.

BAKU (Reuters) -- Turkish President Abdullah Gul has said he sees "a new opportunity" to resolve the fate of Azerbaijan's Armenian-backed breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Gul spoke late on September 10 after meeting Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, four days after becoming the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia and raising hopes of a thaw in relations in the energy-vital region.

"We think there is a new opportunity for the resolution of the Karabakh issue," Gul said in comments broadcast by Azerbaijani state television.

An ethnic-Armenian-populated region, Karabakh fought a war in the early 1990s to break away from Azerbaijan. Its separatist authorities claim full independence, but the region is not recognized internationally.

Gul said last month's war in Georgia, with Russia sending in tanks and troops to repel an assault by Tbilisi to retake breakaway South Ossetia, had served warning against letting "frozen conflicts" fester.

"After the events in Georgia, we as statesmen, as leaders, must analyze the situation in the right way, and express firm political will," Gul said. "It is necessary to better assess the new opportunity, not to allow frozen conflicts to continue but to solve them."

'Increasing Hope'

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in protest at Yerevan's backing for the Karabakh separatists, deepening a century-old rift over the question of whether ethnic Armenians killed by Ottoman Turks during World War I were victims of systematic genocide.

A solution to the Karabakh dispute is seen as crucial to any move to establish diplomatic ties between Turkey and Armenia.

A breakthrough could have huge significance for Turkey's role as a regional power, for energy flows from the Caspian Sea, and for Western influence in the South Caucasus region.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said on September 10 that he was planning a meeting with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts this month at the United Nations.

Azerbaijan's leader said he was "looking to the future with increasing hope."

"I'd like to believe that thanks to the efforts of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, as well as other countries, we will secure peace in the region," Aliyev said.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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