Monday, January 24, 2022

Turkey, Armenian envoys meet to end cold ties

By Ulyana Pavlova and Suzanne Fraser

MOSCOW (AP) – Special envoys from Turkey and Armenia met in Moscow on Friday for a first round of meetings aimed at ending decades of bitterness and establishing diplomatic ties between their countries. Both countries said the meeting was held in a “positive and constructive atmosphere”.

Although Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Armenia’s independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the two neighbors have a bitter relationship and no diplomatic relations between them.

The two countries hope the talks will boost peace efforts for the Caucasus region and reopen their border to encourage trade and boost economic ties. Charter flights between Yerevan and Istanbul are expected to resume next month.

The Turkish and Armenian foreign ministries said in separate statements that their special representatives “exchanged their initial views regarding the normalization process.”

He said the two sides would continue their talks “unconditionally”, adding that the date and venue of their second meeting would be decided later.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said the meeting between the envoys lasted about 90 minutes. Serdar Kilic, Turkey’s former ambassador to the United States, is representing Ankara in the talks, while Armenia has appointed its deputy parliamentary speaker Ruben Rubinian.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was helping Yerevan and Ankara to establish direct dialogue and expressed hope that the effort would be successful.

“Armenia and Turkey have appointed their special representatives. Russia helped to reach such an agreement, we are very glad that their first meeting is being held today in Moscow, ”said Lavrov during a press conference. “Our role is to help establish a direct dialogue.”

This is the second attempt at reconciliation by regional enemies.

Turkey and Armenia reached an agreement in 2009 to establish formal relations and open their joint border, but the agreement was never ratified due to strong opposition from Azerbaijan.

However, this time the reconciliation efforts have the blessings of Azerbaijan. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said Ankara will “coordinate” the normalization process with Azerbaijan.

Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to show solidarity with Baku, which was locked in a conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

In 2020, Turkey strongly supported Azerbaijan in a six-week conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, which ended with a Russia-brokered peace deal, in which Azerbaijan regained control of a significant part of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey and Armenia have more than a century of hostility over the massacres, deportations and forced marches that began in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, killing an estimated 1.5 million Armenians.

Historians widely refer to the event as a genocide. Turkey vehemently rejected the label, recognizing that many died in that era, but insisting that the death toll had risen and that the deaths resulted from civil unrest.

Last year, US President Joe Biden formally recognized the killings as genocide, joining several other countries that have already done so.

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Suzanne Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

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