President Abdullah Gül will send neighboring Armenia a conciliatory message wrapped in a warning over regional isolation when he visits the Turkish-Armenian border next week.
Gül will visit Ani, an uninhabited medieval Armenian city in the province of Kars on the Armenia border, on July 23, during a visit to the region to attend a ceremony to inaugurate the construction of the Turkish part of a regional railway passing through Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan; the line excludes Armenia. The presidents of Azerbaijan and Georgia will also attend the inauguration ceremony, scheduled for July 24.
Despite Turkish efforts to deepen cooperation with other regional countries at the expense of landlocked Armenia, Gül's visit to Ani is a sign of readiness to improve ties with Yerevan. Armenia wants Turkey to restore medieval churches in Ani and Turkish authorities began renovation works in the city early this year.
The president's visit to Kars comes as the two estranged neighbors exchange warm messages, raising hopes for dialogue. Foreign Minister Ali Babacan yesterday appeared to confirm a report in the Turkish media that Turkish and Armenian officials had secret talks in Switzerland earlier this month. The report in the Hürriyet daily said the officials met for a few days starting on July 8 and that a senior Foreign Ministry official headed the Turkish delegation.
"Such talks are held from time to time," Babacan told reporters. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry also said there had been occasional contacts between Turkey and Armenia -- noting that Turkey had recognized the neighboring state since it declared independence from the now-defunct Soviet Union in 1991 -- but warned that no specific conclusion should be drawn from them. "Meetings between members of the foreign ministries of the two countries are part of these contacts. We believe no different meaning should be attributed to these meetings."
In 2005, Turkish and Armenian officials were reported to have had similar meetings. Turkey recognizes Armenia but severed its diplomatic contact with the landlocked country after it occupied Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan.
Ankara says normalization of ties hinges on Armenian withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh as well as Armenian recognition of the current border and a change of Yerevan's policy on claims of an Armenian genocide at the hands of the late Ottoman Empire. Ankara denies claims that Armenians were subject to genocide and says both Armenians and Turks died in a civil conflict that erupted after Anatolian Armenians revolted against the Ottoman Empire for independence during the World War I years.
"We have problems about current issues and disagreements about the 1915 events. It is essential that these problems are handled through dialogue," Babacan said.
Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan proposed "a fresh start" in relations with Turkey in an article published in The Wall Street Journal earlier this month. "The time has come for a fresh effort to break this deadlock, a situation that helps no one and hurts many. As president of Armenia, I take this opportunity to propose a fresh start -- a new phase of dialogue with the government and people of Turkey, with the goal of normalizing relations and opening our common border," he said.
Sarksyan also invited Gül to a World Cup qualifying match between Armenian and Turkish teams in September. Officials say the invitation is still under consideration and that the president will decide according to developments.
In the absence of a solution to problems with Armenia, Turkey has taken steps to deepen regional cooperation on energy, transportation and trade with Azerbaijan and Georgia. The planned Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will link the three countries and revive the historical Silk Road by connecting Central Asia and the Far East to Europe via Turkey.
Construction of the Georgian section of the railway, expected to begin operation in 2011, began in November. Gül joined Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at the inauguration ceremony then. Some 1.5 million people and 6.5 million tons of cargo are expected to be transported through the railway in the first year following its launch. The project is estimated to cost $450 million.
Today's ZamanLast Mod: 19 Temmuz 2008, 12:21