Interview with FM Vartan Oskanian

on Armenia-Turkey Relations & Council of Europe

Selected Quesitons from an Interview on Public Television, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian and Public Television’s Artur Gregorian, on Armenia-Turkey relations, as well as Armenia’s relations within the Council of Europe.

Q: Following your meeting with your colleague in Madrid, there has been much discussion about Armenia’s relations with Turkey. Can those contacts be characterized as relations?
A: The meeting was my first with the Turkish Foreign Minister since the formation of a new government there, but I must say that this one meeting was more productive and practical than all my previous meetings with Turkish foreign ministers — I might even say all those meetings taken together. In speaking with Foreign Minister Gul, I could tell that there truly is a desire on Turkey’s part to move our bilateral relations forward. I am hopeful, that through small steps even, we can do so. Having said this, I must say that what I have been reading in the press, especially the Turkish press, doesn’t correspond with what really happened. It is very interesting to read about events in which one has been personally, directly involved, and to find that the reports are only 10% accurate. The Turkish press created a certain euphoric atmosphere following that Madrid meeting. They created – for whatever reasons — the impression that the opening of the border was imminent. That does not reflect our meeting, despite the fact that we did affirm that we wish to take small, but tangible, steps toward improved relations, with the intent, of course, of eventually establishing formal diplomatic relations between the two countries. Certainly, there are many problems and obstacles on this path, but if there is sufficient political will on both sides, these problems and obstacles can, I believe, be overcome. The fundamental progress that’s been made is that Turkey, today, is focusing greater attention on specific bilateral issues. If, in the past, the fundamental theme had been the resolution of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict, today, Turkey’s focus is on bilateral issues. However complicated or insolvable those may seem, nevertheless, it is logical that these issues are being raised, because they are indeed of bilateral concern, and fortunately, they do not have anything to do with any third country.

Q: What about the recent Turkish announcement that they will also initiate Turkey-Armenia-Azerbaijan trilateral meetings?
A: I don’t think that announcement contradicts the spirit of our meeting. I think that for Turkey, the inclusion of Azerbaijan in these processes, may have a positive effect. What is important to consider is Turkey’s purpose for convening such a trilateral meeting. When we had the first such three-way meeting in Rejkavyk last year, Armenia set a clear condition: that meeting could not have as its purpose the resolution of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict. Today, too, as the initiator of such a meeting, Turkey can not come forth as a mediator in the Nagorno Karabagh conflict. Regional cooperation, bilateral relations, and why not, within that framework, the Nagorno Karabagh conflict, too, can still all be on the agenda. Such a meeting is acceptable for us and can even have a positive effect on Turkey to more actively participate in regional issues and can positively affect our bilateral relations.

Q: There has been a great deal of pressure on Turkey of late from the international community to open the border with Armenia. Has this been a factor in the change in policy?
A: To a certain extent, yes. But we must not exaggerate that influence. I don’t think Turkey will ever open borders simply as a result of outside pressure. Of course, there is a conflation of interests here. For the US, the EU, their TRACECA program, there is great interest in having the borders open. There is the Kars – Gyumri – Tbilisi rail link which they would like to see operational. But I believe Turkey is also motivated by its own interests. Of course there is the Azerbaijani pressure on Turkey to keep the borders closed, but they have seen that during these 10 years, the closed borders have had no effect on the resolution of the Nagorno Karabagh issue, and Armenia’s economy was not hurt as much as they anticipated. So today, Turkey is trying a new approach, to become positively involved and positively influence the issue.

Q: Don’t you think that for Turkey the genocide recognition issue is central to the whole process of establishing relations?
A: I don’t think so, because Armenia does not consider the genocide issue as a pre-condition to relations. Whether we have formal bilateral relations or not, whether the border between our two countries is open or not, genocide recognition remains on our foreign policy agenda. No one can force us to put that issue aside. It’s on our agenda today and in the future. The Turks know this very well and they also know well that this issue is not a pre-condition on our part. For Turkey, of course, genocide recognition is a complex issue, and we don’t expect such recognition in the near future. Therefore, the question arises: without Armenia removing this issue from our agenda, will Turkey move toward establishing bilateral relations or not? During our meeting, we agreed that we should go forward by taking small steps, with the goal of establishing formal relations. But the absence of formal relations does not mean that we can’t have cross-border trade, that the railroad can’t run, that our businessmen can’t work together. There are many steps there that don’t directly depend on diplomatic relations. That is why we both agreed to go forward by taking incremental steps, achieving a level of mutual trust and confidence, and why not, eventually heading toward the resolution of the genocide recognition issue.

Q: It was obvious that the Armenian delegation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly met with some problems, especially relating to the elections. What kind of effect can all this have on Armenia?
A: Before commenting on this question, let me explain something. I was dismayed as I followed our press on this topic. I don’t want to assume that there was intent behind the inaccurate reporting or analysis, perhaps it was due solely to incompetence, but the reporting, even by authoritative media outlets, was incorrect. What actually transpired is this: A single European parliamentarian representing the commission raised the issue of possible sanctions against Armenia because of irregularities observed during the elections. What some in the Armenian press reported was that there had been an approved resolution to impose sanctions. The truth is that there was only mention of the possibility of considering sanctions by a single parliamentarian. And I understand that parliamentarian’s thinking. If we accept that there were indeed irregularities during our elections, about which the observers reported, then expecting that we would appear at a Council of Europe session and everything would go smoothly for Armenia at the first inter-parliamentary meeting is unrealistic. Especially since that would be the wrong message not just to Armenia, but also to Georgia and Azerbaijan both of which will have elections in the near future. We all expected that comments would indeed be heard about the elections. But we all know that none of this has a legal or binding effect and in September there won’t be sanctions against Armenia. There are no sanctions against Armenia. We have received proposals from the Council of Europe for legislative and regulatory changes. I believe that all the proposals are good, positive proposals which can only benefit our own processes. I don’t see anything negative here, and I hope that when our Council of Europe parliamentary delegation goes to participate in those meetings, will bring their input into those parliamentary processes.

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