ANKARA, April 23, 2009 – Turkey and Armenia, troubled neighbours with no diplomatic ties, have agreed a “roadmap” on normalising relations in ongoing reconciliation talks, the Turkish foreign ministry said Wednesday.
The announcement came just ahead of April 24, the day on which Armenians remember the mass killings of their kin by Ottoman Turks — and two weeks after US President Barack Obama urged both countries to move ahead with fence-meding efforts during a visit to Turkey.
The talks, mediated by Switzerland and held away from public eye, have produced “concrete progress and mutual understanding,” said the statement.
“The two countries have agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalisation of bilateral ties in a way that will satisfy both sides. A roadmap has been determined in this context,” it said.
The progress achieved so far “provides a positive perspective for the ongoing process,” it added, without elaborating on details of the agreement.
Rare talks between the two neighbours, whose ties have been marred by a bloody history, gathered steam in September when President Abdullah Gul paid a landmark visit to Yerevan to watch a football match. It was the first such visit by a Turkish leader.
A major issue on the agenda of the ongoing talks is a bitter dispute over whether the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I constituted a genocide.
Turkey has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Armenia because of Yerevan’s international campaign to have the killings recognized as genocide.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were systematically killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire, Turkey’s predecessor, was falling apart.
Turkey categorically rejects the genocide label and says between 300,000 and 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians took up arms in eastern Anatolia and sided with invading Russian troops.
In 1993, Turkey shut its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with close ally Azerbaijan over the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, dealing a heavy economic blow to the impoverished Caucasian nation.
Earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ruled out a deal with Armenia unless Yerevan resolved its conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh.
His comments came in response to Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian who expressed hope the border with Turkey would reopen before October.
During a visit to Ankara on April 6, US President Obama encouraged the dialogue between Turkey and Armenia and said the talks “could bear fruit very quickly.”
Wary of angering NATO ally Turkey, Obama signalled that Washington would not interfere in the genocide dispute, even though he promised Armenian-American supporters during his election campaign to recognise the killings as genocide.
Many countries have endorsed the genocide label, thus embroiling themselves in frequent disputes with Turkey.
In the latest incident, Ankara said Wednesday it had recalled its ambassador to Canada after Ottawa reaffirmed its position that Armenians were victims of a genocide under the Ottoman Empire.
“A country hundreds of kilometres away is doing that, threatening to undermine the (dialogue) process that we have launched with Armenia,” a Turkish government official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
Ankara argues that third countries will only harm the reconciliation efforts by taking sides in the genocide dispute.
By Sibel Utku Bila