Armenia's borders should be opened simultaneously with the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azeri territories, Chief of Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ said in a press conference yesterday, revealing the military’s views for the first time.
He also said the United States did not make any specific requests from Ankara on Afghanistan or Iraq, but added that Turkey might increase its troop levels in Afghanistan provided that it maintains the same mission.
Responding to questions from the press on the possibility of opening the borders with Armenia, Başbuğ recalled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statements that opening of the borders will be done simultaneously with the withdrawal of Armenian force from occupied Azerbaijani territory. "We share this view," said Başbuğ.
Başbuğ said the meeting he had with National Security Adviser James Jones, during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Turkey in early April was followed with talks with the U.S. chief of staff last Saturday. He criticized speculations that U.S officials are coming to Turkey for specific requests and said: "Maybe we are not aware of Turkey’s grandeur. Turkey is being approached because there is a willingness to know what Turkey thinks and how Turkey evaluates developments."
With special emphasis on the fact that there had been an exchange of views between both officials, Başbuğ said, "The U.S. did not put forward any specific requests as far as withdrawal of its forces from Iraq."
Başbuğ pointed out that the responsibility fell upon the Iraqi central government, as well as the northern Iraqi administration to fight the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. "The local administration’s active involvement in the elimination of the PKK is imperative. We must have concrete results this year," he said. Başbuğ said Turkey grasped a historic opportunity this year to finish off the PKK.
On Afghanistan, Başbuğ said Turkey might increase its troop presence in Afghanistan when it will again assume the command of NATO forces in Kabul. Explaining that Turkey currently has 800 infantry soldiers based in Kabul as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, Başbuğ said that it will be Turkey’s turn to assume the command of NATO forces in Kabul, which includes French and Italian troops. But as Italy and France are planning to move their forces to the south and east, there will be a vacuum. Although there will be a request to other alliance members to fill the vacuum, Başbuğ said Turkey might as well picture an increase in its troop level. Başbuğ said the Turkish contingent could be boosted after discussions with the bloc, but did not elaborate on numbers.
He said Turkish soldiers did not and would not take part in security operations against Islamic insurgents or drug traffickers. "Our mission will be strictly the same: to ensure security in Kabul and its environs," the general said.
Turkey, Syria drill
Başbuğ also dismissed Israel's reaction to a joint drill involving Turkish and Syrian soldiers. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called this week's exercise a worrisome development. Başbuğ said he was "not concerned by Israel's reaction," and Turkey wasn't seeking any other country's consent.
The drill, the first-ever between Turkey and Syria, ends Wednesday and marks improvement in once strained ties between both countries. Turkey has long been Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world, but their ties deteriorated during the Gaza war over casualties among Palestinian civilians. Their military links have remained intact.
The historical Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh goes back to the conflict from February 1988 to May 1994, in the small ethnic enclave in southwestern Azerbaijan, between local ethnic Armenians backed by Yerevan against the state of Azerbaijan. Both countries were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Ethnic violence broke out within the statelet after the autonomous parliament voted for Nagorno-Karabakh to be reunited with Armenia in 1988. Full-scale fighting erupted in the late winter of 1992. In the spring of 1993, Armenian forces captured regions outside the enclave itself, and by the end of the war in 1994, the Armenians were in full control of most of the enclave and also held and currently control approximately 9 percent of Azerbaijan's territory outside the area.