Turkey’s top leaders have used conflicting rhetoric in discussing the future of last month’s general agreement with Armenia for normalization of the troubled relations between the neighboring countries, a U.S. expert on the matter said Thursday.
President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have publicly defended their opposing views on the agreement.
"On Friday last week, President Abdullah Gül said that normalization would proceed ’without preconditions,’" said David Phillips, a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Atlantic Council of the United States. "During a television interview the next day, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey ’could open its border if Armenia lifts its occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.’"
The American analyst made his comments at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Europe Subcommittee on U.S.-Turkish ties. He had previously chaired a Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission designed to discuss the two countries’ relations. The commission dissolved three years ago as Turkish and Armenian representatives failed to agree on key matters.
Phillips said he welcomed Turkey and Armenia’s joint April 22 move to announce a framework agreement for normalizing relations, but warned, "Progress will be measured by actions, not words."
The framework agreement and a related road map, whose details have not been made public, are believed to include measures such as the establishment of full diplomatic relations and the opening of the Turkish-Armenian land border.
Turks and Armenians disagree over the nature of the killings of many Ottoman Armenians at the end of World War I. Armenians say the killings amount to genocide, but Turks reject the label and say many Muslims also died in an ethnic conflict amid a disintegrating empire.
Turkey recognized Armenia's independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. But it closed its land border with Armenia in 1993 and has refused to establish diplomatic ties because of Armenia’s invasion and occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and part of Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s. A fragile truce has been in place since then, but a peace agreement has never been signed.
Azerbaijan is concerned about the possibility of the border re-opening before a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem is established. But, said Phillips, "Turkey’s national interests cannot be held hostage by Azerbaijan."
The United States, which strongly backs the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process, says the road map should be implemented without preconditions. If the Turkish-Armenian deal fails, Phillips said, it would have serious repercussions on U.S.-Turkish relations.