“Turkey will not accept the next talks of Ankara and Yerevan which will be held in a third country”

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Turkey will not accept that the next round of talks between Ankara and Yerevan to restore relations be held in a third country, a senior Turkish official has said, indicating that the meeting between the special envoys should take place either in Turkey or in Armenia.

Türkiye has no reservations about holding the talks in Armenia, the official said, indicating that similarly they can be held in Kars province near the Armenian border. A specific date was not provided for the next meeting.

The official said that instead of labeling the ongoing process between the two countries as “normalization”, it would be healthier to view it as a process of building trust. Talks are continuing in a “constructive manner”, he added, saying countries must focus on achievable goals. The official pointed out that the two special envoys are in close contact and have held more than 500 phone calls in addition to the four meetings that have taken place.

Ankara has tightened its ties with several countries in the region and underlined the need for enhanced cooperation. Steps have also been taken with Armenia in this context, particularly following the last Karabakh war between Baku and Yerevan.

Since then, Russia and Azerbaijan have expressed their support for closer ties between Turkey and Armenia, which is considered in the area of ​​regional normalization.

Turkey had offered Armenia to host the first round of normalization talks between the two countries in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

The official stressed that the current rapprochement should be done step by step and that expectations should not be too high as there are lingering issues in Armenia regarding a bias towards Turkey, as is the case towards Azerbaijan.

“Relations between Turkey and Armenia are guided by certain prejudices,” the official said.

The international community should encourage positive steps in this framework, the official stressed.

Reiterating that so far four rounds of talks have taken place between the two sides, the official said that “this is not the desired picture currently”.

The official further said that there is still a will among a large part of the Armenian population to strengthen ties with Turkey, especially those who are increasingly facing economic problems at home, unlike the Armenian diaspora which actively expresses its opposition to such normalization.

“Turkey and Armenia have a trade volume of around $230 billion,” he added, adding that much of the trade, however, passes through Georgia. “If it went directly through Armenia, the country would benefit a lot more.”

In the last round, it was agreed that the neighbors would start direct air cargo trade between the countries as soon as possible, while it was also “agreed to allow the crossing of the land border between Turkey and Armenia by citizens of third countries visiting one of the two countries.

Technical matters for this purpose are expected to be discussed in September.

Regarding the decision on citizens of third countries, the official said that achieving this goal could take some time because there are infrastructure problems that need to be solved, including roads and old bridges. Therefore, trade as well as transport officials should come together and exchange views on the issues, he added.

The land border between the two neighbors has been closed since 1993, following clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Turkey and Armenia restored diplomatic contacts last December after they had been suspended for years.

In January, special envoys from Ankara and Yerevan began talks to fully restore relations “without preconditions”.

Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç and Deputy Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly Ruben Rubinyan, the special representatives for normalization, held their fourth meeting in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

The first round of normalization talks was held in Moscow on Jan. 14, where the two sides agreed to continue negotiations without any preconditions, according to a statement released after the meeting.

The Turkish and Armenian envoys met for the second time in Vienna on February 24, and the third meeting took place on May 3, also in the Austrian capital.

Furthermore, a historic bilateral meeting took place between the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Armenia on the sidelines of the Diplomatic Forum in Antalya on March 12, while President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian had a phone call last month.

While the two countries discussed a wide range of issues on bilateral relations and the region, the issue of the Zangezur Corridor or the events of 1915 was not raised, the official said.

The fact that Pashinian won the elections even after the Karabakh war shows that some circles in the country want regional peace and stability, indicating a change in hostile positions towards neighbors, the official said.

As to whether other countries have an influence on Turkey-Armenia relations, the official said that countries like Russia or Azerbaijan inevitably have an effect on the process, but the current international context after the Karabakh war is conducive to strengthening ties. Stating that stronger ties between Ankara and Yerevan would benefit the entire region just as enhanced regional trade would, the official said it should not “be a mutually exclusive, but mutually reinforcing process” with third countries.

“Russia, despite having the potential, did nothing to spoil the process between Turkey and Armenia.”

Azerbaijan’s victory that ended the occupation of its Karabakh region, formerly known as Nagorno-Karabakh, also helped pave the way for normalization between Turkey and Armenia.

Relations between the two former Soviet countries of Azerbaijan and Armenia have been strained since 1991, when the Armenian army illegally occupied Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.

Fresh clashes erupted on September 27, 2020, and the 44-day conflict saw Azerbaijan liberate several towns and more than 300 settlements and villages occupied by Armenia for nearly three decades.

Türkiye believes that permanent peace is possible through mutual security-based cooperation between the states and peoples of the South Caucasus region.

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