Turkey and Armenia hold first talks on normalizing relations in years

ANKARA/MOSCOW, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Turkey and Armenia said on Friday that a first round of talks in more than a decade was “positive and constructive”, raising the possibility of restoring ties and reopening relations. borders after decades of animosity.

Turkey has not had diplomatic or trade relations with its eastern neighbor since the 1990s. The Moscow talks were the first attempt to restore ties since a 2009 peace deal. That deal was never ratified and the relations remained strained. Read more

The Turkish and Armenian foreign ministries said on Friday that the talks had taken place in a “positive and constructive” atmosphere, adding that both sides were committed to full normalization without any preconditions. They said the special envoys had “exchanged their preliminary views regarding the normalization process”.

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The neighbors disagree on several issues, primarily the 1.5 million people Armenia says were killed in 1915.

Armenia claims the 1915 killings constitute genocide, a position supported by the United States and some others. Turkey admits that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I, but disputes the figures and denies that the killings were systematic or constitute genocide.

Tensions erupted again in a 2020 war over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey has accused ethnic Armenian forces of occupying land belonging to Azerbaijan. Turkey has since called for a rapprochement as it seeks greater influence in the region.

In separate but similarly worded statements, the foreign ministries said the date and venue for the next round of talks would be finalized later.

Turkish diplomatic sources said the discussions between the delegations lasted about an hour and a half.

According to the Russian news agency TASS, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it expected the talks to lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of borders closed since 1993.

Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, said in November that opening borders and renovating railways to Turkey would have economic benefits for Armenia, as the roads could be used by traders from Turkey. , Russia, Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last year that the two countries would also start charter flights between Istanbul and the Armenian capital Yerevan as part of the rapprochement, but that Turkey would coordinate all steps with Azerbaijan.

Flights are expected to begin in early February. Read more

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Armenia needed to establish good relations with Azerbaijan for the normalization effort to bear fruit.

NO EASY BREAKTHROUGH

Despite strong support for normalization from the United States, which hosts a large Armenian diaspora and angered Turkey last year by calling the 1915 killings a genocide, analysts said talks would be complicated. Read more

Emre Peker, London-based director at Eurasia Group, said a cautious approach focused on quick deliverables was expected from both sides due to old sensitivities, adding the role of Russia, which brokered the ceasefire. of Nagorno-Karabakh and is the dominant player in the region, would be key.

Cavusoglu also said that Russia had contributed to the process of appointing special envoys.

“The biggest challenge will come from the issue of historic reconciliation,” Peker said, adding that the fate of the talks would hinge on “Ankara’s recognition that it needs to scale its ambitions.”

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Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Robert Birsel and Frank Jack Daniel

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Sharon P. Juarez