Armenia's foreign minister wants more U.S. involvement in resolving
Armenia-Turkey dispute

AP Worldstream; Jun 10, 2005

WILLIAM C. MANN


Armenia's foreign minister urged the United States to become more
involved in settling his country's dispute with Turkey, especially in
persuading Turkey to reopen its border and resume normal trade with
its landlocked northern neighbor.

The Turks closed the border in 1993 during Christian Armenia's
six-year war with another Muslim neighbor, Azerbaijan.

"The United States is active in this, but we would like to see them
more engaged," Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said Friday after a
meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"I believe the United States can be more assertive on the border
matter. Not other matters, but on the border."

Turkey closed the border after Armenian-backed troops from
Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly Christian Armenian enclave ruled by
Azerbaijan when Armenia and Azerbaijan were Soviet republics, moved
into other parts of Azerbaijan, seized towns and approached the
Iranian and Turkish borders. A 1994 truce largely ended hostilities,
but a final settlement has not been reached.

Armenia considers ending the Turkish trade embargo the key to better
relations, but at the heart of their estrangement is Turkey's refusal
to accept Armenia's charge that Ottoman Turks committed genocide
against Armenians. Armenia says as many as 1.5 million Armenians died
violently or of disease and hunger in 1915-1923 as they were driven
from eastern Turkey. Turkey says the number was inflated and the
deaths resulted from efforts to secure the Ottoman Empire's border
with Russia and defend against Armenian militants.

Oskanian said universal acceptance of the genocide remains on
Armenia's foreign policy agenda. Argentina, Canada, France, Poland and
Russia are among countries that have accepted that it occurred, but
the Bush administration remains leery of it. Oskanian said he met with
the co-chairmen of the Armenian caucus in the House of Representatives
while he was in Washington, and they plan again to submit a resolution
on the subject.

Turkey, however, would not have to yield on the question before
relations could be restored, he said.

He said Friday that the United States should emphasize to Turkey that
it "should not only aspire to be a bridge between East and West but
aspire to be a bridge between parts of Europe."

"Armenia and Turkey are not at war. We have no problem with that
country," he said. "We have historical differences. Germany and France
have historical differences, which they talk about ... but they don't
close their borders."

The genocide question "has been put on a different track" from the
border question, Oskanian said, "and those tracks do not meet at any
point."

Clearly the trade embargo has eclipsed the genocide question as
Armenia's main worry. Two weeks ago, in Helsinki, Finland, Oskanian
made a similar appeal to the European Union to use its leverage with
Turkey to open "the last closed border in Europe."

Turkey is a candidate for EU membership, and such enmity among
European states does not sit well with other members who must consider
the Turkish application.

Still, the politics of the situation are complicated.

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has offered to restore
relations once Armenia agreed to a commission of experts from both
sides to study the history of the late Ottoman period and determine
whether a genocide of Armenians occurred.