COMMANDER SAYS ARMENIA BORDER OPENING LINKED TO KARABAKH

Today's Zaman
April 30 2009
Turkey

Efforts aimed at reconciliation with neighboring Armenia were discussed
at Tuesday's National Security Council meeting.

Turkey's top military commander said yesterday that opening the border
with neighboring Armenia should be linked to Yerevan's territorial
dispute with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, namely, that the border
should be opened in parallel to progress in the long-standing conflict.

"The prime minister has clearly said the border opening will take
place at the time when Armenian troops are withdrawn. We completely
agree with this," Chief of General Staff Gen. Ä°lker BaÅ~_bug said
at a press conference yesterday.

Turkey and Armenia have been holding talks to normalize relations
and agreed last week on a framework to restore ties. Azerbaijan, an
ethnic and regional ally of Turkey, is protesting the rapprochement,
fearing it would lose a key leverage in its dispute with Armenia in
the Nagorno-Karabakh row if Turkey opens its border with Armenia. The
process is strongly backed by the United States and the European Union.

On Tuesday, Turkey's top military and political officials declared that
the history of the Turkish and Armenian nations could be discussed only
in an environment where unbiased documents and pieces of evidence are
available, sending a veiled message to US President Barack Obama,
who called the killings of Armenians in the years of World War I
"one of the great atrocities of the 20th century" in a commemorative
message delivered on April 24.

Top government and military leaders discussed the issue at a
meeting of the National Security Council (MGK) on Tuesday, held at
the Cankaya presidential palace under the leadership of President
Abdullah Gul. In a statement released by the MGK following the
meeting, the officials said: "The recent statements of some of the
countries and our initiatives regarding the events of 1915 have been
evaluated. However, it has been emphasized that the history of the
Turkish and Armenian nations can be discussed only in ... a scientific
and unbiased fashion."

Obama refrained from using the word "genocide" to describe the 1915
events in order not to harm the ongoing Turkish-Armenian rapprochement
process, but said his view of history had not changed. Obama made clear
during his election campaign that the events amounted to genocide,
a charge Turkey vehemently denies. He also used the Armenian phrase
"Meds Yeghern," translated as Great Calamity, twice in the text. The
message was harshly criticized by the Turkish government and opposition
parties.

"That there was no mention of the fact that hundreds of thousands
of Turks were also killed in the events is one of the serious
deficiencies of the text," Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said
yesterday in Parliament. Babacan reiterated that Turkey has proposed
establishment a joint committee of historians to study what happened
in 1915 and added that it was unacceptable for Obama to express a
judgment before that committee reaches a conclusion on whether the
events amounted to genocide. "We will remain loyal to historical facts
and refute unfounded claims no matter who makes them," Babacan said.

Babacan also said political consultations with Armenia will start
within the next few weeks as part of the normalization process,
without elaborating.

'None of Israel's business' At the press conference, BaÅ~_bug was also
asked to comment on the first Turkish-Syrian joint military drill on
the border and Israel's reaction to the unprecedented exercise. "We
are not interested in Israel's reaction. This is something between
Syria and Turkey," BaÅ~_bug told reporters. The exercise began on
Monday and was due to be completed yesterday.

On Afghanistan, BaÅ~_bug said Turkey was expected to take over the
command of the international peacekeeping force in Kabul in November
as part of a rotation among the contributing countries. When it takes
over the command, Turkey may have to send additional forces to boost
its 795-800 troops in Afghanistan, he said, but insisted that the
Turkish forces' duties and responsibilities will remain the same.

Ankara backs the US-led efforts to stabilize Afghanistan but says
it will not send combat troops to confront the Taliban insurgents
there. BaÅ~_bug also emphasized that there has been no request from
the US to Turkey to increase contributions to the Afghan force.

Time for elimination of PKK BaÅ~_bug also commented on relations with
Iraq and efforts to deal with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party
(PKK), which uses bases in northern Iraq to attack Turkey. He said
the best chance ever to eliminate the PKK in Iraq has materialized
and added that the Iraqi administration as well as the semi-autonomous
Kurdish administration running northern Iraq has a key role in making
sure this chance is seized.

"It is imperative that the local [Kurdish] administration actively
take part in these efforts. We must get solid results this year,"
BaÅ~_bug said.