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Turkey eyes talks by Azeri, Armenian leaders
Thu Oct 8, 2009 7:17am EDT
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By Denis Dyomkin
CHISINAU (Reuters) - The presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia prepared for talks in Moldova Thursday that may bring progress over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and ease the way for restoring normal ties between Armenia and Turkey.
Christian Armenia and Muslim Turkey, which have no diplomatic relations, are scheduled to sign an accord in Zurich Saturday to normalize ties and end a century of hostility dating back to mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in World War One.
Such an agreement would bolster Turkey's credentials as a modernizer in the West, boost the poverty-stricken economy of landlocked Armenia and improve security in the South Caucasus, a key transit corridor for oil and gas to the West.
But analysts say much hinges on the outcome of Thursday's encounter in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau between Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia's Serzh Sarksyan on the emotive issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. The meeting was due to start at 6 p.m. (1500 GMT).
The proposed deal between Turkey, an ally of fellow Muslim Azerbaijan, and its old foe to normalize ties and open the border would require parliamentary approval in both countries.
But a Turkish parliamentarian said this might not be forthcoming in Turkey unless there was progress on Karabakh.
"Lack of progress toward the resolution of Armenian-Azeri problems will certainly affect the parliamentary process," Murat Mercan, chairman of the ruling AK Party parliamentary foreign affairs committee told Reuters.
Violence erupted in the mountainous territory, an ethnic Armenian enclave located within Azerbaijan's internationally recognized borders, in the late 1980s as the Soviet Union headed toward its 1991 collapse.
Ethnic Armenian forces, backed by Armenia, drove out Azeri forces and took control of seven districts of Azerbaijan adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh. Some 30,000 people were killed in the war.
The issue is a highly emotive one for each side. Neither Aliyev nor Sarksyan will want to risk losing face by appearing to have made concessions.
Sarksyan also has to contend with a vocal and powerful Armenian diaspora that is alert to any sign of weakness.
These pressures, as well as opposition within Armenia and to a certain extent in Turkey, have led to doubts in diplomatic circles whether the Zurich ceremony would take place.
In Ankara, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he had no doubt Armenia and Turkey would sign the historic accords.
Asked at a news conference whether the protocols would be signed Saturday, as announced by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan but not officially confirmed by Armenia, Davutoglu said: "I am not giving any dates. Let's wait for a statement from the Swiss. As Turkey, we have no doubts the protocols will be signed." Continued...
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