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Armenian FM in call for solidarity

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ISTANBUL – The normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey means the establishment of diplomatic relations and opening a common border without any precondition, says Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian, who adds, ’None of us does a favor to the other by establishing diplomatic relations. Both countries need this’

Turkey and Armenia should establish formal diplomatic ties, not as a “favor” from one side to the other, but as recognition that it is very much in both countries interests, says the Armenian foreign minister who is visiting Istanbul today.

Not only that, but the two countries can also cooperate regionally as part a regional stability initiative for the Caucasus as proposed by Turkey, said Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, here to visit the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, or BSEC, headquartered in Istanbul. Armenia is assuming the rotating presidency of that organization for the next six months, duties that prompted Nalbandian’s visit. On the occasion of his visit he agreed to answer questions put to him by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on relations between Turkey and Armenia and his country’s relations with the United States and Iran.

Speaking about Turkish President Abdullah Gül’s visit to Armenia and subsequent discussions with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, Nalbandian seemed optimistic but also quite realistic. “During the visit of Turkish President Abdullah Gül to Yerevan on the invitation of President Serge Sargsyan and negotiations, an appropriate mood was created to speak on normalization of our relations. When we are speaking about normalization, we perceive it in the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries and opening a common border without any precondition. That normalization is in the interest of our two nations. It is not right to present the opening of borders as a favor from Turks to Armenians. Turkish side isn’t less interested in that than we are. None of us does a favor to the other by establishing diplomatic relations. Both countries need this. There is no necessity to create artificial obstacles.”

“So Armenia is ready to normalize our bilateral relations without any precondition and we are expecting the same from Turkey. With this aim we are conducting talks. Not negotiations for negotiations, but negotiations for concrete results.

“Many neighboring countries have differences, but they have normal relations and they have open borders, they are open to each other, and they have appropriate conditions to talk to each other, to talk over their differences, to discuss all the issues of mutual concern.”

Asked about the Armenian chairmanship of the BSEC and whether or not it would facilitate dialogue between Armenia and Turkey, Nalbandian replied, “As the very idea and main goal of BSEC is to boost and promote economic cooperation between member countries, it’s natural that this organization could contribute to a better environment among participating states. BSEC is a promising model of multilateral economic initiative aimed at fostering interaction among its member states, as well as to ensure cooperation, development and prosperity in the Black Sea region.

“I don’t think that Armenia was waiting to assume the BSEC chairmanship in order to start a dialogue with Turkey. But the BSEC is one of those international organizations, where we have an appropriate framework to discuss with Turkey our possibilities for cooperation.”

Nalbandian has stated his support for the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform proposed by Turkey. “We’ve welcomed the idea of the Turkish initiative, as we are in favor of building confidence, stability, security and cooperation in the region which are in the basis of this proposal. But we have questions to clarify Ğ the mechanism of its implementation, its format, as well as other aspects. Till now, we haven’t had detailed and serious discussions on this.”

’South Ossetia shows region’s vulnerability’
Armenia was affected economically by the August crisis between Russia and Georgia but so far not by the global financial crisis. According to Nalbandian, “The events around South Ossetia have shown how fragile and vulnerable is our region, how weak and undeveloped is its transport infrastructure and how important it is to have open borders and to join the efforts of all our countries for the sake of stability, security, cooperation, development and prosperity of our region.

“The crisis lasted less than a week, but it has created a very difficult situation in the whole region, it has caused a humanitarian disaster and huge material losses. We too strongly felt the consequences of the August conflict. The conflict interrupted our communication routes, our basic supplies, including energy. We have suffered hundreds of millions’ worth of losses.

“The developments and impacts of the August events are still to be carefully studied and assessed, but the first of all they have shown the most obvious reality Ğ war is never an answer. And we want to believe that those who had illusions about that option will reconsider their position.

“As for the global financial crisis, for the moment we still have had no direct serious negative effect on our economy. To resist the eventual negative impact of the crisis on Armenia’s economic development, our government has worked out a comprehensive plan in order to minimize the effect of crisis on the country’s economy and we hope that this will be effective enough.”

The financial crisis that hit Armenia after August has led to better relations with Iran although they are based on centuries-old traditions. “We were and are implementing [plans] and we have ambitious economic projects to be realized, especially in the areas of energy and transport infrastructures,” said the foreign minister. “During recent events around South Ossetia, as our trade routes via Georgia were blocked, Iran became an important route for basic supplies to Armenia. Both our countries are interested in development and the strengthening of mutually beneficial cooperation.”

Yerevan welcomes the election of Obama
Speaking about mutually beneficial cooperation, U.S. relations with Armenia came to mind. Just what did Nalbandian expect of the U.S. President-elect Barack Obama? His reply: “Since our independence Armenia and the United States have very good relations and we are committed to continue working together with new U.S. administration to deepen, expand and enrich our friendly partnership.

“The Armenian people are grateful to the United States for the comprehensive assistance it has provided since our independence and up to this day. The United States plays an important role in the resolution of the Karabakh conflict as one of the co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group.

“We highly appreciate the President-elect’s awareness and stands on Armenian issues and we think that the relations between Armenia and the U.S. will attain a new quality during President-elect Barack Obama’s term of office and cooperation between our countries will be enhanced for the sake of our friendly peoples.”

You would think that 70 years of communism would have changed the character of Armenians living in Armenia and made them acquire a different mentality from the Armenians of the diaspora. The 70 years of communism also kept them separate from the average Turkish citizen with whom they have many things in common.

Nalbandian’s views were somewhat surprising. He answered: “The Soviet era of Armenian history has had less negative than positive impact. Armenia was known as the ’Silicon Valley’ of the Soviet Union with about 200 research centers and scientific institutions, with a highly educated population and with an extremely large number of scientists and researchers in proportion to its population.

“That’s true that today two-thirds of the Armenian people lives abroad, in about 70 countries on five continents of our planet. They have created ’Little Armenias’ everywhere they live. Although they are citizens of different countries and have the common features of the peoples with whom they are living, almost all of them have kept deeply their Armenian identity and traditions. Today they are united by the desire and will to realize the dream of their ancestors – a prosperous Armenia.”

Who is Edward Nalbandian?

To just say that Edward Nalbandian is Armenia’s current Foreign Minister would be mistaken. The 52-year-old may already have white hair but he has been very active over the years in promoting the interests of his country and his people. A professional diplomat, he is a product of the Moscow school of foreign service and held various diplomatic posts including almost 10 years in France before becoming foreign minister in April of this year.

When Nalbandian was asked what his biggest achievement as his country’s ambassador to France was, he replied, “I had the honor to represent my country in France for almost 10 years. Today in Armenia’s public opinion France is considered among the most friendly countries. In France, Armenia has the same image. This friendship comes from the depth of the centuries and is a result of common efforts of many generations of our two peoples. I am happy, if I could bring my modest contribution to that friendship.”

As for the challenges he faces as minister, he said, “For any Minister of Foreign Affairs the main goal is to create favorable external conditions for safe and peaceful development and prosperity of his country.” Nalbandian is said to speak excellent French, Russian and Armenian and good English. He has written numerous studies on the Middle East and International Relations.

Hurriyet Daily News

24.11.2008

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