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Turkish minister's visit raises hopes of thaw with Armenia

Source: Reuters - Thu, 12 Dec 2013 05:33 PM
Author: Reuters
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(Adds new info from Yerevan, comments by foreign ministers)

YEREVAN, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made Turkey's first high-level visit to Armenia in nearly five years on Thursday, raising the prospect of a revival in peace efforts between the historical rivals which stalled in 2010.

Muslim Turkey and Christian Armenia signed accords in October 2009 to establish diplomatic relations and open their land border, trying to revive relations frozen by the legacy of the World War One mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

The U.S.-backed efforts to bury a century of hostility became deadlocked six months later, with each side accusing the other of trying to rewrite the texts and set new conditions, and neither country's parliament approved the deal.

"I hope my Yerevan visit will contribute to efforts for a comprehensive peace and economic stability in the BSEC region and the Caucasus in particular," Davutoglu, who traveled to Yerevan for a Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) group meeting, wrote on Twitter.

Underscoring persistent tension, young activists from Armenian opposition parties protested, prompting Davutoglu to use a back door to enter the central Yerevan hotel where the BSEC meeting was held.

Demonstrators chanted "shame" and waved posters saying: "Stop the occupation of Armenian land" and "Stop the blockade".

Davutoglu later said his meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on the sidelines of the gathering was "sincere and honest," but that it would be wrong to think that problems could be solved in a single meeting.

"Our priority is to build our dialogue on a sound psychological basis and continue on that basis. In this framework all kind of creative ideas could come on the agenda, the countries already know their perspective," he told Turkish reporters in Yerevan.

The last visit by a Turkish minister was in April 2009, six months before the protocols were signed, when Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan attended a BSEC meeting in Yerevan.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, when ethnic Armenians backed by Armenia threw off Azeri rule with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nalbandian said before meeting Davutoglu that "relations between Armenia and Turkey should be settled without any pre-conditions," meaning Armenia does not want Turkey to tie a bilateral rapprochement to a resolution of the ongoing dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkish critics of the 2009 deal between Ankara and Yerevan had said it was a betrayal of fellow Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan, while Armenian opponents said the accords betrayed Armenian efforts to have the massacres during World War One recognised internationally as genocide.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians died in partisan fighting beginning in 1915 but denies that up to 1.5 million were killed and that it amounted to genocide - a term used by some Western historians and foreign parliaments. (Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz, Seda Sezer in Ankara and Hasmik Mkrtchyan in Yerevan; Writing by Daren Butler and Margarita Antidze)

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