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Turkish PM Says He's Willing To Discuss Diplomatic Ties With Armenia

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (file photo)
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (file photo)

The Turkish prime minister has said his country is willing to consider an offer by new Armenian leader Nikol Pashinian to establish diplomatic relations and ease tensions between the longtime bitter rivals.

"If Armenia gives up its hostile attitude which it has had for several years, its attitude toward Turkey's territorial integrity and borders, if it is giving up all its wrong attitudes...and it wants to open a new page, we will give the response looking at the details relating to this," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters in Ankara on May 11.

"Let's see first," he added. "We are going to increase the number of our friends, and reduce the number of our enemies. We do not desire to be hostile with anyone, especially our neighbors."

Armenia and Turkey do not have diplomatic relations, and the tense border between the two countries is closed, with Russian troops based in Armenia guarding the frontier.

Former opposition lawmaker Pashinian was elected by parliament on May 8 as prime minister in Armenia after leading several weeks' of antigovernment protests on the streets of Yerevan and throughout the country.

New Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian
New Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian

On taking office, Pashinian said that "we are keeping with our position, and we are ready to establish relations [with Turkey] without conditions."

"Along with this, we are set to push for recognition of the Armenian genocide at the global level," he added.

The major issue facing Ankara and Yerevan is Armenia’s insistence on Turkey's recognition of the killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey during the World War I era as "genocide."

At least 28 countries and the majority of U.S. states have joined Armenia in formally considering the killings to be genocide.

But Turkey rejects the term, claiming the death toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest rather than a systematic plan to exterminate the Armenian population in Ottoman Turkey.

Another source of tension between Ankara and Yerevan rests in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in Azerbaijan -- a Turkish ally -- that is under the control of ethnic Armenian forces.

Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over the mountainous region for years. Armenia-backed separatists seized control of the mainly ethnic-Armenian populated region during the early 1990s in a war that started in the late 1980s and killed some 30,000 people.

The region declared independence, but it has not been recognized internationally. Intermittent fighting has continued since a 1994 cease-fire, and diplomatic efforts to resolve the territorial dispute have brought little progress.

On his first full day in office, Pashinian visited Nagorno-Karabakh, a traditional stop for Armenian leaders on May 9, the date on which many ex-Soviet countries mark the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Pashinian, in a speech to parliament before his election on May 8, said his revolution would lead to the "recognition of realizing the right of Karabakh to self-determination."

He later said he was prepared for talks, but only if the separatists were involved. Azerbaijani officials insist they will only negotiate with officials in Armenia and not with leaders of the breakaway region.

Pashinian said Turkey was imposing "illogical" conditions ahead of talks on restoring diplomatic ties.

"It is illogical to make conditions referring to a third country [Azerbaijan] when you want to establish relations," he said during his visit to Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ankara and Yerevan signed a deal in 2009 to establish diplomatic ties and open their common borders.

However, the agreement collapsed before being implemented over Turkey and Azerbaijan's insistence that Armenia withdraw from disputed Nagorno-Karabakh regions.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, AFP, AP, YeniSafak, and TASS