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Armenia PM Tigran Sarkisian 'ready for Turkish ties'

By Mark Grigoryan
BBC Russian Service

image captionMr Sarkisian said relations with Azerbaijan should not be an obstacle

Armenia's prime minister says it is ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey without any pre-conditions.

"Having closed borders in the 21st Century is nonsense," Tigran Sarkisian told the BBC Russian Service.

The two countries have been deeply suspicious of each other for decades, and their border has remained closed since 1993.

Mr Sarkisian said he wanted Turkey's new government to show consistency in moving towards a rapprochement.

Opening the border, he said, would be a vital step in this direction.

'Ready for war'

Turkey and Armenia signed a historic deal in 2009 to re-establish diplomatic ties, and said they hoped the opening of the border would follow.

But that pact broke down as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted it depended on Armenia resolving its conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

There is no indication that Mr Erdogan, who has just been re-elected, has changed his position.

Mr Sarkisian issued a stark warning to Azerbaijan, saying his country was fully prepared to go to war again, if Azerbaijan tried to take Nagorno-Karabakh by force.

"We have a bellicose partner," he said, "so the only way to ensure there is peace in the region is to be prepared for war. The balance of power in the region needs to remain intact."

But a spokesman for the foreign ministry of Azerbaijan told the BBC Russian Service this approach "completely defied any logic".

"We are committed to peace negotiations, and this process is underway," he said, "but we can't be holding talks for the sake of talks. Armenia has to withdraw its army from the region first - that will help put an end to war-mongering rhetoric."

Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war in 1993 over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave within Azerbaijan mostly populated by ethnic-Armenians.

Up to 25,000 people were killed, about one million people lost their homes, and Azerbaijan lost approximately 20% of its territory.

Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on a ceasefire in 1994, but there is still no peace agreement between them.

Strained relations

But Nagorno-Karabakh is just one of the many issues Armenia and Turkey have been struggling to deal with.

Relations between the two countries have been strained since 1915, when - according to the Armenians - as many as 1.5 million people were killed by the Ottoman Turks. Turkey has always claimed the deaths were a result of World War I, famine and disease.

Armenia wants Turkey to recognise the killings as genocide - though it insists this is not a pre-condition for dialogue.

According to the Armenian government, neither should be the divisive issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will be meeting later this month in the Russian city of Kazan. The meeting will be chaired by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev - but very few are confident that the three leaders will find a quick solution to the issue which has remained unresolved for almost 20 years.

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