BY DAILY SABAH
Türkiye and Armenia can achieve full normalization on the basis of good neighborly relations in the region, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Thursday.
Holding a press conference during the first meeting of the European Political Community in Prague, Erdoğan said that the Türkiye-Armenia meetings continue through special representatives, adding that his meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian was in a “friendly atmosphere.”
“I sincerely believe that we can achieve our goal of full normalization on the basis of good neighborly relations in our region,” he said.
Türkiye has no preconditions for full normalization, he underlined and said that Ankara expects Yerevan and Baku to resolve their problems and reach a peace agreement.
Ankara wants to warm the relations between Türkiye, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and solve problems between the sides, he said.
Erdoğan said the two countries’ foreign ministers and special representatives will gather and will take the step to a further level.
“We want to warm up relations between Türkiye-Armenia-Azerbaijan as soon as possible and solve this issue,” he added.
Erdoğan told Pashinian that Türkiye has no preconditions for this, adding: “As soon as you make a peace agreement with Azerbaijan, we will have no problem.”
Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders met informally at the European summit on Thursday, marking the first top-level talks between Türkiye and Armenia since they launched a bid to mend ties late last year after decades of animosity.
Erdoğan spoke with Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev ahead of the Prague summit, publishing a photo of them sitting with others at a small table.
In January, Türkiye and Armenia held the first round of talks in more than 10 years, describing them as “positive and constructive” and raising the prospect of restoring ties and reopening borders.
Ankara has not had diplomatic or commercial ties with Armenia since the 1990s. The latest initiative is the first attempt to restore links since a 2009 peace accord that was never ratified.
Tensions flared during a 2020 war over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Türkiye accused Armenian forces of occupying land belonging to Azerbaijan, but it subsequently called for a rapprochement as it seeks regional stability and cooperation.
Despite Türkiye being one of the first countries to recognize Armenia’s independence in 1991, the two countries have been divided on a range of issues, including Yerevan’s occupation of Azerbaijani territories, the events of 1915 during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, and the border closure between the two neighboring countries since 1993.
In 2021, Ankara and Yerevan mutually appointed special representatives to normalize ties.
Ankara has made frequent calls for a six-nation platform comprising of Türkiye, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia for permanent peace, stability and cooperation in the region, describing it as a win-win initiative for all regional actors in the Caucasus. Türkiye believes that permanent peace is possible through mutual security-based cooperation between the states and people of the South Caucasus region.
Amid the normalization efforts, a commercial flight from Yerevan landed in Istanbul in February in the first such direct flight in two years.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan at a diplomatic forum in southern Türkiye in March and said they had a very “productive and constructive” meeting.
That was the first sit-down meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers since 2009. They spoke briefly on the sidelines of an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting last November.
Erdoğan has previously said Armenia needed to form good ties with Azerbaijan for the normalization effort to yield results.
Tensions with Greece
Erdoğan also said there was nothing worth discussing with Greece at the moment, while he accused Athens of basing its policies on “lies.”
“They are not where they are supposed to be,” Erdoğan told the press conference in Prague. “Their entire policy is based on lies, they are not honest. We have nothing to discuss with Greece.”
Erdoğan said Athens understood Ankara’s message when Turkish officials said “we may suddenly arrive one night” – a comment that Greek and some other Western officials have condemned as a threat to a neighboring state.
Ankara expects the European Union to call on Greece for dialogue on a bilateral basis, instead of supporting illegal initiatives, the president said.
“I expect the EU to call on our interlocutors for dialogue on a bilateral basis instead of supporting illegal initiatives masquerading as unity or solidarity.”
Many countries at the summit expected a step from Türkiye to develop ties with Greece, Erdoğan said, adding that there was “nothing to talk about with Greece now.”
“Not only Greece, but no matter which country is attacking us, our answer is always ‘We may come suddenly one night.’ They should know that,” he said.
Stressing that Ankara does not seek to acquire the territory or sovereignty of any country, Erdoğan said Türkiye was only fighting to protect its interests and those of Turkish Cypriots.
On Cyprus, he underlined that the “only key” to a solution on the East Mediterranean island was the recognition of the Turkish Cypriot people’s sovereign equality and equal international status with the Greek Cypriot administration. “For a permanent solution, the facts on the Island must be accepted,” he added.
Another important point he mentioned was that he could meet with Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad when the time was right and would not rule that out, reinforcing recent tentative steps to thaw ties between combatants in Syria’s war.
“As of now, such a meeting is not on the agenda. But I cannot say it is impossible for me to meet with Assad,” Erdoğan told the press conference at the Prague meeting of the European Political Community, adding talks continue at a low level.
Erdoğan hinted that he might meet with him in the future.
“When the right time comes, we can also meet with the president of Syria,” he added.
“Our only desire is to clear the terrorist groups from Syria,” he also said.
Any normalization between Ankara and Damascus would reshape the decadelong Syrian war. Turkish backing has been vital to sustaining Syrian opposition groups in their last major territorial foothold in the northwest, after Assad defeated the insurgency across the rest of the country, aided by Russia and Iran.
The president has repeatedly stressed that Türkiye will continue its efforts to destroy a “corridor” that terrorists are attempting to build along its border.
He added that since Türkiye’s cross-border operations in Syria began in 2016, approximately 550,000 uprooted Syrians in Türkiye had voluntarily returned to the resulting safe zones in their country.
Nordic NATO bids
Erdoğan also said that Türkiye would continue opposing Sweden’s NATO membership bid until its demands are met for a tougher Swedish stance against terrorist organizations.
“As long as terrorist organizations demonstrate on Swedish streets and terrorists are present in their parliament, our approach to the issue will not be positive,” Erdoğan told reporters at the Prague meeting of the European Political Community.
Erdoğan on Thursday met with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on the sidelines of the European summit in the Czech capital.
The two leaders chatted at Prague Castle, where the first meeting of the European Political Community was being held.
Speaking to the Swedish state news agency TT after the meeting, Andersson said she had a good meeting with Erdoğan.
She said the new Swedish government, expected to be announced next week, will also comply with a trilateral memorandum signed in late June between Türkiye, Sweden, and Finland on the two Nordic countries’ NATO accession bids.
Andersson added that she and Erdoğan also discussed the formation process of the new government in Sweden, adding that even if a new government excluding her Swedish Social Democratic Party is formed, they would stick to the memorandum as the opposition.
Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine, but faced opposition from Türkiye, which accuses them of supporting terrorist groups.
The two Nordic countries signed a memorandum with Türkiye in June for cooperation in the latter’s fight against terrorism. Ankara says it will greenlight their accession only if they address its concerns.
Right-wing leader Ulf Kristersson, who has been formally asked to form a government after a narrow election victory in September, has said that NATO membership remains a priority.
Erdoğan said the Istanbul grain deal and Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap are diplomatic successes for Türkiye despite all difficulties.
Türkiye, the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement in Istanbul on July 22 to resume grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports which were paused after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in February.
A Joint Coordination Center with officials from the three countries and the U.N. was set up in Istanbul to oversee the shipments.
Erdoğan said that since the first ship left Ukraine under the deal on Aug. 1, over 6 million tons of agricultural products have left ports.
“The continuation of the grain shipments in the upcoming period will be to the benefit of the people of Ukraine, all of Europe and the world,” Erdoğan said.
The president also stressed that Russian fertilizers should be supplied to countries in need via Türkiye.
“We care about the issues of grain and fertilizer as much as the exchange of prisoners. Tomorrow, we will have a phone call with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and evaluate these matters,” he added.
European Political Community
Erdoğan was in the capital Prague at the invitation of European Council President Charles Michel and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala to attend the first meeting of the European Political Community.
The president said he held “intensive and productive” talks at the summit, where Türkiye conveyed its views, contributions, and assessments on the challenges Europe is currently faced with in terms of peace and security, energy, climate, and economic situation.
He added that Türkiye is “irreplaceable” in overcoming the EU’s challenges and redefining its international role.
“Our fundamental and primary expectation is that the European Political Community will strengthen our relations with the (European) union and contribute to our membership process,” Erdoğan said.
The European Political Community, set up after French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal in May, has gathered leaders of the 27 EU states and 17 other European countries including Türkiye, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Moldova, and Georgia.
It aims to foster political dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest and to strengthen the security, stability, and prosperity of the European continent, according to a European Union statement.
At the summit, to which 44 European countries are invited, Erdoğan conveyed Türkiye’s views, contributions, and assessments related to the challenges Europe is facing in terms of peace and security, energy, climate, and economy, according to the Turkish presidency.
The Turkish leader also held interactions and meetings with a number of other leaders, including Swedish, Czech and Armenian prime ministers.