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The Caucasus seeks peace for its North and South

The Caucasus remains on the world’s agenda as conflicts continue in the northern and southern areas of the region.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s recent trip to Moscow had been an opportunity to discuss with the Russian Federation — which still holds the key to peace in the region — the various conflicts that are boiling throughout the Caucasus. Moreover, the timing of the visit was noteworthy.

With regard to the northern Caucasus, Russian military operations in Chechnya have created a huge backlash against Moscow. Regarding the southern Caucasus, on the other hand, U.S. diplomats are struggling to help bring a peaceful resolution to the years-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Amid criticism from Turkish people who trace their roots to the northern Caucasus, Ecevit stated in Ankara before leaving for Moscow that Chechnya is an internal problem of Russia.

The outcome of the discussion between Ecevit and his Russian colleague will become clear in the coming days.

The bloody attack on the Armenian Parliament, which resulted in the deaths of Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and a number of Armenian parliamentarians, created difficulty for the peace process between Yerevan and Baku.

The upcoming Istanbul Summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will be a key meeting for working toward a resolution of the conflicts in the Caucasus.

In this context, the diplomatic traffic toward the key capitals in the Caucasus was noteworthy.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Strobe Talbott recently visited Yerevan, Baku, Moscow and Ankara, and the funerals for the Armenian prime minister and other parliamentarians who were slain also became a diplomatic occasion.

Turkey-Armenia: step by step…

The funeral for Sarkisian in the Armenian capital presented an opportunity for the improvement of ties between Ankara and Yerevan.

State Minister Mehmet Ali Irtemcelik, who attended the burial service for the slain prime minister, was received at the highest level in Yerevan. Irtemcelik was hopeful regarding the future of relations between Yerevan and Ankara.

However, the state minister stated that Armenia should take steps toward resolving the disputes in the region. “Our neighbor Armenia is in deep and tragic pain caused by a terrorist action. Turkey has been suffering from terrorism for years. We can understand that deep pain more than anyone else,” Irtemcelik said in an interview with the Turkish Daily News.

“[Armenian] Foreign Minister Oskanyan wanted to meet with us to express thanks to us. We have seen that our attendance at the funeral surprised and pleased Yerevan. I drew attention to the importance of bilateral cooperation against terrorism,” the state minister told the Turkish Probe.

“Oskanyan said that the solution process for Nagorno-Karabakh could be delayed for some time as a result of the bloody attack against the Armenian Parliament,” said Irtemcelik, adding that this was not regarded as a preference but rather a necessity.

“The signing of a deal between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia seems unlikely to happen during the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,” Oskanyan was quoted as saying by Irtemcelik.

Turkish-Armenian Business Committee

The Turkish-Armenian Business Committee, an unofficial body, often serves as an envoy between Yerevan and Ankara.

Kaan Soyak, the head of the committee, answered the questions of the Turkish Probe from New York, where he is participating in efforts to establishment a Turkish-Armenian Business Council with the help of the Armenian diaspora in the United States.

According to Soyak, Sarkisian was a politician who favored the improvement of ties between Yerevan and Ankara.

Soyak and a group of businessmen were in Armenia one week before the bloody attack in the Armenian Parliament.

The visit of Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev to Ankara was another important step in the ongoing debate over the peace process in the Caucasus.

Aliyev came to Turkey to receive the Ataturk Peace Award and review the latest developments in the region with his close friend Turkish President Suleyman Demirel.

On this occasion, Demirel appealed to leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and the return of all refugees to their homes.

Demirel said Turkey wanted a negotiated settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem but underlined that Turkey also wanted any settlement reached to protect the interests of Azerbaijan.

Aliyev, for his part, said the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh is the biggest problem currently facing Azerbaijan, emphasizing that 1 million people have so far been displaced by the conflict with Armenia. “There has been a cease-fire for five years; there is no war, yet there is no peace either,” he commented.

There is still much to say and still much to do for the Caucasus.

News Source:  Turkish Probe issue 356, Copyright © Turkish Daily News / 7 November, 1999


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