“This exercise is for entirely humanitarian purposes and it is about extraordinary circumstances. As a NATO member Turkey will, of course, participate in it,” Davutoğlu told reporters in the Doğanşehir district of the central Anatolian province of Konya, when asked to comment about Azerbaijani opposition to a temporary opening of the Turkish-Armenian border. “As I have told the Azeri media earlier, opening of the border, even temporarily, is out of the question. Unnecessary rumors should be avoided,” Davutoğlu said.
Earlier in the day, Davutoğlu told an Azerbaijani television that there was no plan to open the border during the exercise. “Our approach [with regard to the exercise] is humanistic. But there is nothing on the agenda with respect to opening of borders, this is not an issue of debate,” Davutoğlu told Azerbaijan’s ANS television.
Davutoğlu’s statement is an about face in Turkish policy as Foreign Ministry officials have earlier confirmed to Today’s Zaman that Ankara will participate in a disaster response exercise called “Armenia 2010” organized by NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC) slated for Sept. 11-17. Turkish plans to open the border during the exercise were met with protest from Azerbaijan, Ankara’s regional ally and a key energy supplier.
In comments earlier this week, a senior Azerbaijani official has said opening the Turkish-Armenian border will neither be in the interests of Turkey nor Azerbaijan. Ali Hasanov, head of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration Social and Political Department, told reporters this week that opening the Turkish-Armenian border will simply “untie the hands of the occupying regime [Armenia].”
Azerbaijan and Armenia are at war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory, which Armenia currently controls, and Azerbaijan frequently vows to resume war if diplomatic efforts aimed at settling the protracted conflict fail.
Azerbaijan aims to economically deprive Armenia through keeping it out of regional economic projects, with a hope that the former Soviet republic will withdraw its troops from the Nagorno-Karabakh. In this framework, Azerbaijan, which is preparing for a war with Armenia as a last resort, also stridently opposes opening of the borders between Turkey and Armenia, claiming the doing so will revive the Armenian economy and thus strengthen the Armenian military.
Recalling that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül have repeatedly stated that the borders will not open until Armenia reaches a constructive position on the Nagorno-Karabakh, Hasanov said Azerbaijan believes the border will not open until all of the conditions are met.
Turkey shut down its borders with neighboring Armenia in 1993, in solidarity with its Turkic ally, Azerbaijan, to protest Armenian occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory.
In contrast, Mehmet Fatih Ceylan, head of the Foreign Ministry Department for Eurasia, said in an interview with private Azerbaijani Trend news agency on Tuesday that borders with Armenia will likely be opened during NATO exercises. He also said the NATO exercises could be cancelled if Turkey does not give its consent to the NATO convoy to pass through its borders with Armenia.
Ceylan said Ankara will reject the offer if NATO carries military equipment through Turkey’s territory for exercises in Armenia. “Given that the exercises will take place in emergency situations, Turkey will likely open its border with Armenia only for the transportation of necessary equipment for the NATO exercises,” he noted.
On the same day, Azerbaijani ruling party, New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) Executive Secretary Ali Ahmedov told reporters that falsified news is constantly being leaked about the opening of the border by Armenia and that they are purposely attempting to destroy Azerbaijani-Turkish relations. “I believe that Azerbaijani society should treat with respect and confidence statements made by Turkish ruling circles that the border will only open after the liberation of Azerbaijani lands,” the official said.
In a statement in July, the Foreign Ministry stated that a possible border opening would only be for the purposes of the exercise, dismissing prospects for opening of the border as part of normalization in Turkish-Armenian relations. The statement said an “exceptional and temporary” opening of the border was under consideration in case Turkey is asked to allow the overland transfer of the material to be used in the exercise to Armenia. Other comments and reports regarding this issue do not reflect the truth,” said the statement.
‘End to violence is priority’
During his visit to Konya, Davutoğlu also said an amnesty for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was not a topic of discussion for today. “The first priority is that the PKK lay down their arms,” Davutoğlu explained. When asked about prospects for general amnesty for PKK members, something which main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said he might support, Davutoğlu responded, “It would be appropriate to assess specific issues when the right time comes.”