Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said in Baku that Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan should apologize for calling on school children to occupy eastern Turkey.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Erdoğan said Sarksyan's remarks did not befit a statesman and called them a “historical mistake” that should be corrected.
When asked by a student at a literature contest ceremony if Armenians will be able to get back their “western territories” along with Mt. Ararat, Sarksyan said, "This is the task of your generation.”
Armenians attach great historical and cultural importance to Mt. Ararat on the eastern border of modern-day Turkey, around where Armenians are believed to have first adopted Christianity as an official religion in 301 A.D.
Sarksyan said his generation had fulfilled its task by “getting back” Karabakh, a part of what he called “our motherland.” Nagorno-Karabakh is an Azerbaijani territory which is currently under Armenian occupation.
Leaders of both countries have met dozens of times to find a settlement to the decades-long conflict but have failed to secure a peace agreement. Armenia currently occupies 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territories, including seven adjacent provinces populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also strongly condemned on Tuesday Sarksyan's remarks, calling the statement “very irresponsible behavior.”
Turkey and Armenia took part in a failed attempt two years ago to bury a century of hostilities by signing twin protocols on normalization of relations and establishing diplomatic ties, which also included opening the Turkish-Armenian border within two months if the protocols were ratified by both countries' parliaments.
Erdoğan said Sarksyan's behavior is a provocation and an attempt to fill youth with hatred, which he said will lead Armenia's youth into “darkness.” “There cannot be such diplomacy. Sarksyan has made a very serious mistake … he must apologize,” Erdoğan added.
Also slamming Armenia for not displaying a constructive role in Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks, Erdoğan said Azerbaijan is working for peace and displaying a positive attitude in peace talks. Aliyev and Sarksyan regularly meet, mostly under Russian auspices, to find an enduring settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but the leaders have failed so far to make reasonable progress.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group, mandated to oversee the peace talks, said there was only little progress in the leaders' latest Kazan meeting late last month.
Aliyev also deplored Sarksyan's remarks and said Armenians should wake up “from a dream into real life.” He said Nagorno-Karabakh is an Azerbaijani territory and that Sarksyan's words that they will occupy, what he called, “historical Turkish lands” only show their occupation mentality, adding that it seems as if Armenia thinks they have already settled the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. “Azerbaijan will get back their territories, either through peace or military means,” Aliyev said.
In Yerevan, Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan rejected interpreting Sarksyan’s words as if he meant to encourage students to occupy eastern Turkey, stating that his words were taken out of context.
“I believe, Turks failed to read the full text, interpreting the president’s words out of context. Serzh Sarksyan’s statement is serious and reasonable. The only reason Turkey refuses see sense behind it is because the country doesn’t need it,” Kocharyan said, Armenian news portal panarmenian.net reported late on Wednesday.
The website also included the full text of the president’s reply to a student when asked if the return of “western Armenia” along with Mt. Ararat would be possible in the future: “It depends on you and your generation. I believe my generation has fulfilled the task in front of us; when it was necessary in the beginning of the 1990s to defend part of our fatherland -- Karabakh -- from the enemy, we did it. I am not saying this to embarrass anyone; my point is that each generation has its responsibilities and they have to be carried out, with honor.”
When journalists asked the Azerbaijani president over a long-delayed visa exemption deal for Turkish nationals, Aliyev said his country is still not ready, while thanking the Turkish side for unilaterally lifting visa requirements for Azerbaijani citizens. Azerbaijani nationals can now freely travel to Turkey and stay in the country for up to 30 days.
When asked if Azerbaijan has already figured out its roadmap, such as recognizing the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) in case of a failure in peace talks to reunify the island, Aliyev said this is not an easy task. “There is also a Nagorno-Karabakh problem. I hope this conflict will be solved one day,” Aliyev said, referring to vulnerability of his country in recognizing Turkish Cyprus due to pressure from the European Union.
Before the Annan plan was put to a referendum and while on a visit to Turkey in 2004 Azerbaijani President Aliyev had said that his country would consider recognizing Turkish Cyprus if Greek Cypriots said “no” to the UN plan to reunify the long-divided island. However, the 27-member bloc then put great pressure on Azerbaijan to not recognize the KKTC, threatening to recognize the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, an Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenia in the early 1990s.
Speculations also then claimed that even Greek Cyprus and Greece sent a diplomatic note to Azerbaijan, threatening to recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh if Azerbaijan recognizes Turkish Cyprus.