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ARF Warns of Turkish Ploys

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation has urged the Armenian Government to be cautious in its rapprochement with Turkey, warning that Ankara is using it to influence the Karabakh peace process and scuttle international recognition of the Armenian genocide.

The issue was high on the agenda of a three-day plenary meeting of the party's Bureau where Armenia's foreign and domestic challenges were examined.

The meeting, which finished its work in Beirut Monday, also discussed immediate and long-term strategies for coordinating its international affiliates in bolstering Armenia's statehood.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Bureau said international recognition of the genocide is a top priority for Armenia's foreign policy, warning that President Serzh Sarkisian's diplomatic overtures to Turkey are being manipulated “for halting the genocide recognition process and making relations between the two states conditional on Armenia's relations with a third country, Azerbaijan.”

Earlier this week Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan traveled to Baku for talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov. He told reporters after the meeting that the normalization of relations would have a “positive impact on the Azerbaijan-Armenia talks over Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Babacan also held separate meetings with Mammadyarov and Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian Wednesday on the sidelines of a high-level OSCE meeting in Helsinki.

Meanwhile, the Mediamax news agency Thursday quoted a senior U.S. official as saying that Armenia and Turkey are close to establishing diplomatic relations after months of intense talks.

The assertion, made by US Deputy Secretary of State Matthew Bryza after the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers met in Helsinki, came after Foreign Ministers Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Bernard Kouchner of France and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried met with Nalbandian and Mammadyarov to discuss a framework agreement for resolving the conflict.

The meeting, which lasted for about 15 minutes, followed much lengthier talks in the Finnish capital Wednesday between the two foreign ministers and the American, French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the Minsk Group, according to Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan.

Despite the apparent thaw in Turkish-Armenian ties, Ankara continues to maintain preconditions for establishing diplomatic ties, requiring Yerevan to agree to a historical commission on the Armenian genocide and make major concessions to Baku in the Karabakh peace talks.

Both Turkey and Azerbaijan severed ties with Armenia in 1993, closing borders and imposing an economic blockade on Yerevan in a bid to force Armenia to drop support for the self-determination of the people of Karabakh and end its campaign for international recognition of the Armenian genocide.

“It is extremely important to continue keeping the issue on the pan-national agenda,” the Bureau statement stressed, referring to the ongoing attempts to pressure Armenia into accepting the primacy of Azerbaijan's so-called territorial integrity in the Karabakh negotiations process.

The statement described Karabakh's independence as vital to the “survival and security of Armenia and the Armenian people,” adding that recognition of the Genocide by Turkey and the international community are imperative to Armenia's national security.

“The immediate importance of normalizing Armenia-Turkey relations must not take precedence over the rights of generations,” the Bureau stressed.

The Bureau statement comes a day after the Armenian parliament voted to pass a government-drafted amendment that analysts close to the conflict believe paves the way for the government to hold a referendum on a compromise solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

President Serzh Sarkisian last Thursday held extended closed door discussions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with leaders of Armenia's political parties, including the ARF, which was represented by the chairman of its Supreme Body in Armenia, Armen Rustamian.

After the nearly five-hour long meeting, Rustamian told reporters that he had forwarded to the president a set of principles and recommendations the ARF considers paramount to the Karabakh settlement.

He said that the negotiations “must be based on the already expressed will of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh,” adding that the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic should be recognized as “an independent party to the conflict.”

Since the landmark meeting in Yerevan between Sarkisian and Turkish President Abdullah Gul in September, the ARF has repeatedly advised the administration to be cautious in its dealings with Turkey and Azerbaijan, warning a rapid approach to normalizing ties with Turkey can be exploited by Ankara to increase its influence in the region, jeopardize Karabakh's independence and scuttle international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.