Armenian, Turkish ministers to meet in September, Turkish media says

CAPTION: The city of Kars in northeastern Turkey, not far from the border with Armenia.

By Mark Dovich

A number of government ministers from Armenia and Turkey are set to meet next month on an unspecified date, according to a report published last Thursday by Turkish television channel Ulusal Kanal, citing an anonymous, high-ranking source in the country’s Foreign Ministry.

Neither Yerevan nor Ankara have commented on the matter.

“It is envisaged that the two countries’ ministers of trade, transport, and foreign affairs will be present at the meeting,” Ulusal Kanal reported. “It has been learned that Turkey’s expectation for the meeting…is (for it) to be held in Kars.”

Armenia does not have a trade ministry, but the Economy Ministry, led by Vahan Kerobyan, covers trade. Likewise, Armenia does not have a transport ministry, but the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure, headed by Gnel Sanosyan, handles transport.

The September meeting would be just the second meeting between Armenian and Turkish government ministers since the two sides restarted negotiations to normalize ties last December by putting forward special envoys for talks.

In March, Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministers Ararat Mirzoyan and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held a meeting on the sidelines of a diplomatic forum in the Turkish resort city of Antalya.

Meanwhile, Armenian and Turkish special envoys Ruben Rubinyan and Serdar Kılıç have met face-to-face four times, most recently last month. After that round of talks, Armenia and Turkey agreed to open their border to citizens of third countries “at the earliest date possible,” in the biggest breakthrough in normalization efforts in many years.

The Armenia-Turkey border has been closed since the early 1990s, when Turkey, in coordination with its close ally Azerbaijan, imposed a devastating economic blockade on Armenia that remains in place to this day.

Last month, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held their first-ever phone call, expressing “their expectations that the agreements reached” to partially reopen the border “will be implemented soon.”

In its report, Ulusal Kanal said the September meeting would be aimed at discussing “technical details” to facilitate the border reopening, including potential steps to repair a bridge between the Armenian and Turkish border villages of Margara and Alican.

Also watch: Possible Turkish border reopening causes angst in Armenia’s border villages

The prospect of next month’s meeting taking place in the Turkish city of Kars is also noteworthy. For several months, Ankara has been calling on Yerevan to move normalization talks from third countries to Turkey or Armenia. All the meetings between Rubinyan and Kılıç, for instance, have taken place in Moscow or Vienna.

Kars is located only about 30 miles from the border and was a major Armenian center prior to the Armenian genocide. Kılıç, the Turkish special envoy, traveled to the city last month to visit the border, according to local news site Gazete Kars.

In a separate development Monday, Kılıç wrote on Twitter that he was “deeply shocked by the news on (sic) the massive explosion at an open-air trading center in downtown Yerevan” the day before. “I would like to extend my sincere condolences” to the victims of the blast, he added.

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