Nalbandian Attends Erdogan Inauguration, Hands Invitation on Behalf of President

ANKARA (RFE/RL) — Turkey’s new President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was formally invited to visit Armenia in April and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, after being sworn in for a five-year term last week.

Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian handed Erdogan a letter from President Serge Sargisian as the two men briefly spoke at a reception in Ankara that followed the inauguration. Nalbandian’s press office reported no other details of the conversation.

Sargisian first publicly extended the invitation in May, three months before the Turkish presidential election. In televised remarks, he urged the winner of the ballot to visit Yerevan on April 24, 2015 and “face up to telling testimonies of the history of the Armenian genocide.”

Sargisian said on August 23 that Nalbandian “will learn” on the sidelines of the inauguration ceremony whether Erdogan will accept the invitation. A statement on Nalbandian’s trip to Ankara released by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said nothing about that. Turkish officials have given no indications as to whether or not the new Turkish president is ready for what would be a historic trip to Armenia.

Sargisian’s decision to dispatch his foreign minister to Erdogan’s swearing-in prompted criticism from Armenia’s main opposition parties. Hovannes Sahakian, a senior lawmaker from Sargisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), defended the move on Friday, saying that Armenia needs to keep channels of communication with its big neighbor open.

“We are at the same time showing that we have not forgotten and will not let others forget the 1915 Armenian Genocide,” Sahakian said. “The handing of the letter [to Erdogan] should be looked at from this standpoint.”

“We don’t pin much hope on Turkey’s president,” he said. “There has to be international pressure [over Genocide recognition.] Or maybe Turkey will evolve so much that it will do what Germany did about the Holocaust.”

In a further softening of Turkey’s decades-long policy of aggressive genocide denial, Erdogan offered last April first-ever Turkish condolences to the descendants of some 1.5 million Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Turks. The move was hailed by the West. Official Yerevan dismissed Erdogan’s statement, however, saying that Ankara continues to deny that the mass killings constituted genocide.

Photographs of the Ankara reception released by the Foreign Ministry show Nalbandian also chatting with Turkey’s newly appointed Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who until now served as foreign minister. The two men most recently held talks when Davutoglu visited Yerevan in December 2013 for an international ministerial conference. They made no progress towards the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, which Ankara continues to link to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.

Another photograph shows Nalbandian sitting next to Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s incoming new foreign minister, at an official dinner in Ankara. Cavusoglu had a tense rapport with the Armenian authorities when he served as president of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) from 2010-2012.

Cavusoglu faced allegations of anti-Armenian bias after he tried to revive an Azerbaijan-backed PACE “subcommittee” dealing the Karabakh dispute. Armenian members of the PACE claimed at the time that their Turkish and Azerbaijani colleagues want to use the panel for lobbying for a pro-Azerbaijani solution to the dispute. Cavusoglu rejected those allegations during a May 2010 visit to Yerevan.