Armenian Parliament Speaker Alen Simonyan on Thursday voiced regret over Turkey’s reaction to a memorial to “genocide avengers” in Yerevan that he said was erected by the decision of local authorities and did not necessarily reflect Armenia’s foreign policy.
Speaking at a press conference in Ankara where he was attending a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, a regional organization embracing over a dozen countries, including Armenia, Simonyan commented on Turkey’s decision to close its airspace for overflights by Armenian airlines.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Turkish television earlier this week that banning Armenian airlines from operating flights through Turkish airspace was a response to “Armenia’s provocations”, including the recent inauguration in Yerevan of a memorial to participants in Operation Nemesis.
The operation pursued by a clandestine cell of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation was a 1920s program of assassinations of Ottoman perpetrators of the 1915 Armenian genocide and Azerbaijani figures responsible for 1918 massacres of Armenians in Baku.
While Operation Nemesis participants are widely regarded by Armenians as “avengers”, Turkey and Azerbaijan view them as terrorists.
Following the unveiling of the monument in the center in Yerevan on April 25, one day after Armenians in Armenia and around the world marked the 108th anniversary of the Ottoman-era Genocide vehemently denied by Turkey, the Turkish and Azerbaijani foreign ministries issued statements condemning the event that was also attended by Yerevan’s Deputy Mayor Tigran Avinyan, a senior member of Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party.
Simonyan stressed in Ankara that the decision on the memorial was made by a local government body. “I do not want it to be perceived here as a manifestation of Armenia’s foreign policy or as an unfriendly step,” he said, clarifying that the state foreign policy in Armenia is carried out by the prime minister and the foreign minister.
“You have all witnessed the decisions made at their level in recent months,” the parliament speaker added.
At the same time, Simonyan said that “if one wants, he can always find excuses for worsening relations.”
“I could, too, find a thousand different reasons for not coming to Turkey. But I am here to tell the Turkish society that Armenia is ready for peace and normalization of relations without preconditions,” the speaker of the Armenian parliament said.
Simonyan discussed the issue of the closure of airspace to Armenian airlines with his Turkish counterpart Mustafa Sentop when the two met on the sidelines of the international event in Ankara on Thursday.
According to the Armenian parliament’s press service, Simonyan expressed hope that his meeting with Sentop would promote a solution to the problem.
Armenia and Turkey embarked on their second attempt in the past decade or so to normalize their historically strained relations in early 2022. The governments of the two countries appointed special envoys who held several rounds of negotiations aimed at paving the way for establishing diplomatic relations and opening the currently closed border.
Since then Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan exchanged messages and had a phone call to discuss prospects of settling relations.
Also, Armenia sent rescuers and humanitarian aid to Turkey when a devastating earthquake struck the country in February, with Ankara temporarily reopening a crossing point at the border with Armenia for the humanitarian supply. Armenia said then it expected Turkey to reopen the border permanently at least for third countries’ citizens and diplomats in the near future.
Earlier this week, a spokesman at the U.S. State Department noted “with disappointment” Turkey’s announcement that it would suspend overflight permissions for Armenia’s airlines.
“The agreement that had previously been reached between these two countries to resume air connections had been a very important confidence-building measure not just between these two countries but… for regional stability broadly,” spokesman Vedant Patel said during a press briefing on May 3.
“It’s our sincere hope that Turkey and Armenia can continue to rebuild economic ties and open transportation links as well,” he added.
Official Yerevan did not immediately comment on Turkey’s condemnation of the Operation Nemesis monument inauguration in the Armenian capital or its ban on overflights for Armenian airlines that began to affect air traffic still last week.
But in remarks in parliament on Wednesday Prime Minister Pashinyan said that the closure of Turkish airspace for Armenian planes was primarily a problem for Armenia, because “those who block our routes experience practically no problems themselves.”
Pashinyan admitted that the decision to erect the monument made months after the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh reflected the desire “to avoid being called traitors.”
“But by being always guided by the logic of doing so as not to be called traitors we actually keep betraying the state and national interests of our country,” he said.