A member of the E.U.’s delegation to Ankara has said that Europe has a “strong interest in supporting normalization” between Turkey and Armenia.
Bela Szombati, a former Hungarian diplomat, was speaking in Ankara on Tuesday at an event on the Armenia-Turkey ‘normalization process’ where he called for civil society groups to engage more in order to overcome “deadlocked” relations.
The event was part of a program which brings together eight civil society groups from Armenia and Turkey with the aim of improving relations between the troubled neighbors.
Szombati, the deputy head of the E.U. delegation to Turkey, said: “With this project the E.U. aims to support … the efforts civil society is making towards the normalization of relations through enhancing people-to-people contacts, expansive economic business links, promoting cultural and educational activities and facilitating dissemination of balanced information.”
Szombati said that bilateral relations between the two countries have been deadlocked since 1993, keeping the border between the neighbors closed.
“It remains that people in each country lack accurate knowledge about the other,” Szombati said.
“Both societies suffer from mistrust and misinformation,” he added.
“The E.U. has a strong interest in supporting normalization between Turkey and Armenia,” he said.
Referring to regional tensions, Szombati said: “Progress in normalization could also have a positive impact on stabilizing the South Caucasus region and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in particular.”
Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Progamme communication coordinator, Burcu Becermen from the Istanbul-based Hrant Dink Foundation, said that the 18-month scheme started in January 2013 and has a two million euro ($2.5 million) budget.
Attending the event was the associate director of the Yerevan-based Eurasia Partnership Foundation, Vazgen Karapetyan, who said that the group was planning to invite Turkish mainstream media organizations to cover politically significant events in Armenia.
Relations between the two countries have historically been poor, rooted in incidents which took place during World War I. The Armenian diaspora and government describe the 1915 events as ‘genocide’ and have asked for compensation.
Turkey says that although Armenians died during deportations many Turks also lost their lives in attacks carried out by Armenian gangs in Anatolia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered condolences in April this year for the Armenian deaths that occurred in 1915 – a first for a Turkish statesman.