CAIRO (RFE/RL) — Armenia voiced on Monday strong support for Egypt’s position in bitter disputes with Turkey over maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean and the conflict in Libya.
Making an official visit to Cairo, Foreign Zohrab Mnatsakanyan also accused Ankara of destabilizing these and neighboring regions, including the South Caucasus.
“We are following closely developments in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Mnatsakanyan said after talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry. “We are in solidarity with Greece and Cyprus on their inalienable rights to economic activities in the exclusive economic zone in line with international law.”
“I want to also emphasize our solidarity and support to Egypt in the same way,” he told a joint news conference held shortly before his separate meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Mnatsakanyan went on to praise Egypt’s “commitment to peace and stability” in Libya where Cairo and Ankara support rival warring factions. “We very much welcome your efforts in this regard,” he told Shoukry.
Tensions between Turkey on one side and Greece, Cyprus and Egypt on the other have grown in recent months over conflicting claims to the extent of their continental shelves in the eastern Mediterranean.
In early August, Egypt and Greece signed an agreement designating their exclusive economic zone in the region thought to be rich in natural gas. Both nations had denounced as illegal a similar deal signed by Turkey and Libyan government earlier. For its part, the Turkish government described the Greek-Egyptian agreement as null and void before ordering more preparatory work for potential hydrocarbons exploration.
Armenia publicly sided with Greece and Cyprus later in August, sparking a renewed war of words with its big neighbor and arch-rival. Yerevan and Ankara began trading bitter accusations following the July 12 outbreak of heavy fighting on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan, Turkey’s regional ally.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders blamed Yerevan for the weeklong deadly hostilities and reaffirmed support for Baku in unusually strong terms, raising the possibility of Turkish military intervention in the Karabakh conflict.
Mnatsakanyan expressed serious concern over the Turkish “military buildup” and cited unconfirmed reports that Ankara is recruiting Islamist militants in Syria and sending them to Azerbaijan. “These are exactly the moves which undermine the efforts towards peace and stability in the region,” he said.
In that context, the Armenian minister spoke of the “same sources of destabilization” in the South Caucasus, the east Mediterranean and North Africa. “Any attempts to export instability and escalation to different regions as part of power projection is deplorable, whether it is in North Africa or in the South Caucasus,” he said in another jibe at Ankara.
Successive Turkish governments have refused to establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan and open the Turkish-Armenian border out of solidarity with Azerbaijan. They have made the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations conditional on a Karabakh settlement acceptable to Baku.
Turkey’s relationship with Egypt has been strained ever since the 2013 overthrow of the Arab nation’s former Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi. The latter was supported by Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party during his short rule. Many members and supporters of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood fled to Turkey after the coup.
Mnatsakanyan seemed satisfied with his “very good discussion” with the Egyptian foreign minister, saying that it focused not only on international security but also ways of expanding Armenian-Egyptian relations. “We are keen to take practical steps in this direction,” he said.
The top Armenian diplomat also said his country supports Egypt’s efforts to sign a free-trade deal with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.
He further revealed that al-Sisi is planning to visit Armenia. But he gave no possible dates for the trip.