Turkish, Armenian, Azeri leaders meet at summit despite rifts

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, chats with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at the Informal EU 27 Summit and Meeting within the European Political Community in Prague, Czech Republic October 6, 2022. Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

ISTANBUL, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Turkish, Armenian and Azeri leaders met informally at a European summit on Thursday, Turkish media reported, marking the first top level talks between Turkey and Armenia since they launched a bid to mend ties late last year after decades of animosity.

State-owned Anadolu news agency said President Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azeri leader Ilham Aliyev ahead of the Prague summit, publishing a photo of them sitting with others at a small table.

In January, Turkey and Armenia held a first round of talks in more than 10 years, describing them as "positive and constructive" and raising the prospect of restoring ties and reopening borders.

Ankara has not had diplomatic or commercial ties with Armenia since the 1990s. The latest initiative is the first attempt to restore links since a 2009 peace accord that was never ratified.

Tensions flared during a 2020 war over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Turkey accused ethnic Armenian forces of occupying land belonging to Azerbaijan, but it subsequently called for a rapprochement as it seeks to broaden its regional influence.

Turkey and Armenia are at odds primarily over the 1.5 million people Armenia says were killed in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor to modern Turkey.

Armenia says this constitutes genocide. Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies it was systematic or constitutes genocide.

Amid the normalisation efforts, a commercial flight from Yerevan landed in Istanbul in February in the first such direct flight in two years.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan at a diplomatic forum in southern Turkey in March and said they had a very "productive and constructive" meeting.

That was the first sit-down meeting between the two countries' foreign ministers since 2009. They spoke briefly on the sidelines of an OSCE meeting last November.

Erdogan has previously said Armenia needed to form good ties with Azerbaijan for the normalisation effort to yield results.

Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.