Friday, September 21, 2007

Relations With Yerevan

Published: 9/21/2007
Turkish Press, MI

MILLIYET- The border between Turkey and Armenia has been closed since 1993. Ankara cut all its relations with Armenia after the newly independent state occupied Karabagh in a conflict with Azerbaijan. Since then, the border has been closed and there has been no contact or trade between Turkey and Armenia. But you can find lots of Turkish products at stores in Armenia, reaching there indirectly, through Georgia. The issue of opening the border and normalizing relations has been brought up from time to time by non-governmental organizations. The issue was discussed at a conference last year on the economic and social impact opening the border would have. A later study was discussed during a meeting jointly organized by the ARI movement in Istanbul and the Armenian International Political Research Group (AIPRG). The focus was on the economic benefit of opening the border, but political factors stalling normalization were also discussed.

Of course, if the border is opened, both sides will benefit. Trade, transportation, tourism, etc. will be galvanized, and the economy will grow. Actually, opening it would benefit Armenia more, as the closure also hurts it more, and its economy is weaker. But according to Armenian sources and research, the Armenian economy has recently shown rapid improvement. Yerevan is boosting its trade with its neighbors and Europe, selling electricity to Georgia and Iran, etc. According to analyst Mher Beghramyan of AIPRG, Armenia has adapted itself to this situation. Likewise, in spite of Turkey’s sanctions, the country’s economy is improving. So we can’t say that the closed border has made Yerevan change its policy on Karabagh or Azerbaijan. Seeing the issue as primarily economic is also a mistake. The reason for Turkey’s insistence is wholly political, and this can’t be separated from economic considerations. In other words, there have been two factors behind Turkey not changing its policy on Armenia: firstly, Yerevan’s lack of compromise on Karabagh, and secondly its stance on its disagreements with Ankara, mostly on the so-called Armenian (“genocide”) issue.

Under Ankara’s policy, there won’t be any move towards normalizing unless Yerevan changes its stance. On the other hand, Yerevan is opposed to linking the border issue with these problems. Yerevan wants the border to first be opened and then to have other issues discussed. Speaking at the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) in Istanbul this June, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian signaled that if the border is opened, a proposal for a conference on the genocide issue might be discussed. Actually, the way to solve this complicated conundrum is to sit at the table and start a dialogue using creative diplomacy covering all the issues. Striking such a balance would be beneficial for both countries, not only economically, but also politically.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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