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TURKISH TIME: TURKISH-ARMENIAN FRIENDSHIP WILL IMPROVE WITH TRADE

Vice-president of the Turkish-Armenian Business Council, Noyan Soyak is
looking ahead with hope. He has reasons to feel so. Even the process of
setting-up this organization, where he is an executive now, is in itself a cause
to be optimistic about the future of Turkish-Armenian relations.

TURKISHTiME: You are one of the founding members of the
Turkish-Armenian Business Council. How did you get the idea of setting-up such a
council?

NOYAN SOYAK: My brother Kaan Soyak, who is the co-president
of the Council, together with me, own and manage a maritime company that
provides logistic services. We have been involved in business with Russia since
1990 and in the USA since 1994.The USA administration has humanitarian aid
cargos and they open bids for the transportation of these. Our company
participated in the bids for Middle Asia. They were destinations like Azerbaijan
and Armenia. Taking these bids, we started transportation to Armenia too. We had
to carry the cargo to the interior of the country.

So, we met our Armenian partners. We were doing the business being an
American company but soon the Armenians found out that it was we the Turks who
were behind the company.

During the presidency of Levon Ter Petrosyan, government officials invited us
for a negotiation. The elder brother of Petrosyan, Telman Ter Petrosyan,
suggested that we establish a business council between the Turkish and Armenian
businessmen. Thinking this was going to be very fruitful, we accepted and
established the council in 1997. The Co-president of the council in Armenia is
Arsen Ghazarian.

Mr. Telman died after two months of the establishment of the Council, and
soon after that Levon Ter Petrosyan left the Presidency. But we pursued the work
we had started with our Armenian partners.

Even
though the Turkish-Armenian relations were not very friendly and have a negative
influence on our activities, we completed the fifth year and have come a long
way.

How did you manage this despite the lack of diplomatic relations
between Turkey and Armenia?

The first step we took to improve the relations was to meet Turkish and
Armenian businessmen, who were using Georgian and Iranian businessmen as
intermediaries. Later on, these Turkish and Armenian businessmen opened up an
office in Georgia. We have close relations with the Foreign Economic Relations
Board (FERB) and the Eurasia Business Council but we cannot be a member of FERB
since there is no diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Our council is established under the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)
Business Council and we receive substantial support from them.

Our board of directors consists of eight members. They can take decisions,
reaching each other at any time. Then, there is a big group of volunteers of
Turkish and Armenians, working under the board of directors. Also, there is
another group of 1500 people whom we communicate with through e-mails. Up to
today, we have organised everything from concerts, excursions to conferences
etc. but the business.

You could not do business, because the Turkish-Armenian trade route
takes place through Georgia and Iran. What is the cost of this to Turkey and
Armenia?

Trade taking place through Georgia and Iran is costly for both sides. It
costs a truck, $3,000 including official and unofficial expenses, to go to
Armenia through Georgia. But, it is only 55 km from Kars to Yerevan.

The total volume of trade from Turkey to Armenia through Georgia is $35-40
million and through Iran, it is $30-35 million. This totals about $70 million.

Potatoes growing in Iğdır, goes to Georgia for TL75,000/kg . And it is sold
for TL400,000/kg  at the Yerevan market place. The President of the Chamber of
Commerce of Iğdır says: "Open up the border gates so we could sell potatoes for
TL100,000/kg to them directly and they would buy it paying at the most
TL150,000/kg.Thus both sides will gain.

Considering that a total trade volume of $70 million, this is not a
highly important market for the Turkish economy, but….

The problem is not the Armenian market only. At the same time, Armenia is the
bridge, connecting Turkey to Middle Asia. The Kars-Yerevan railway is the only
railway that connects Turkey to Middle Asia. This railway was actively working
until 1993. It can be activated again with a $40 million investment.

I am well aware, since I am in the maritime business, that it is very costly
for a cargo liner coming from the West crossing through the Straits and arriving
in Georgia. The railway that passes through Yerevan and reaches İskenderun and
Mersin, connects us to Middle Asia by the shortest route. We are thinking about
the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan line but why are we not thinking about
Baku-Yerevan-Tbilisi railway? If this happens, Turkey would become a major
transit country. Besides, 10 years from now, the consumption potential of the
Middle Asia countries’ will increase considerably. We have to be able to reach
these places right now.

The name of your council is the Turkish-Armenian Business Development
Council. So, are you intending to improve relations not only with Armenia but
also with the Armenians living all over the world?

Armenian diaspora has a widespread domination area in the world, not only in
the USA or in Europe. For example, they have a great influence on trade
activities in Moscow, Russia. There is an effective Armenian diaspora in Iran,
Syria, Lebanon and even in Argentina. Furthermore, they are exceedingly capable
and experienced in the trade sector.

The
population of Armenia is 2 million today, but there are 8 million more Armenians
living all over the world. Moreover, I believe some 70 percent of them speak
Turkish.

The third generation grandchildren of the immigrants from Anatolia speak
Turkish, complete with the dialect of the region of their ancestors.

But, there is a widespread belief in public opinion that compared to
the Armenian administration, the Armenian diaspora has a more rigid and
uncompromising point of view of Turkey. How is this going to be overcome?

Do not consider the whole Armenian diaspora as one homogenous mass.
Well-known Armenian American businessman,called us after the 17th August
earthquake to extend a $1 million donation and expressed his deep sorrow. In
addition, the Armenians, participating in our ‘Pilgrimage tourism’ tour
organisations, are changing considerably when they set foot on this soil. I
witnessed a "Tashnak" who is proud of himself for he has never shaken hands with
any Turks in his life, but changed his attitude after visiting Turkey. .

I want to add these also; an apricot producer in Malatya sends his hand
written, Turkish fax message to an Armenian in Argentina. After he reads the fax
message, he replies in the same manner. The owner of a hotel on the shores of
Lake Van calls the manager of a famous hotel in Boston and talking in Turkish,
asks him to make an investment in his hotel. And the other party accepts this
gladly. Trade is changing many things and it is going to go on changing.

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