Turkey and Azerbaijan have close ties, both harbouring hostility towards Armenia. The Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC) wants to add some color to this black and white relations portrait. TABDC has so far accomplished an improvement in relations with the Azerbaijani press and drawn the Azerbaijani press’ attention. This is an important development since any relation between Turkey and Armenia is open to negative consideration in Azerbaijan.
The first time an interview with Kaan Soyak was published in a pro-government newspaper, it did not take long to receive a reaction from Azerbaijan. Abbas Abdulla, former Azerbaijan consul in Istanbul, suggested Turkey should open its Armenian border. Both interviews were published in the “525. Gazet. (525th newspaper)” in Azerbaijan. The interview with Soyak was published in the Azeri media prior to Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev’s and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian’s summit.
Turkish Daily News brings forth the most crucial parts of the two interviews. The Turkish co-chairman of TABDC Kaan Soyak was interviewed by Ilhama Gasimly. Soyak insisted that Turkey and Armenia can improve relations and Azerbaijan can join the council to improve relations even faster.
Soyak in the interview defended the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border for direct trade between the two countries. Soyak is the CEO and the President of Alyans-Tempo transportation. He started his relations with an Armenian businessman during the transportation of the U.S. humanitarian aid to Armenia.
Soyak mentioned direct trade is necessary these days when Georgia and Iran make big profits from indirect trade. Soyak explained that the buyers and sellers from these two countries do not know each other and therefore there is a need for a council to create a meeting point. “TABDC was founded in May 1997. It was Telman Ter Petrossian’s idea and received big support from the Black Sea Economic Cooperation-Business Council (BSEC-BC). Both foreign ministries are aware of the establishment of the TABDC,” Soyak mentions.
Q: Your brother’s name is Noyan. Noyan has Armenian roots. Are you Armenian?
Soyak : No one can really know their origin in Turkey. Anatolia is a real crossroads. Everyone originates from somewhere. As far as we know we are Turks. We are not originally Armenian. Noyan means prince, army commender in Middle Asia. But we heard that Noy also means Noah Prophet in Armenian.
Q: What do you think about Armenian’s “genocide” claims?
Soyak: Many people lost their lives but speaking of it will not give any relief to anyone. I’ve seen many Armenian churches in many Anatolian cities. They were in ruins. Where have these people gone? What happened here? There is a painful part in Anatolian history, but giving lawful meanings will not give any relief to anyone. Moreover we are not fully aware of what happened then. Our brothers who we lived with for 1,000 years are not with us. This is important.
Q: Do you think Turkish-Armenian peace is possible and the borders can be opened?
Soyak: There are relations between Turkey and Armenia and they are no loner taboo. It is possible to open the border gate if it is beneficial for both countries and the South Caucuses region. EU, U.S., and Russian policies are aimed at regional security and economical development. Relations will increase the level of welfare of the regional people; this is more important than any other development. Turkish-Armenian relations have developed since 1998. All issues are on the discussion table. Everyone is aware of problems and of each others’ requests. Relations are not taboo anymore.
Q: Did TABDC accomplish its mission?
Soyak: TABDC was established to create an atmosphere of economic development. We are trying to increase the volume of trade in the region. We are looking forward to integrating railway and motorway transportation into the relations. We aim to communicate with all of Caucuses including Azerbaijan. The Turkish-Armenian border is closed and this interrupts the Turkey-Azerbaijan railway. TABDC never followed pro-Turkish nor pro-Armenian policy. It always followed reason and common interest. TABDC is equally remote to both countries and has gained the confidence of both sides.
Q: What are your projects so far?
Soyak : The first years we organized mutual visits. We invited Armenian businessmen to Turkey and set up press conferences. We did the same thing in Armenia. This helped us create a social environment. We also established cultural links. Many Armenian musicians came Turkey to perform. We also brought Turkish artists to Armenia.
We started a connection between universities. Middle East Technical University and Yerevan University agreed to send students to each other. Ankara University later joined. For the earthquake in the Marmara region in 1999, Armenia sent aid. We helped this aid reach Turkey. An Armenian in the U.S. sent an important amount of financial aid. It was very emotional for us.
Q: What would you like to say about the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline? You wanted the pipeline to pass through Armenia.
Soyak : We as TABDC did our best to inform Turkish society about the project. The Azerbaijan Government planned the project as the Baku- Yerevan-Ceyhan line, I believe. At that time Azerbaijan International Oil Company (AIOC) supported the Azerbaijan government. AIOC was established in 1994 and most of share holders are U.S. and British firms. The BP-Amoco merger decision was an important one. We found Armenian lobbies in the U.S. to support our aim to open an east-west energy corridor. We also thought that this would provide help in solving political problems. However, this project is not on the agenda of TABDC. Maybe the second line will pass through Yerevan in the future if conditions become acceptable.
Q: Who are the sponsors of TABDC?
Soyak: TABDC is in cooperation with the European commission, American University Center for global peace. But we also have our own financial power.
Q: How far is Turkey ready to compromise?
Soyak: Like many countries there are some who have a different view on peace. Our aim is that peace will bring calm, cooperation and welfare to the region. If we can explain this issue well and bring our common interests to first priority, then we can also help political peace. Peace will be reached via economic cooperation and economic peace. We want this to be declared to the public; that is what we are working for. There are institutions and journalists who support this pragmatic approach unfortunately bad news travels faster than good news.
There are politicians who abuse their power for their own interest and who pump fear into society in every country in this region. As a result we are unable to benefit from the sources in the region. The region is rich in historical monuments but there are no visitors. People of the region live in poorness instead of living in wealth.
The diaspora might be in good relation with us. Armenian diaspora in fact are the people that we lived with. It is very difficult to differentiate them from us. Sometimes we call them “Anatolian diaspora”. “Peace at home, peace in the world” is our motto. We want to see how accurate these words are by having relations with diaspora.
East Anatolia can benefit a lot from cooperation. Many cities like Kars, Erzurum, Ardahan, Igdir will benefit from trade. Third parties may also take place in trade. U.S., European and Russian firms may realize large, important projects. Armenia will not be an obstacle between Turkey and Azerbaijan, it will be a gate.
Hopefully it will be possible to go to Baku via railway. One of the most important issues is transportation. European Commission prepared the Traceca Project. The commission published a Traceca map. You can view it at www.traceca.org/tracecaf.htm address. The Kars-Gumru railway is linked to the Caucuses railway. This means Turkey can reach the Caspian region and be transformed into a transit region. This railway can be used for cargo transportation. We as TABDC want this railway to work.
Q: You first mentioned the subject in 1998. What is your target? Do you want to normalize diplomatic, political, economic relations or do you have another aim?
Soyak: There are several levels to our work. First two people have to meet and talk to each other. Members from chambers of commerce, industries met each other. We always wanted to facilitate a path for officials to meet each other. This has happened now.
We had other activities. For example we set up conferences in cooperation with Istanbul’s Politics Institution financed by the American University center for global peace and so on. There are different points of view but there are common points as well. Our real job will start once diplomatic, political and economic relations are established between Turkey and Armenia. We will work to open a corridor between Anatolia and Caucuses.
Q: Armenians have territorial claims on Turkey. What kind of expectations can you have under such conditions?
Soyak: Territorial claims of another country are not a new issue. Syria for example requested a for long time and even maybe now has claims over Hatay. We have diplomatic relations with Syria. Armenian President Robert Kocharian declared that Armenia has no territorial claims. These kind of claims are not worth considering. Turkey is an important power of NATO. Armenia wants to improve its relations with the European Union and NATO. I do not think that such claims are realistic at this time. We talk to diaspora who have the claim. We invite them to be realistic.
Q: How can you establish relation with a country that your country considers an enemy?
Soyak: It is not appropriate to say that all politicians like each other where there are trade relations. Political issues cause enmity and there are politicians who search for peace. I want to differentiate political relations from economic relations. I have a completely contrary idea. Trade helps political issues be considered in a smoother way. Moreover I do not think that the two nations have hostile feelings against each other. Armenians and Turks lived 700 years together, they have a common culture, traditions. Unfortunately the two peoples experienced very bad things. I believe that hatred and rage are very harmful.
Q: Is it possible to establish a connection between bringing Turkish-Armenia issue to public opinion and an Ecevit Government supporting compromise with Armenia?
soyak: Turkish-Armenian relations started thanks to Alparslan Turkes. This shows what a broad vision Turkes had. Since then all Turkish governments want to have better relations with neighboring countries. Turkish people are fed up with this Armenian-Turkish problem. They want it to be solved.
Q: How influential are Ankara’s policies towards Armenia?
Soyak: Turkey and Armenia have different state policies. We are facilitating the coming together of these different policies. I believe Ankara thinks that a solution can be reached via dialogue.
The Armenian-Turkish-Azeri journalists meeting is an example of this. Hopefully there will be a condition to establish an Azeri, Armenian, Turkish business council.
Abdulla: Turkey should open Armenian border
Azerbaijan former consul in Istanbul, Abbas Abdulla indicated that Turkey should open Armenian border because Armenia will not be able to realize its genuine requests any how.
Speaking to the same newspaper soon after Soyak’s interview, Abdulla defended the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border. Abdulla indicated that the number of people who state they are in favor of this development increase day by day. Abdulla, mentioning the interview with Soyak, reminded that Soyak informed him about the developments on relations and therefore he has a great amount of knowledge what Soyak really wants.
Abdulla says: “Turkish – Armenian border is closed but there is trade between Turkey and Armenia via Georgia. Half of the Turkish goods exported to Armenia follow the Georgian way. I asked the gate to be opened but both Azerbaijani and Turkish sides reacted against my proposal. The Turkish-Armenian border is officially closed but in practice it works indirectly. Most goods sold in Armenia are originally from Turkey.
Armenia is not really under a blockade. Markara Gate is closed but this does not mean Armenia is under blockade. However, Armenians use this issue as a propaganda means declaring Armenia is under Turkish blockade. This harms Turkey more than it harms Armenia.”
Q: Do you think unofficial relations between Turkey and Armenia can become official?
Abdulla: I do not think that Turkey and Armenia will establish official relations until the Narago-Karabagh issue is solved. Ataturk once said he is in favor of Azerbaijan being an independent country and that Turkey will do what it necessary. I’m sure that Turkey will follow this policy.
Q: Soyak said TABDC is supported by both foreign ministries.
Abdulla: If foreign ministries support it, this means they act according to realities. But there are some who want to make the world believe that Turks are hostile to Armenians.
Q: What if Turkish-Armenian relations work against Turkish-Azerbaijan relations?
Abdulla : Turkey would never do such a thing. If Turkey decides to improve relations with Armenia this is in favor of Azerbaijan. There might be some who are against Turkish-Azerbaijan relations. This is not possible.
Q: How seriously should we consider TABDC as an institution in the relations?
Abdulla: TABDC is a serious institution. They have been involved in this issue for a long time. The Turkish government does not control what this institution defends. Noyan Soyak defends his own ideas. Armenia was under English and Russian influence in the 19th century. It is better for Turkey to improve relations with Russia. They also defend this. The whole world is aware that Russia supports Armenia.
There is another issue that I cannot accept. Allegedly there was an Armenian genocide in 1915. According to Armenian historian Vartanian, Ottoman Armenians experienced more freedom of religion, literature and language than Russian Armenians did.
Q: Do you think TABDC has the power to influence Turkey’s policy towards Armenia?
Abdulla: All political and other relations are based on financial relations. If there is trade and other economic relations there will be other relations as well. I know that Armenians will not be able to realize their real wish even if there is an economic relation. Any Armenian with sense of reality knows that there is no way that we will lose Karabagh.
Q: It is said that the Soyak brothers are Armenian, what do you say about that?
Abdulla: Yes they are Armenian. I have information about that. I want to draw attention to another issue. There is an air corridor between Turkey and Armenia. This is how Armenia receives British and French goods. If the claims that Turkey made a blockade were true, then Armenia would not be able to receive these goods via this air corridor.
Ankara – Turkish Daily News