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armenianow: Speculation or Progress? Media interest opens debate on Armenian-Turkish relations

By Julia Hakobyan

ArmeniaNow reporter

Last month’s meeting between Armenia’s and Turkey’s ministers of foreign affairs has intensified media debate and speculation on relations between the two countries.

Following their meeting in Madrid, Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan Oskanian and his counterpart Abdullah Gul voiced their readiness to establish diplomatic relations. But what might have been politically-conscious rhetoric turned into news when statements were released to media.

Within the past week, for example, interviews have appeared in Yerevan newspapers, reporting comments from a Parliamentarian and the leader of the Armenian National Security Party concerning relations with Turkey.

Deputy Ruben Hayrapetyan told Haykakan Zhamanak: “It doesn’t take brains or an economist to understand that the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border will substantially improve our economic conditions. Finally it is high time to stop yelling about being massacred. I don’t want my children to live with a victim’s syndrome.”

But the ANSP party’s Garnik Isagulyan countered that if the border is opened: “. . . cheap Turkish goods will start flowing into the country and Armenia’s industry and agriculture will not be able to withstand competition.

“Only a very small group of Armenian businessmen will enjoy benefits – people who actually have a monopoly on the economic sphere and are called oligarchs. It cannot be ruled out that the press reports about the expediency of opening the border are connected with the influence of this group.”

Armenian diplomats say that the rumors about an impending bridge in Armenian-Turkish relations, has been grossly exaggerated.

Oskanian said that the opening of land borders did not correspond to the letter of his meeting with his Turkish counterpart.

He said that both sides expressed willingness to improve relations and they agreed to start with smaller steps.

Speculation was further fueled by announcement from Speaker of Parliament Artur Bagdasaryan (Orinats Yerkir party). The Speaker emphasized the need to establish relations between Armenian and Turkish Parliaments – a suggestion that was evaluated as a serious discord within the government coalition, as the various sides did not take positively Bagdasaryan’s announcement.

But since attention has been drawn to the perceived disagreement, parliamentarians deny rumors about any problems within the coalition.

Vahan Hovhannisyan (Dashnaktsutyan Party) the Vice-Speaker of Parliament, accuses mass media of forcing the events and making early groundless conclusions concerning the mood in Parliament.

“The journalists exaggerate the information,” he says, “probably because there is a lack of story ideas as it is summer, and they are ready to make a sensation of nothing.”

Hovhannisyan says what journalists call a problem between the sides of a coalition is a routine process when agreement is reached through debate.

As for opening the border with Turkey, Hovhannisyan says that it could be dangerous for Armenia.

“The opening of the border will be profitable for Armenia only in case of transit, when along with the railway with Turkey the railway with Azerbaijan and Abkhazia are opened too. Otherwise Armenia will become an appendage of the Eastern Turkish market, which is actually a western part of Armenia.

“The Turkish efforts to develop infrastructures in that territory during many years yielded no results, despite they promote investments in that part. In this aspect Turkey will take more advantage than Armenia when the border is opened.”
Vahan Hovhannisyan says Turkey may gain more than Armenia from an open border.

Any overture by Turkey of opening the border as a favor to Armenia is not grounded in reality Hovhannisyan says.

“Turkey is under pressure from its Atlantic partners for whom it is more and more difficult to justify Turkish politics in the European structures and in the US Congress,” Hovhannisyan says. “Turkey was needed as an ally but its role is being reduced now and its historical crimes and antidemocratic regime is hard to ignore for the West. The Turkish blockade of Armenia does not promote its image as a democratic country. Turkey should change its politics to be attractive for Western partners.”

Whether exaggerated in media or debated in the National Assembly, it is agreed that a solution is just as complicated and complex as the problem.

Turkey expects Armenia to abandon its campaign for international recognition of the 1915 genocide, while for Armenia the recognition of genocide as a top priority of foreign policy.

Alexander Arzumanyan, Armenia’s former foreign Minister, the founder of the (unofficial) “Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission believes that the Commission promotes developing ties with Turkey and better understanding between Turks and Armenians.

The Commission was founded in 2001 with the support of foreign diplomatic institutions. It was harshly criticized by the mass media who charged that the Commission was anti-Armenian orientated.

For Arzumanyan such accusations are unjustified. Despite there is no official response to the activity of the Commission, its members meet several times a year, initiating meetings of Armenian and Turkish businessman, public organizations and journalists.

‘The activity of the Commission should be estimated by its results, not by its name,” Arzumanyan says. “Last year we applied to the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) based in New York, asking to investigate whether the UN Convention for Genocide Recognition and Prevention could be applied to the Armenian genocide.”

Arzumanyan says that it was the first time when Armenians and Turks jointly applied to the international institution on the issue of the genocide.

The ICTJ published a report that the events of 1915 in Ottoman Turkey are considered as genocide according to the UN convention. Arzumanyan says although the result did not have an impact on the present situation, it was a great result and a step forward toward recognition.

Orientalist Suren Bagdasaryan said that despite the genocide issue is an acute one for Armenians, Turkey is not ready to accept its historical crime as a fact.

“We should not forget that despite Diaspora Armenians spending efforts on recognition of the genocide for a long time, the genocide issue was included in the agenda of Armenian foreign policy only in 1998,” Bagdasaryan says. “The recognition of the genocide will force Turkey to revise all its history and it will lose its role in the region.”

Bagdasaryan says neither the efforts of public organizations nor the rare meetings of the countries’ diplomats will bring the positive effects. He says that the opening of the land border probably will be positive for the Armenian economy, but doubts if Armenians are ready morally to have an open border with its historical hangman.

‘The opening of the border will change the geopolitical structure of the whole region,” he says. “Not only Armenia, but also other countries should be ready for that. Besides, Armenians will have to be guaranteed protection after the land borders will be opened.”

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