By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Trade and Economic Development Minister Karen Chshmaritian on Friday voiced his support for the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border, in a sharp contrast to the position of a key member of Armenia’s governing coalition.
Chshmaritian said an open land border with Turkey would contribute to stability in the region, open a big market for Armenian manufacturers and lower the disproportionately high costs of transporting goods to and from Armenia. “Given the existence of protective and rapid reaction mechanisms in our market, Armenian entrepreneurs would get new avenues of activity,” he told reporters.
The remarks ran counter to the position of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), one of the three parties represented in Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s cabinet. Dashnaktsutyun leaders, known for their tough anti-Turkish stance, warn that the lifting of Ankara’s decade-long embargo would leave the Armenian market flooded with cheap Turkish goods and ruin many domestic manufacturers. They also claim that Armenia could become economically dependent on its historic foe.
But according to Chshmaritian, who is a member of Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), cross-border commerce would create more opportunities than dangers for Armenian companies and the economy as a whole. He said membership of the World Trade Organization does not prevent Yerevan from imposing anti-dumping duties on “any Turkish goods at any moment.”
The minister also argued that the border’s reopening would give the landlocked country a new conduit to the outside world. Armenia currently relies on Georgia’s Black Sea ports for the bulk of its foreign trade. Armenian officials and businesspeople have long complained that the transit fees charged by the Georgians are too high and make Armenian exports less competitive.
“The existence of a transportation alternative could also lower the cost of Georgian routes and thereby boost our export potential,” Chshmaritian said.
Chshmaritian’s opinion seems to be shared not only by the entire HHK but also the third coalition party, Orinats Yerkir. Its leader, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, angered the Dashnaktsutyun leadership last month after he publicly advocated the creation of a “friendship group” of Armenian and Turkish lawmakers. Dashnaktsutyun believes that dialogue with Turkey will be fruitless as long as the latter refuses to recognize the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Successive Turkish governments have made the normalization of bilateral ties contingent on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would favor Turkic Azerbaijan. The current government in Ankara has signaled a certain softening of that policy recently, a fact welcomed by official Yerevan.