By Karine Kalantarian
A Turkish businessman who has long been advocating improved relations with Armenia called on the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) on Monday to embark on a “dialogue” with Turkey over issues dividing the two peoples.
“I seriously invite them to Turkey for a dialogue. If Dashnaktsutyun agrees to engage in a dialogue with Turkey, I promise you that I will do my best to organize it,” Kaan Soyak, one of the two co-chairmen of the Turkish-Armenian Business Council (TABC), told a news conference in Yerevan.
Soyak would not elaborate on what concrete forms that dialogue should take, saying only that it could yield “serious results” and give the nationalist party represented in Armenia’s government an opportunity to shake off its highly negative image in Turkey. He said he thinks that Dashnaktsutyun is not as fiercely anti-Turkish as it is presented in his country.
“In Turkey, the Dashnaktsutyun party has a negative image,” Soyak said. “But if you ask for my opinion, I would describe the party and its leaders as very serious and sensible.”
Soyak voiced the surprise invitation immediately after passing on “greetings to the Armenian people” from Turkey’s prime minister and foreign minister. But it was not clear if official Ankara had anything to do with the offer.
Turkish governing circles and media often portray Dashnaktsutyun as a key obstacle to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. They also use Dashnaktsutyun’s implicit support for Armenian territorial claims to Turkey to accuse Yerevan of failing to recognize the existing border between the two states.
Dashnaktsutyun favors a hard line on Turkey, making normalization of bilateral ties contingent on Ankara’s recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The party’s leaders have denounced U.S. efforts to ease tensions between the two historical foes which led to the creation of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) in 2001. They are also opposed to the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border which Ankara keeps closed out of solidarity with Azerbaijan.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul assured his visiting Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov last week that the border will not be reopened until a solution is found to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “The continuing [Armenian] occupation and the fact that almost a million Azeris are currently displaced constitute a big obstacle for any change in Turkish policy,” Gul said after the talks.
The Armenian government has long urged the Turks to drop that precondition, a position shared by both Turkish and Armenian business people making up TABC. Soyak said he and his Turkish colleagues will continue to lobby for an open border but did not sound optimistic about the success of those efforts.
Soyak estimated the annual volume of Turkish-Armenian trade, mainly carried out via Georgia, at $120 million. He said it would quickly triple if the Turkish embargo is lifted.