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It is not as hopeless on the human level as it is in politics


Standpoint of Armenia

It is not as hopeless on the human level as it is in politics

Levon Barseghyan


Levon Barseghyan

Chairman of the Journalists' Club “Asparez

Levon Barseghyan discusses the closure of the Armenian-Turkish border by mentioning the position of Turkey, Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan. He also comes back to the Armenia-Turkish protocols signed between Ahmet Davutoglu and Edward Nalbandian, which is, according to some people, a real political blow for Turkish-Azerbaijan relations.

The border

The border between Armenia and Turkey, which remains closed, is like a symbolic memory from the cold war. This border is the last piece of the iron curtain, the existence of which is substantially conditioned by other circumstances now than it used to be before.

Armenia was receiving numerous goods, even grain, through the territory of Turkey for about a year, between 1992-1993, which was a difficult period for Armenia (the Nagorno-Karabakh War, railway blockade by Azerbaijan, periodic explosions of gas pipeline coming from Russia to Armenia via Georgia). Tradesmen from all over Armenia, Georgia and even Russia used to reach Gyumri to pass the very 84 kilometers in 1,5 hour by Gyumri-Kars route. People were using their ties to get a ticket. The main goal of trips to Kars was the trade, garments and gold in particular, etc. People from Gyumri seemed to have found Klondayk (а gold rush) in Kars and people from Kars, according to Yujel Sezer, the Head of the branch of the Turkish Journalists' Association in Kars, cordially welcomed the neighbors – mainly Armenians, with whom they were actively trading for almost a year, from the other side of the border, which remained closed for decades and was opened very unexpectedly. Even a small, market-like area was formed in Kars with no theft, no robbery at all. At the same time a war was going on in Artsakh. Most people criticized this trade, saying that the whole gold was taken to Turkey from Armenia and turned into weapons and ammunition, which was then taken to Azerbaijan and used against the Armenian troops. 

Touching upon the causes that urged Turkey to close the border, Süha Bölükbaşı, the Head, Professor of the Department of International Relations, Middle East Technical University in Turkey (ODTÜ), says,“…the Armenian-Turkish border was closed in 1993 after the ‘adjacent territories’ of Nagorno Karabakh had been ‘occupied’ by Armenian troops. The border was closed by Ankara. Being afraid of the counterattack by Russia, Turkey did not give direct military support to the Azeris in the war with Karabakh. It only took a symbolic action by closing the border between Armenia and Turkey. ”

Long time, in fact, nothing works for reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey. In 1993, after the closure of the Armenian-Turkish border, there seemed to be an episode in twenty years’ time, when you could think that soon minimum diplomatic relations would be established, the border might be opened, Armenia started to construct the railway to Doğu Kapı station in Kars province, renovate Akhurik-2 station by changing the wagon wheels and adapting them to the Turkish relatively narrow railway, it turned out that neither Armenia, nor Turkey were interested therein. On the level of ministers of foreign affairs and under Swiss mediation, America and a number of large European countries made every effort, even with delay, to sign Armenian-Turkish protocols in Zurich in the evening of October 10, 2009. The protocols were signed by the foreign ministers of two countries A. Davutoğlu and E. Nalbandyan. This document was an unprecedented one in the history of Armenian-Turkish relations. The history of these two countries did not have any other document of direct diplomatic importance. However, except for mutual attendance of presidents of both countries to the football matches of both countries as well as mutual criticism, public and counter-public relations in the political circles, the protocols above did not have any continuation. In fact, they were frozen.

Like Bölükbaşı, a number of other analysts as well believe that the Armenian-Turkish protocols of 2008-2009 were a political blow to the relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan. On the other hand, these protocols significantly weakened the reputation of the Armenian president S. Sargsyan in the Armenian Diaspora, where, at every step, he was criticized for reconciliation actions with Turkey. Pickets and protests were held against him with posters like “Sargsyan, go home!” and other posters.       Majority of political powers started to criticize Serzh Sargsyan’s reconciliation, pointing out that the agreements were directly refracting or slowing down the process of the Genocide recognition by the world countries, parliaments and community social circles.

100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Turkish apparent position, which was once more expressed by the Turkey’s Prime Minister R. Erdogan on April 15, 2010 in the US George Mason University, is known and absolutely  inadmissible both for Armenia and Diaspora in particular: “We reject the genocide accusations in connection with the events of 1915 and reject unilateral decisions of parliaments. We think that the history should be studied and assessed by historians and not parliaments.” Whereas, official Yerevan and the whole Armenian society think that the historians have nothing to do, everything is quite clear to the interested society in every detail. In the Armenian environment it is hardly ever possible to find anyone, who will doubt the issue of the Armenian Genocide that took place in Turkey. It is already the fourth generation of the Armenians that no way loses its belief and the one of its children that one day Turkey will recognize this historical fact and everybody will sigh with ease. It’s also true, however, that nobody thinks that both the very recognition and a number related issues are easy to solve.       

Nowadays a certain interesting stagnation is observed on the level of the Armenian-Turkish relations, which is connected with the figure 100, that has a symbolic meaning. The Armenians and all those, who recognize the fact of the Armenian Genocide, are thoroughly getting ready for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and preparing various events with this regard. These two years might be the most difficult ones for the Armenian-Turkish official and public communication, and may be this communication will become easier after the year of 2015.

It is not as hopeless on the human level as it is in politics

According to the results of mass survey (1000 randomly selected respondents each time) held by Journalists’ Club “Asparez” in Gyumri periodically, Turkey have never appeared on the list of  Armenian friends and as for the enemy list, it periodically shared the first two places with Azerbaijan by getting 40-55 percent of the respondents’ votes. With these surveys, preceding and following different stages of events, Azerbaijan either appeared on the first place of the enemy list or gave its place to Turkey. At the same time, up to 30-40 percent of the respondents considered Turkey neither friend nor enemy.

Over ten year there are regular flights, dozens of bus trips between Yerevan and Istanbul, Armenian citizens enter Turkey through the territory of Georgia overland without any obstacles mainly for trade and illegal work in the west of Istanbul and for vacation purposes they leave for the Mediterranean coast. A few travel agencies have been established, which organize trips for Armenian pilgrims to eastern Turkey, Armenian Upland, or, as the Armenians , to Western Armenia to visit the settlements and sanctuaries of their forefathers and the citizens of Turkey, in their turn, visit Armenia to establish and develop business relationships. No any intent on an official or state level is observed with regard to this mutual communication in both countries, sometimes one can hear high officials from Turkey threatening to deport illegal immigrants from Armenia. However, no practical actions have been taken to call to life these threats so far. In light of all this, the so called “closed border” does not correspond to the reality so much.     

Of course good and bad points, in case the Armenian-Turkish border were open, have been considered in Armenia. Some analysts claim that mainly Eastern Turkey, which is far behind Western Turkey in terms of development, will benefit from it. In Armenia prices of a number of services will increase due to the direct and cheaper visits of the Turks (health service, recreation, catering, two towns, reachable in 1-2 hours, with a population of one hundred thousand and one town with a population of one million in Armenia with relevant recreation offers, tens of thousands of people from Iran visiting Armenia, Yerevan a few times a year for recreation and rest, then what must hinder Turkish tourists…?) and other analysts think that some jobless people in Armenia can find a job in Eastern Turkey, not leave for remote Russia, and prices of goods imported from Turkey (till now through the territory of Georgia) will increase in Armenia and the cost price of semi-finished products and goods made on the basis of raw materials in Armenia will decrease, and the turnover of goods and tourism will be much more activated etc.       

In Kars, where the majority of the population makes the Kurds, and there are also about 10.000 Azeris from Nakhijevan, who were resettled in province, it became clear from my numerous conversations that common people, workers, minor and medium-sized businessmen, cultural figures and intellectuals, with little exceptions, see no any personal obstacle for communicating with the Armenians on the other side of the border, establishing business relationship with them, starting their business and opening a store in Armenia.

In 2004 on the initiative of Naif Alibeyoğlu, former mayor of Kars, a signing petition was held in the town on willingness to reopen the country’s eastern border. The second item of the same signing petition was to stop the further operation of the Metsamor nuclear power plant in Armenia. The results of the signing petition showed that 50 thousand people were for the reopening of the border. (The population in Kars town makes 78.500 people and the population in Kars province amounts to about 300.000 people). All local media widely covered the signing petition. They say that tables were put on all big crossroads of the town and people were approaching and putting their signatures. In this signing petition the journalists were the first to sign. Thereafter, 50 thousand collected signatures were sent to the Parliament. “People from Kars put forward an interesting argument as well,” Mukadder Yardimciel, a journalist from Kars was explaining to me, “Why the direct bus route, let’s say via Gyumri-Kars route, must be impossible between us, in case when air flights from Istanbul to Armenia and vice versa are held, Armenian citizens enter Turkey through the territory of the third countries without any obstacles, and the same the Turkish citizens do when entering Armenia? It turns out that we-the people from Kars, are in blockade indeed.”      

Many people in Kars, indeed, think that the policy conducted by Ankara, for whatever sake it might be, is indirectly directed against the development of Kars and neighboring districts.

In 2010 Ankara, putting pressure on former mayor of Kars, replaced him by another, who did not stand out for his motives to open the border or build friendly relationship with the Armenians. Shortly thereafter, by the order of Ankara, the Statue of Humanity, initiated by former mayor, already erected but not opened yet, was demolished in Kars.

About a few factors, which will keep the border closed for a long time

The Kurdish factor

For some clear reasons neither Turkey, nor Armenia, according to various data, cannot ignore the existence of 12-18 million Kurds in Turkey, south-east and in Kars province in particular. Possible opening of the border may strengthen the Armenian-Kurdish relations, improve living standards of the Kurdish population, develop their aspirations for independence. Some analysts think that in case of this scenario, Turkey may enter into an alliance with Armenia very unexpetedly and closely to control and prevent a few ways of creating the Kurdish autonomy in the country, or to find a way out of the situation with minimal losses, if the latter is inevitable.   

The issue of lands   

The issue of the return of lands from Turkey is a permanent topic within the Armenian nationalist circles. However, despite this rough position, yet it is still unknown and incomprehensible how these powers are going to do that, and how they picture the co-existence with millions of Kurds and Turks living on these territories thereafter. Professor Mustafa Aydın, Head of the Department of International Relations, University of Economics and Technology in Ankara said: ‘…there are a number of issues that are not agreed upon till now and one of them is the recognition of the borders of modern Turkey by Armenia under the Kars Agreement, dated 1921. Sure, there is the issue of tragedy of 1915 and many people in Turkey consider that this history has nothing to do with modern Turkey.

Power-generating materials

Armenian-Turkish relations, current situation and future possible developments and scenarios, for clear reasons, cannot be considered only within the system of the historical past, military-political, geopolitical, Karabakh conflict and adjacent factors, if the interests of power-generating sources, which become more and more important, and the ones who need them, as well as transfer conditions thereof and related circumstances are not taken into consideration. Baku, which owns significant reserves of oil and gas, continues and will continue to keep Turkey dependent on oil and gas, any time and in every possible way maneuver‎ with other markets or other exporters, particularly with Russia, by increasing or decreasing the prices of power-generating materials supplied to Turkey and changing other terms. It is clear that the topic of power-generating materials is very broad and includes a number of Russian, European and eastern oil-industry players and we cannot expand on this topic here.


Russia which turned to the USSR incurring some losses, then to the Russian Federation incurring other losses, willing to restore previous territories under the scenarios of the Eurasian Union, having endless geopolitical ambitions and being governed under the authoritarian regime, for obvious reasons not willing to lose the Caucasus (in the words of Winston Churchill “Russia’s soft belly”) has a 49-year strategic alliance agreement with Armenia, maintains its 102nd military base in Armenia free of charge, makes every effort to have its utmost share from power-generating materials in Baku and from the Caspian Sea, and will not be against sending the troops back to the conflict zone of Armenia and Azerbaijan – Nagorno Karabakh at all. There is a growing impression that Russia’s real but concealed resistance to the regulation of the Armenian-Turkish relations is a more powerful circumstance than the fact of Genocide to be recognized or not recognized by Turkey.         

Karabakh conflict

This factor or circumstance is somehow included in the three factors mentioned above. However, it is considered to be a separate factor. Natural involvement of Armenia in this conflict will be always and, in case of need, manipulated within the context of the Armenian-Turkish relations. Given that the diplomacy is the art of possibility and flexibility test, the parties will be able to use the Karabakh factor both “for the sake of” and “against” some or intermediate regulation if there is a need; within the last 20 years the public faced a few examples thereof.

In conclusion, it may be stated that so many player’s interests are concentrated in this region that any balance coincidence and relatively sudden break or distraction may signify cantly change the maps and order of players, the border, for instance, may be unexpectedly opened and closed, like thunder or hail and it will not imply something mysterious, only interests, powers and mind.