Bridging A Divide In Europe

Tufts E-News
February 14, 2005

Bridging A Divide In Europe

A Fletcher School graduate student says that tensions between Turkey and
Armenia won’t subside as long as the border between the countries remains

Medford/Somerville, Mass. Centuries-old tensions between Armenia and Turkey
continue to percolate, thanks in large part to the sealed border that divides
the two countries. The counterproductive closed-border policy, says a Fletcher
School student, has impoverished many people in the two nations while blocking
any chance of working toward a resolution.

“The current policies in the region applied by both countries are indisputably
a failure. It is time to open a fresh process of dialogue and reconciliation by
opening the Turkish-Armenian border,” Harout Semerdjian, a graduate student in
international relations, wrote in the English-language publication Moscow Times.

When Armenia achieved independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet
Union, it faced many problems.

“For the large and influential Armenian diaspora worldwide, the most important
issue remained recognition of the events of 1915 as genocide,” Semerdjian
wrote. “However, for the majority of Armenians living in Armenia, the most
significant issue became survival in a period of economic hardship and social

Turkey, he added, also faces setbacks: “In recent years, farmers have put
entire villages in the Sivas region of the country up for sale. Isolated
eastern provinces such as Erzerum, Kars and Igdir near the Armenian border are
anxious to boost their economy in order to improve their low standards of

Enforcing a sealed border, Semerdjian contended, only exacerbates the problem.

“It only maintains the poverty in the border regions, which would otherwise
benefit from cross-border economic activity.”

The tension stems from long-standing conflicts, such as the slaying of over a
million Armenians at the hands of Turkish soldiers in 1915 (whether or not it
was genocide is a hotly debated subject) and the recent dispute over the
Azerbaijani enclave of Nagorny Karabakh, which is heavily populated by

These tensions, Semerdjian asserted, are hurting both nations.

“While authorities in Turkey may feel they are punishing Armenia in support of
Azerbaijan, both countries are in fact merely punishing their own people by
maintaining closed borders.”

But a foundation of understanding cannot be established without communication,
Semerdjian wrote.

“How can Turkey expect the Armenian diaspora to behave in a positive,
conciliatory manner when it is unwilling to establish basic communication links
between the two countries? How can Armenia expect Turkey to understand its
needs and historical issues when Mount Ararat currently acts as an Iron Curtain
rather than a mountain of peace?”

Semerdjian, a member of the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council,
wrote that unsealing the border would be mutually beneficial.

“Open borders would encourage contact, trade, business opportunities and
tourism between the population of both countries — which would in turn create
a sense of confidence and greater understanding between the two peoples.”

He added that opening the border would be a strong, independent step for both

“It would demonstrate to the international community the strong will and
determination of both countries to solve their differences themselves, not in
the corridors of the French senate or the U.S. Congress,” he wrote.

Semerdjian urged top Armenian and Turkish officials to reconsider their reasons
for keeping the border sealed.

“Leaders of both countries should be encouraged to think in global and
realistic terms and start taking alternate steps toward peace, if they are
serious about bringing harmony and eventual prosperity to the region.”
From: Baghdasarian