ANKARA: ‘Distant neighbors’: AA travels the Turkey, Armenia border

Anadolu Agency (AA), TUrkey
October 24, 2014 Friday

‘Distant neighbors’: AA travels the Turkey, Armenia border

Anadolu Agency meets people across the closed border between Turkey
and Armenia and finds a desire for better ties between the two
nations.

By Handan Kazancı
YERIVAN, Armenia

Although political ties between Turkey and Armenia remain frozen,
Anadolu Agency has met ordinary citizens on both sides of the divide
who want to see better relations between the two neighbors.

Although surveys point to the fact that almost half the population of
Turkey and Armenia want to establish cultural, economic or political
links, the future of the nations’ relationship is still blurred.

According to 2012 research in Armenia by the Yerevan-based Caucasus
Research Resource Center, 41 percent of Armenian respondents supported
opening the closed border between Turkey and Armenia without
preconditions.

Similar research done by the Ankara-based Turkish Economic and Social
Studies Foundation in 2010, found that almost 50 percent of the
population supported cultural, economic and political rapprochement
between Turkey and Armenia.

Nevertheless, the Turkish/Armenian border remains closed after
Yerevan’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabkh ` a disputed territory between
Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency at Yilankale ` known as Levonkla in
Armenian ` a medieval fortress in Turkey’s southern province of Adana,
cyclist Huseyin Dogan, 43, says he believes Turks and Armenians are
`brothers and sisters.’

`These two nations have been turned into enemies by third-party
countries for political reasons,’ Dogan says.

`Everybody know that this [closed border] is the consequence of
powerful countries’ pressure,’ he adds.

In Armenia, Anadolu Agency spoke to Minasyan Yervant, 72, a professor
at Yerevan State University who agrees with Dogan.

Talking in the Cascade Area in central Yerevan, Minasyan said: `A
rapprochement between the two countries actually cannot be done
between only Turkey and Armenia.

`There are the bigger interests of some bigger countries,’ Yervant says.

Relations between Ankara and Yerevan have also been poor owing to
bitter disagreements over events in 1915 which the Armenian diaspora
and government describe as `genocide.’

Turkey says that although Armenians died during deportations in 1915
many Turks also lost their lives in attacks carried out by Armenian
gangs in Anatolia.

Five years ago this month, Turkey and Armenia signed protocols to
normalize relations but the initiative eventually failed. Both
countries subsequently blamed each other for the stalled talks.

Although relations with Turkey have consequences for Armenia’s
economy, for Yervant ` as for many Armenians ` unemployment is the
country’s biggest concern.

According to CIA data, the estimated unemployment rate in Armenia in
2011 was 18.4 percent. The former Soviet country ranks 152nd on the
world unemployment list while Turkey ranks 101st with a 9.3 percent
rate, according to 2013 estimates.

Aram Sarkisyan, 44, a police officer from Yerevan, also thinks
unemployment is the biggest problem in the country.

`Cooperation is needed between the people of Turkey and Armenia.
Everything is going to back to the old times when Armenians and
Turkish people were friendlier to each other,’ Sarkisyan tells Anadolu
Agency.

With its almost three-million-strong population Armenia has struggled
economically since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although the country supplied machine tools, textiles and other
manufactured goods to the other Soviet republics during the Cold War
era, today it is a small-scale agricultural country.

As both the Turkey and Azerbaijan borders are closed because of the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia has only two open trade borders:
Iran and Georgia.

According to CIA data, Armenia is now dependent on Russian commercial
and governmental support; most key Armenian infrastructure is
Russian-owned or managed.

Professor Yervant says opening the border between Turkey and Armenia
depends on developments on the region.

`Whatever is happening in the world generally has a consequence. It is
actually a clash of interest of bigger countries: the U.S.; the E.U.;
and Russia,’ he adds.

Officer Sarkisyan says he believes that the border will open soon: `It
is going to be beneficial for both Turkey and Armenia.’

`We should have found a solution earlier,’ he adds.

Speaking about Turkey and Armenian relations Israelyan Mariyam, 56,
from Yerevan tells Anadolu Agency: `Whatever happened in the past we
could maybe leave in the past.

`But for the centenary commemoration of the genocide, we would
appreciate it if Turkish people would recognize genocide as a
gesture.’

As Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink ` assassinated by a Turkish
nationalist in 2007 ` summed up in his book `Turkey and Armenia’, the
pair are `two close nations, two distant neighbors.’

As part of AA’s series of reports from Armenia, next week we will
investigate the road ahead for Turkey’s strained relations with
Armenia.

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