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WHAT IS THE PROBLEM BETWEEN TURKEY AND ARMENIA

Hasan KANBOLAT
08 October 2007 - Today's Zaman
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!áH€ ="justify">The Armenian lobby was not satisfied with the remarks of US President George W. Bush, who used the terms mass killings and forced deportation instead of genocide in reference to the events of 1915 in his regular April 24 statement. The Armenian dossier is now on the agenda again, six months after these remarks.

Ïs after these remarks.

The draft resolution (No. 106) on the Armenian genocide, with discussion initiated by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, will be reviewed and voted on the in the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on Oct. 10. Committee Chairman Tom Lantos will make a decision about whether it will be referred to the House floor. A Democrat from California, Lantos, who is known for his opposition to the resolution, does not have many options. The draft is expected to be voted on one week later on the basis of simple majority. AK Party deputy Egemen Ba??? will stay in Washington during Oct. 7-11 in an effort to prevent the adoption of the draft resolution.

The fact that the said draft was taken onto the agenda for review and discussion does not necessarily mean it will be adopted. Turkey will seek ways to slow down the process by which the draft is adopted. On Sept. 25, eight former US secretaries of state (Madeline Albright, James A. Baker III, Warren Christopher, Lawrence Eagleburger, Alexander Haig, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and George P. Shultz) sent a letter to Pelosi in which they drew attention to the possibility that American interests might be undermined if the resolution is adopted. In March 2007, current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent similar letters to Pelosi.

What is the problem between Turkey and Armenia? Should the border gate with Armenia be opened? We should seek answers for these questions.

The total length of the Turkish-Armenian border is 325 kilometers. There are two currently closed gates through this line, the Alican border gate and the Akyaka Railway border gate. The Alican gate is situated in the Alican village of I?d?r while the Akyaka gate is located in Akyaka of Kars. Sixty-six kilometers away from Kars, this gate is commonly known as the “East Gate,” whereas the Armenians call it “Ahuryan Gate.” In addition to a railway, the gate also involves a village road.

The European Union views the closed border gates as an obstacle before Armenia’s integration with the union because of the strong emphasis on this country within the context of wider Europe. Armenia, which is currently seeking ways to increase pressure on Turkey, asserts that the current state of affairs inflicts damages on the economic situation in the country. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) estimates that the embargo imposed on Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan costs the Armenian economy $570-720 million every year. If the borders are opened Armenia’s exports will double and the gross national product (GNP) will increase by 30-38 percent. According to World Bank data, Armenian savings will reach $6.4-8.4 million in transportation, $45 million on energy consumption and exports will increase by $268.9-342.4 million. The cumulative benefit will be around $320-400 million. Armenians assert that the opening of the border gates will be a diplomatic defeat for Azerbaijan and Armenia will secure an important success in regards to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Furthermore, Armenia will become an important transit point in the transportation between Turkey, Azerbaijan and Central Asian countries. Thanks to the use of Black Sea ports, railroads and highways of Turkey, free movement of goods will be secured and Armenia will be integrated with the European economy.

Following the Azerbaijan-Armenia war that lasted through 1994, 40,000 people from Nagorno-Karabakh -- occupied by Armenia -- and 700,000 from the other seven provinces of Azerbaijan had to leave their homes. Therefore, because of the invasion, 13 percent of the Azeri people became migrants in their own territories. It was for this reason that Turkey closed the border gates with Armenia in April 1993 and airspace in 1994. However, the issue on the border gates between Turkey and Armenia is not limited to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Armenia asserts that the 1920 Gümrü and 1921 Kars treaties that determined the border with Armenia are no longer in effect. In the independence declaration adopted on Aug. 23, 1990, Armenia described Turkey’s East Anatolian region as “West Armenia.” Furthermore, the state’s coat of arms described in Article 13 of the Armenian constitution contains Mt. Ararat (A?r?), which undisputedly belongs to Turkey.

Despite the hostile attitude of Armenia, Turkey became the second country after the US to recognize its independence on April 16, 1991. Following the recognition, Turkey also granted humanitarian assistance to this country, including food and electricity. It also allowed use of its territory for transit purposes to carry humanitarian aid by other countries. Turkey invited Armenia to act as a founding member of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) on June 25, 1992, and Armenia was allowed to appoint a permanent representative affiliated with the organization in ?stanbul. Armenian airlines are allowed to hold flights between Yerevan-?stanbul and Yerevan-Trabzon. Turkey also opened the H-50 air corridor for international airlines operating on the Armenia line. There are regular bus services from the eastern Black Sea through Georgia and Armenia, which uses the port in Trabzon for export and import purposes. The restrictions on admission into Turkey were removed through the visa regime introduced on Jan. 10, 2002 and 100,000 illegal Armenian workers have been allowed to stay in Turkey. Armenian citizens are allowed to take part in international sports and culture events held in Turkey. There are ongoing commercial activities between Turkey and Armenia through Iran and Georgia and about 20 companies founded by Turkish and Armenian businessmen are currently in operation. According to unofficial data, bilateral trade volume increased from $30 million in 1997 to $200 million in 2007.

In conclusion, Armenia’s integration with the West and democratization depends on its regular relations with democratic Turkey. Armenia, which has been illegally controlling Azeri territories under occupation for a decade, rejects most decisions and peace offers by the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). For this reason the state of war with Azerbaijan still continues. In legal terms, Armenia is still an aggressor country. There is no plausible explanation for the occupation of the Azeri territories by making reference to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, despite the cease-fire having been honored for many years. This is why it should be admitted that it is time for Armenia to give positive responses to Turkey’s moves. The prevalence of democracy and reason in Armenia and the end of repression of the Armenian people will be the beginning of the desired resolution.

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