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Ömer Engin LÜTEM, Retired Ambassador
21 September 2007 - ERAREN
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!ßõ  ellspacing="0" ceÿ *THE OPENING OF THE TURKISH-ARMENIAN BORDER¦!ÕÚàĞ="justify">As we imparted to our readers yesterday, the Armenian International Policy Research Group, with the financial support of certain U.S. establishments and with the participation of certain Turks, arrived at the conclusion that if the border between Armenian and Turkey was opened this would engender positive economic and social consequences for both countries. At present, an attempt is being made to disseminate this to the Turkish general public by way of organizing meetings in Istanbul and Ankara. As a reflection of the positive stance of the U.S. and the E.U. with regard to the opening of the border in question, this topic has received much attention both in Armenia and other countries. In fact this issue has also received wide media coverage in Turkey and has been presented as an initiative which may lead to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.

Å to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.

Regarding this highly complex issue we can highlight the following main points.

The border between two neighbor countries being open is normal whereas it being closed is an anomaly.

The relations between Turkey and Armenia are not normal.  This stems from Armenia not wanting to recognize Turkey’s borders, from it advancing genocide allegations against Turkey and due to its occupation of Azeri territory.

Turkey closed its borders in 1993 upon Armenian forces occupying Azeri territory in spite of Turkey’s warnings issued in this regard.

Regarding economic relations between the two countries, Turkish imports to Armenia total around 150 million dollars at best. This amount to approximately 0.15% of all Turkish imports. Opening the borders between Turkey and Armenia would increase Turkey’s imports; but Armenia’s purchasing power is rather low.  Even if Turkish imports were to increase by 300%, this would only amount to approximately 0.45 % of total imports.

That the  province of  Kars would benefit greatly from this is highly questionable. Light industrial products like white goods, which Armenia is in need of, are not manufactured in this province. Kars can only provide for a limited income through the increase of transport activities.

In economic terms, the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border would not contribute much to Armenia. This is so as there is not a great deal that Armenia can sell to Turkey. Nevermore, due to the price differences it is likely that the smuggling of fuel products from Armenia to Turkey would come to pass.

The above assessments constitute short and medium term predictions. In the long run great changes may take place as a result of which the opening of the Turkish –Armenian border may in fact be of benefit to both countries.

The insistence advanced with respect to the opening the Turkish-Armenian border is a result not of economic but of political reasons. Without resolving the Karabakh question, opening the border would leave Azerbaijan in a fairly difficult position and would engender a dispute between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Furthermore, the opening of the border would be interpreted among the Armenian general public as their country’s isolation having coming to an end which would deliver a boost to the present government’s prestige.

 Turkey’s approach to the opening of the border stems also, not from economic but, from political reasons. Ankara may address the issue of fully or partially opening its border with Armenia if such action may carry with it the potential of contributing positively to its relations with the U.S., the E.U. and certain other countries. That such a potential still has not manifested itself accounts for why the border remains closed as of this day. Instead of doing nothing more than turning to the U.S. and the E.U to resolve its problems with Turkey, if Armenia would edge towards resolving these problems on a bilateral platform, it may actually make some headway on the issue of the opening of the border.

Endorsing the perspective endorsed by the Armenian International Policy Research Group, which supports the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border on the basis that this would be socially and economically beneficial, would be an ill placed move. This is the case as the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border is dependent upon the materialization of certain political conditions.

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