Monday, September 1, 2008

Reporter expert poll on trends in Armenia-Turkey relations

First published in May 17, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Survey: Armenia-Turkey status quo likely to persist
Experts weigh in on likelihood and significance of change in relations

Last month we conducted our first survey of experts, which focused on the stability of Armenia’s new government and Armenia’s economic performance. (April 19, p. 20.)

In this, our second survey, we reached out to more than 100 experts to see what they thought of likely trends in Armenian-Turkish relations – and 31 responses arrived before our deadline.

A large majority – nearly three-fourths – expect the status quo in relations between Armenia and Turkey to continue, although respondents offered wide-ranging opinions as to why this is likely to be the case.

The remaining respondents see opportunities for improvements, again offering a variety of explanations. None expects deterioration.

A majority of respondents also say that an opening of the land border between Turkey and Armenia can have a considerable positive impact for both countries, although a substantial minority believes its potential impact has either been overrated or carries substantial risks for Armenia.

Likely trends in Armenia- Turkey relations

In the next year or two, do you expect relations between Armenia and Turkey to improve, deteriorate, or remain unchanged?

74% say relations will remain unchanged

“The nature of Armenian-Turkish relations has not changed since both nations established their states in the early 20th century. These relations are dictated by strategic national interests of both sides, and any changes in political context have little if any bearing on this process.”

“The conditions for improved relations, as seen from Yerevan and Ankara, do not have much ground in common. Ankara still demands from Yerevan to drop Genocide-related charges and to withdraw from Artsakh. The situation will most likely remain unchanged for an indefinite time.”

“I do not see a reason for any change, in particular, given continuation of the pressure to recognize the 1915 Genocide.”

“Turkish-Armenian relations are secondary to Turkish-Azerbaijani relations. The strident anti-Armenian posture of the latter is an obstacle to improved Turkish-Armenian relations.”

“The current state of relations is the result of Turkey’s position. Internal political developments in Turkey, as well as the state of Turkey-Azerbaijan relations, give no reason to expect any change in Turkey’s position in the next year or two. For Turkey, relations with Armenia is not a priority, on the contrary, isolating and pressuring Armenia is. No Turkish government in the near future will be willing to risk anything for better relations with Armenia.”

“Turkey’s political uncertainties draw its attention inward and away from any external concerns (except for the Kurdish north of Iraq). There’s nothing in it for Turkey to move toward rapprochement.”

“Relations remain contingent on developments in Turkey, not Armenia. The internal struggle for redefining the fundamental questions of Turkish identity and strategic orientation is so intense that any breakthrough in relations with Armenia seems remote.”

“Status quo is more likely, because massive inertia has developed in this area. Just as people have gotten accustomed to the ceasefire with Azerbaijan, they have learned to live with the closed border with Turkey. So change is likely to come from something approaching a shock, a crisis, an impetus that can overcome inertia. The impetus may come from Armenia itself, or from Turkey.

“One likely source is the economic situation in Armenia. If the economic situation of the shaky and emergent middle class deteriorates, and there are signs of that, then the pressure to open borders with Turkey will increase. However, Turkey may not resist the temptation of seeing any Armenian willingness to open borders as anything other than a mark of weakness and a victory for Turkey, which will immediately try to pressure Armenia into some other concession.”

“President Sargsian will want to show that there is a new administration at the helm of his country and will reach out for dialogue, but Armenia has already dropped all preconditions; there is no further compromise to make. There will be a ‘feeling’ or ‘hope’ for a new wind between the two nations, but nothing will come of it.”

26% say relations will improve

“Relations will improve, but slightly. There is now a possibility for rethinking old positions, without, however, automatically heralding a major breakthrough. [Even] diplomatic relations, which would be a major step, would not mean that all problems are solved; although they would have a stabilizing effect.”

“It takes two to tango. If there are no major upheavals in Turkey, I would expect relations to remain unchanged or even to improve, given that President Sargsian has made this one of his stated priorities and is likely to be desperate for some foreign policy success to offset the criticism Armenia incurred over the conduct of the presidential election.”

“During next 1–2 years, the government in Armenia will be changed and the new government may provide a more independent policy, improving the relations with Turkey.”

“The next U.S. administration will make this issue a point of emphasis, matched by European concurrence. There will also be more expressions of support from within Turkey for improved relations with Armenia, provided that Turkey’s ruling party is not overthrown.”

“There will be increased pressure from the EU and Western powers on Turkey and Armenia to resolve their differences, regarding the genocide, Karabakh, and the closed border.”

The Turks are willing and the new Armenian government needs a foreign policy success. The Genocide won’t be a deal breaker for Yerevan; but it will mean educating the diaspora, which is already disunited over overtures to Ankara. A rapprochement with Ankara may also check Azerbaijani ambitions to resolve Karabakh through war, which currently looks more rather than less likely within 24 months.”

And none expect Armenia-Turkey relations to deteriorate

Potential impact of improvement in relations

How important is it for Armenia’s welfare for the land border with Turkey to be opened?

42% say the impact of border opening would be “significant” for Armenia

“The more options for Armenia, the more competitive its exporters and importers, the more normal Armenia will appear for foreign investment, Azerbaijan will be less certain of Turkey’s unconditional support, the more likely that increased Armenian and Turkish contact will diffuse tensions over a long list of issues.”

“In addition to positive commercial ramifications, such a significant signal by Ankara might ease the psychological pressure that some Armenians feel about Turkey, including the notion that the latter is keen on erasing the Republic of Armenia off the world map.”

“Dividends are significant, but any opening of the Turkish border must be weighed against the price that Turkey is demanding. The benefits certainly do not outweigh the value of a liberated Artsakh and Genocide recognition.”

“Since the Levon Ter-Petrossian regime, it has been vital to the ruling oligarchs to be able to say that the two barriers to Armenia’s prosperity have been the unsettled conflict in Karabakh and the closed border with Turkey. Both points have considerable validity. But since 1992, both points have been used to completely deny the single largest factor in Armenia’s extended misery – the oligarchy’s potent, monopolistic grip on economic and political life.

“What if Armenia concedes much and gets a Karabakh peace treaty and open borders with Turkey, and the misery persists, as it will, unless the market and the political sphere are democratized, opened up to more competitors? Who and what will be blamed for the continued failure? The rulers may still calculate that it is safer to have external enemies to blame.”

“From a financial perspective it is significant. From a survival and political perspective, Armenia has shown that it can get around the blockade at cost, so it’s overrated. Opening the border would increase Armenia’s geopolitical options and increase its ability to resist some Russian pressure and occasionally voice independent views of its own. The blockade primarily serves Russia’s interests. Opening the border would serve Armenia’s and Turkey’s interests.”

“All talks about the Armenian integration to the West and decreasing Armenia’s dependence from Russia will remain good wishes only until the Turkish border is opened.”

“Significant, although relations with Russia remain crucial and therefore Georgian politics are an even bigger obstacle.”

“Significant but not crucial, provided the Iranian and Georgian borders remain open.”

“Studies have shown that the economic burden on Armenia of the closed border with Turkey has declined progressively since the closure first went into effect; the market has its ways of working around such an obstacle. The closure may even have been protective of fledgling Armenian producers in the beginning. But for Armenia’s economy to make a major stride forward, it needs to perform better in the export sector, and Armenian consumers would benefit from cheaper imported goods, including Turkish ones. Looking down the road, Armenia needs to be able to export electricity to eastern Turkey to make the economics of a new nuclear-powered generating plant (replacing Metsamor) work.”

29% say the impact of border opening is “crucial” for Armenia’s future

“Trade, communications, regional hub, Yerevan provides it all for this part of Eastern Anatolia. It’s the best way for Armenians to get their land back: you won’t be able to stick your flag on it, but de facto it will be Armenian-dominated. Turkey knows this so the border won’t open until there is some trust and comfort level between Ankara and Yerevan. The global Armenian community needs to be educated about what is best for Armenia – rabid nationalism is not the answer.”

“Given the linkage between Armenia’s post-election political crisis and a looming economic crisis that will only become more severe, the new government is now in desperate need for an economic opportunity beyond the confines of the monopolistic and corrupt sectors of the existing economy.”

“It is crucial for Armenia to have open borders with Turkey from an economic perspective. Gains from trade are significant as fuel prices increase costs of transport through other channels.”

“Opening the border will create a totally new, crucial function for Armenia as a transit country.”

“Armenia’s international isolation and its status as a Russian client state have much more to do with the closed border with Turkey than Karabakh.”

“The border closure did its job; it devastated the economy. If the border is opened today there is no way to undo the damage. In the long run, it is critical that the border be open. But in the short run it will have little effect.”

29% say the impact of border opening for Armenia has been “overrated”

“This is not a critical issue for Armenia’s economic development. Changes on the domestic front such as establishing fair rules for internal competition in the key sectors of the Armenian economy, and more flexible taxation policies are likely to produce conditions attractive for foreign investments.”

“Armenia’s welfare is mainly an internal governance issue, which should adopt the principle of fair redistribution of wealth for the people of Armenia. The opening of the border with Turkey or any double-digit economic growth that Armenia’s authorities are announcing for the last decade do not have any impact for Armenia’s welfare, since Armenia’s wealth is owned and distributed only among 10 to 15 percent of Armenia’s population, whereas the majority is deprived.”

“Costs of the blockade are nontrivial, but not crucial for Armenia and heavily inflated. In the short term, improvements in the domestic business environment are much more important. That is an immediate priority for the government as is being more pro-active in advertising the country’s recent successes, including its ability to do relatively well despite the blockade. Also, normalization of Russian-Georgian relations would be more important for Armenia right now than the border opening with Turkey.”

“The Russian rail concession is likely to be more important for trade and connection with international transportation networks.”

“Opening the border is much more important for Turkey politically and economically.”

“Other than modest savings on transportation, the open borders will bring little added value to the Armenian economy compared to a huge blow to the local manufacturers due to cheaper Turkish imports. An open border will stimulate the economic growth in Turkey’s underdeveloped areas bordering Armenia. At the same time the high manufacturing costs would not allow Armenian goods to conquer the mostly rural Anatolian market.”

“A better way to frame this question would be to ask if the Armenian state (both Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) is ready to face economic security challenges arising from an open border with an openly hostile state? The answer is no, we are not. In short, having an open border with Turkey today would be a destructive step for Armenia.”

Responses (31): Armineh Arakelian (Yerevan), Hrachya Arzoumanian (Stepanakert), Konstantin Atanesyan (Washington), Karen Ayvazian (Moscow), King Banaian (St. Cloud, Minn.), Asbed Bedrossian (Los Angeles), Eduard Danielyan (Washington), Georgi Derluguian (Yerevan/Chicago), John Evans (Washington), Lev Freinkman (Washington), Liz Fuller (Prague), Richard Giragossian (Yerevan), Shushanik Hakobyan (Charlottesville, Va.), David Joulfayan (Washington), Joshua Kucera (Washington), Giro Manoyan (Yerevan), Arthur Martirosyan (Boston), Samvel Martirosyan (Yerevan), Alexandros Petersen (Brussels), Tevan Poghosyan (Yerevan), Tom Samuelian (Yerevan), Ara Sarafian (London), Harut Sassounian (Los Angeles), Zareh Sinanyan (Los Angeles), Jonathan Stark (Yerevan), Ara Tatevosian (Yerevan), Khachig Tololyan (Providence, R.I.), Mihran Toumajan (Los Angeles), Ross Vartian (Washington), Cory Welt (Washington), Aghasi Yenokian (Yerevan).

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