By Shakeh Avoyan
A roundtable discussion among politicians and economists in Yerevan produced on Wednesday a broad divergence of opinion on consequences of a possible opening of the land border between Armenia and Turkey.
Supporters of cross-border commerce between the two estranged nations, among them an aide to President Robert Kocharian, cited potential benefits to the Armenian economy such as lower transportation costs and access to the Turkish market. But their opponents warned that Armenia would risk becoming economically dependent on its historic foe.
“A landlocked country can not compete internationally with closed borders,” said Ashot Soghomonian, a member of the Turkish-Armenian Business Council (TABC), a private group which strongly supports an open border.
Seyran Avagian, a presidential adviser and the leader of the pro-Kocharian Democratic Liberal Union party, also made a strong case for the lifting of the Turkish embargo, saying that it would benefit both countries. “I believe that political circles in both Turkey and Armenia are deeply conscious of that,” he said.
Avagian’s comments reflect the stated view of official Yerevan which has long been urging Ankara to open the frontier and stop linking the normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The issue appears to have topped the agenda of this week’s meeting between Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.
However, one of the three parties represented in Armenia’s coalition cabinet, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), takes a different view, warning of a “Turkish political and economic expansion.” Ashot Yeghiazarian, a senior member of Dashnaktsutyun attending the discussion, said the Armenian market would be flooded with cheap Turkish goods in the event of an open border.
“There are already plenty of Turkish goods in our market,” countered Eduard Aghajanov, an economist critical of the government. He argued that Armenian manufactures should not be artificially protected against competition at home if they are to sell their products abroad.
Turkish-Armenian trade has been mainly carried out through neighboring Georgia. The Armenian government estimates its annual volume at $60 million.