By Emil Danielyan
Most residents of Yerevan support the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border and do not firmly object to Turkey’s membership in the European Union, according to an opinion poll published on Thursday.
Vox Populi, an independent polling organization, said 57 percent of 650 people interviewed by phone in the capital this month are in favor of an unconditional establishment of direct commercial links between Armenia and Turkey pursued by their government. It said only one third of them are opposed to that, while the other 10 percent are undecided.
The findings of the poll reflect the dominant mood among Armenia’s leading businesspeople. Most of them believe that an open border with Turkey would reduce the disproportionately high transportation costs in Armenia’s external trade and open the Turkish market to Armenian exporters. They as well as other proponents of the idea say the existence of an alternative trade route would also put Armenia in a much stronger position to negotiate lower cargo transit fees with Georgia, its main conduit to the outside world.
However, skeptics, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a junior partner in the ruling coalition, warn of Armenia’s potential economic dependence on its historic foe. They say that cheap Turkish consumer goods would flood the Armenian market and weak havoc on local manufacturers.
Dashnaktsutyun leaders also believe that a full normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations is impossible without Ankara’s recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Official Yerevan also insists on Turkish recognition of the genocide, but unlike Dashnaktsutyun, does not regard it as a precondition for improved ties. It has long been pressing Ankara to lift the embargo which it imposed on Armenia out of solidarity with Azerbaijan more than a decade ago.
Vox Populi said only 19 percent of those polled are convinced that modern-day Turkey is responsible for the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians. Twenty-five percent of them are inclined to share that view, while the others disagree, have doubts or find it difficult to answer the question.
The pollsters also found that 43 percent of their respondents are opposed to Turkey’s accession to the European Union which became a real possibility with the publication of a positive report by the bloc’s executive Commission on Wednesday. Only 17 percent voiced their support for the Turkish entry into the EU, with the remaining 40 percent having no clear opinion on the issue.
In an interview with RFE/RL this week, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said Armenia believes that Turkey is still far from meeting EU membership criteria and is therefore not prepared to begin accession talks.