By Ruzanna Stepanian
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian has privately forbidden Armenian government officials from spending their summer vacations in Turkey, travel agents in Yerevan said Thursday.
Representatives of several private travel agencies who spoke on the condition of anonymity told RFE/RL that their clients working in the government have had to cancel plans to travel to the Turkish Mediterranean resort of Antalya with their families as a result.
“Some state officials already booked air tickets and hotel rooms in Turkey and then cancelled those reservations and asked us for other travel destinations where they are free to go,” said one of them. “They said such a decision was taken by the prime minister and they have no right to go there now.”
The government’s press service refused to comment on the claims. The reported ban, if it was indeed imposed by Markarian, apparently stems from the lack of diplomatic relations and a long history of enmity between Armenia and Turkey.
Millions of people from Western Europe and Russia visit Antalya every year. The Turkish Mediterranean coast is also becoming increasingly popular with Armenians attracted by the relatively low cost and high quality of services there. Armenian travel firms are reporting a major increase in the number of people traveling there on Yerevan-Antalya charter flights.
The cost of a week-long package for Antalya now starts from $600 per person. Other traditional Mediterranean and Black Sea resorts are more expensive for Armenians. Travel agents say Bulgaria is now the financially most attractive alternative to Turkey.
Incidentally, Armenian parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and members of his family are currently in Bulgaria on holiday, while President Robert Kocharian has just returned from an informal visit to the Eastern European nation. Officials from the presidential administration said Kocharian will officially go on vacation next month and will stay in Armenia.
Markarian, meanwhile, is said to have still not decided where to spend his summer vacation. Aides said he is too busy at the moment and may not rest at all.