By Shakeh Avoyan
The Turkish-Armenian border will remain closed without a breakthrough in international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, according to a Turkish businessman who has long campaigned for normalization of relations between Ankara and Yerevan.
Kaan Soyak, co-chairman of the non-governmental Turkish-Armenian Business Council (TABC), indicated on Monday that the Turkish government is unlikely to drop its main precondition for lifting the economic blockade it imposed on Armenia in 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan.
"This was the reason why Turkey closed the border,” Soyak told reporters in Yerevan, referring to the unresolved Karabakh conflict. “So unless there is movement or progress in this area, I don’t see any green light from the Turkish side."
“But what I see at the same time on Turkish side is a willingness to approach Armenia more than ever before. They are also trying to find a way out,” he added.
Successive governments in Ankara have adhered to this policy despite pressure from the United States and the European Union that say normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties is essential for regional peace and stability. Armenia’s leadership also stands for the establishment of diplomatic relations and reopening of the land border between the two nations without any preconditions.
Deputy Foreign Minister Aram Kirakosian reaffirmed Yerevan’s position on the issue in a speech at a weekend international conference that discussed possible economic consequences of an open border. He urged Turkey to act “impartially” towards all regional states and “abandon its policy of driving Armenia out of regional projects.”
Speaking to RFE/RL last November, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul made no mention of the Karabakh dispute and reiterated instead his government’s demands for joint Turkish-Armenian academic research of the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Gul said Ankara insists on the idea of setting up a commission of Turkish and Armenian historians which was floated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a 2005 letter to President Robert Kocharian.
Kocharian effectively turned down the proposal, saying that this and other problems hampering Turkish-Armenian rapprochement should first be tackled by the two governments. Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora believe that the 1915-1918 genocide of some 1.5 Armenians in Ottoman Turkey is a proven fact that can not be disputed by historians. They see the Turkish offer as a ploy designed to scuttle greater international recognition of the genocide.
Soyak, who also attended the Yerevan conference along with several Turkish experts, admitted that chances of the opening of the frontier are slim. “It’s been almost ten years since we started work on opening the border,” he said of the TABC. “We then hoped that the border will open next month. We now want to [see it] open before we die.”