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‘Missed Opportunities;’ Discussion on Turkish-Armenian Relations

Despite the closed border, Turkey remains an important trading partner for Armenia; in 2015, Turkey was the 21st country in terms of exports from Armenia, and the 10th – in terms of imports. In a February 21 discussion entitled “Armenian-Turkish Relations; Between War and Peace,” economist, Yerevan former mayor and member of the opposition Armenian National Congress party Vahagn Khachatryan spoke about the opportunities Armenia would gain from opening the border with Turkey.

According to Khachatryan, “many would dream of having such an economically developed neighbor as Turkey, while we are just wasting the potential benefits.” In addition to creating economic opportunities, he went on, an open border would also foster inter-cultural relations between the two nations; “After all, what are we going to leave for the future generations? The burden of the genocide, the hatred and the animosity will never allow any development.”

Missed Opportunities

Since the closing of the Armenian-Turkish border in 1993, the economist said, Armenia has been deprived of the opportunity to become part of a number of regional infrastructures and use them. In particular, he added, Armenia has been left out of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway that has recently been put into operation; “We had a functioning railway that was used in the Soviet years, until 1993. One of its biggest advantages for Armenia was the exit through Nakhichevan to Iran and the Persian Gulf.”

Because of the closed border, Khachatryan continued, Armenia has also been left out of the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline project; “The pipeline was supposed to pass through Armenia. I have brought some documents with me to show you that this was not just a formality. We have simply wasted all these opportunities. In 1998, [Armenian authorities] claimed the project was a bluff, that such a pipeline would never be built; but we see now that not only was it built, but it is also operating perfectly and continuing to expand.”

According to the economist, Armenia has lost the chance to use Turkish ports and has consequently been deprived of an exit to the Mediterranean Sea. Turkish ports, he added, are more up-to-date than Georgian ones and offer 10 times cheaper service costs.

Why Armenia Should Not Boycott Turkish Products

Khachatryan further commented on the number of political statement and protest actions held in Armenia calling to boycott Turkish products. According to estimates, he said, Armenia is not a particularly important or large market for Turkey: Armenia’s share in Turkey’s exports is only 0.09%. In other words, “Turkey’s economy would not even feel the potential blow.”

“I wonder, what those who make such statements would say if they went to the Bagratashen border and saw Turkish products being imported to Russia with Armenian labels. Would they find it a good or bad thing?” the economist noted.

One of the justifications for boycotting Turkish goods was to supposedly promote the consumption of local production. Khachatryan, however, stated that the Armenian economy should be developed not by favoring one business over another, but by ensuring fair competition in the market; “There are other ways [to promote consumption of local production], such as raising the price of Turkish goods by imposing a duty on the border. We, however, have the opposite happening here: our wealthy [businessmen] are allowed to import Turkish goods without customs clearance.”

Boycotting Turkish tomatoes and cucumbers, according to the economist, would not save Armenia’s agriculture; “By singling out agriculture as the most essential branch of the Armenian economy – with its 430 000 workers and 15-20% of GDP – we do nothing but punish villagers. I am speaking about high interest loans, uninsured agriculture, and the prevailing climatic conditions…”