Armenia-Turkey: Will economic dividends be able to spur the protocol ratification?

The second half of 2009 promises to become one of the most tense periods of modern Armenian history, following the publication on August 31st of the Armenian-Turkish Protocols providing for normalization of bilateral ties.

In the protocols Turkey has set preconditions, according to which Yerevan has to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity as well as the current Armenian-Turkish state border.

It is yet unknown whether the protocols will be ratified by the Armenian Parliament. It is obvious, however, that there is a promise of certain economic benefits.

In any case, the Armenian side seems to have taken up the process of purchasing railroad stock for the supposedly unblocked section.

Recently, Regnum information agency reported that “a train building plant in Poznan’, Poland, will be providing Armenia with three freight trains with engines”.

It was also reported that Armenia’s ambassador to Poland had already visited the plant, although the South-Caucasian Railroad LLC did not confirm this piece of information.

RA Minister of Transportation and Communication Gurgen Sargsyan says he does not possess any such information about a possible purchase of trains from Poland, meanwhile Polish newspapers keep bringing up the topic.

Wyborcza newspaper reports the details of Armenian Ambassador to Poland Ashot Galoyan’s visit to Poznan’: “We are talking about the purchase of 120 freight wagons by Armenia. It is with this deal that the passenger train building plant is hoping to overcome the crisis the firm is currently in.

Yet in September mass reduction of about 530 employees at the plant was planned, however, the Armenian Ambassador’s visit must have given a hope for a new order. Polish newspapers write that the ambassador introduced himself as a mediator on behalf of one of major companies in Armenia.

“By opening the Armenian-Turkish border Armenia will gain direct border with Europe,” says RA Minister of Economy Nerses Yeritsyan. “Turkey has diversified enough economy and is undergoing major technological transformation. Turkey also has good communication with Europe and Asia, and is of great interest to Armenian businesses as a territory. If our entrepreneurs operate with initiative, they will secure access and a place in Asian, Middle Eastern and European markets.”

Head of the RA National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Economic Issues Vardan Ayvazyan, too, shared his thoughts on the perspectives of Armenia’s economic development in case of opening the border.

“The opening of the border can lead to 4 percent growth of GDP, 17.7 percent of export and 13 percent of import,” says Ayvazyan.

Transport Minister Sargsyan, in his turn, stated that “a railway tunnel is being built passing under Bosporus Strait to be completed by 2011 allowing transportation of cargo from China through Armenia and Turkey to Europe .”

This illustrates a generally positive and optimistic approach of Armenian officials to the perspective of unblocking the Armenian-Turkish border and establishing bilateral relations.

Moreover, quite recently Bloomberg spread information that very soon Armenia will be able to replace Georgia as a transit country because of the growing instability of the political situation in Georgia.
Turkish newspaper Star, with reference to its own sources, writes that “Turkey can support Armenia’s entry into NABUCCO project based on improved relations between the two countries.”

In the nearest future the controversy within the Armenian society on the ways, mechanisms and principles of normalization of the bilateral relations will reach its culmination phase.

Short-term blocks might be formed revealing standpoints on this most important issue.

“Turkey is trying to present its readiness to open the border as ‘an act of free will’, but that’s absolutely not true,” says political analyst Armen Avagyan. “Turkey has been blocking Armenia for more than 15 years, and a blockade is a type of war strategy. Ankara is, practically, at war with Yerevan, meanwhile the international community is not duly informed on this issue. ”

This week a series of events was launched by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun aimed against the adoption of the Protocols by the Armenian Parliament as they appear in the draft.

According to the organizers of this protest, Armenia has to take several highly important issues onto the international political platform. For example: the blockade of Armenian communication – an unprecedented phenomenon on the whole territory of the European Union, as two rightful members of EU are blocking the third rightful member of EU. Unblocking the Armenian-Turkish border cannot be considered as an act of free will if Turkey does not compensate the cumulative damage intentionally caused to Armenia during the whole period of the blockade.