White House Petition: Obama asked to call on Turkey to open border with Armenia for Syria refugees

White House Petition: Obama asked to call on Turkey to open border with Armenia for Syria refugees

An online petition asking President Barrack Obama to call upon Turkish authorities to open the border with Armenia in order to provide ethnic Armenians fleeing from the conflict in Syria a shorter and more convenient way for repatriation has been launched on the official website of the White House.

Since January 5, when the signature collection was initiated by Heritage Party member and activist Daniel Ioannisian, it has been supported by 414 votes (as of Wednesday). According to the rules of the website, a petition needs to gather at least 25,000 signatures in order for the president to consider it.

The petition, which is possible to join by clicking here, has obviously attracted not only ethnic Armenians, but also some Turks, judging by the names and locations of some of the registered petitioners.

The petition says that “only few air companies still fly there [to Syria] and tickets are strongly limited. Mostly, people escape from Syria by buses and cars”, while “there are 200,000 ethnic Armenians living in Syria and most of them want to escape to Armenia where they can feel safe, comfortable, find a job, a place to live and go to schools.”

“The road from Syria to Armenia goes through Turkey which closed its border with Armenia in 1993. It creates a big problem for Armenian refugees. Thus, we are kindly asking you to call upon Turkey to open the land border with Armenia (at least, for refugees) without any preconditions. There shouldn’t be closed borders in the 21st century,” the petition reads.

Ioannisian believes that there is still time to secure the necessary number of votes. “Simply, the signature process is a little bit complicated, but there is interest, Turks are particularly active, discussions have begun on different online social networking sites, in Twitter. So, I think there is still time for us to successfully collect the required number of signatures,” he said.

Petros Gasparian, who moved to Armenia from the Syrian city of Aleppo last September, welcomes the initiative. He says that many want to drive to Armenia, but avoid the long path via Georgia, which is also complicated by the need to get an extra visa and involves some other difficulties.

“The road is very long and unfamiliar, while it’s only half a day’s drive from Aleppo to Yerevan [it takes about 35 hours to reach Armenia from Aleppo by way of Georgia]. That would be easy to all of us, but I’m not sure Turkey would display such an attitude,” Gasparian told ArmeniaNow.

Supporters of the initiative say that even if they fail in collecting the required number of signatures, they will still consider it a result that once again they have been able to raise the awareness of the blockade being imposed on Armenia by Turkey.

“The main objective of this petition is not so much to secure the opening of the border, as to once again raise this issue in the United States. And if Turkey fails to meet the request, it will show that it is unwilling to open the border even for a humanitarian action,” specialist in Turkish studies Artak Shakaryan told ArmeniaNow.

The expert believes that “if Turkey uses this opportunity and opens the border, it will be a small victory, a precedent that will break the stereotype that the Turkish-Armenian border cannot be opened.”

Still, Giro Manoyan, Director of the International Secretariat of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) Bureau in Yerevan, fears that Turkey will abuse this opportunity for its own benefit.

“The opening of the border will not give any great benefits to Syrian Armenians, as it is difficult to reach Turkey from Aleppo in terms of security. Even in Aleppo people can drive with great difficulty, that is, they cannot go that way by the thousand, so it can’t be deemed as a great opportunity. Conversely, it may turn out that Turkey can open the border for a couple of cars to show to the world how good it is, that it provides help to Syrian Armenians, while in reality that wouldn’t be any real help,” Manoyan told ArmeniaNow.

The ARF representative acknowledged, however, that the good news about the initiative is that it is again being emphasized from an international platform that Turkey is keeping its border with Armenia closed.