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Friday, 12 February 2010

Tigran Sargsyan : “Closed borders is a nonsense in the 21st century”

RA Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan attended a conference sponsored by the US Embassy in Armenia on the topic of Armenian-Turkish relations and cross-border regionalism. The event was co-hosted by the US Trade Chamber in Armenia (ArmCham) and the Turkish economic policy survey foundation (TEPAV).

US Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch addressed the conference with opening remarks. She stated in part: “The United States has always been a keen advocate of improved Armenian-Turkish relationship, and we are hopeful that the Armenian-Turkish protocols will be ratified by the respective parliaments.” According to the Ambassador, border opening impact estimates indicate that while some short-lived bottlenecks may arise, nevertheless open borders will affect positively economic development in both countries. The Ambassador noted that open borders will add to Armenia’s prosperity, as a whole. “No country should be dependant on a single corridor. Border opening will put an end to Armenia’s isolation: economic and transportation costs will come down, competition will increase, Armenian products will gain in quality in the face a 70-million-strong marketplace. Border opening is also important from the perspective of Armenia’s euro-integration efforts.”

Then the floor was taken by Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan: “On behalf of my government, I welcome the conference and extend a vote of thanks to its organizers for offering us this opportunity of interested discussion. The Ambassador’s remarks made me restructure my statement since otherwise I would have to repeat the key points formulated in her speech. Therefore, I will only concentrate on those points as seem to be of specific interest to political authorities. First of all, I would like to call your attention on the political theses highlighted during RA President’s recent visit to London reiterating the political will of the Armenian authorities to push forward with the settlement of Armenia-Turkey relations. The President’s speech proved once again that this is a deeply-thought approach on the part of the Armenian authorities which in the person of the President are strongly determined to do away with the blueprints dividing the two peoples and open up new horizons of relationship. In my opinion, these relations have to be contemplated in 3 different dimensions. The first one concerns the share of responsibility falling on the authorities. The second one implies the way these relations are perceived by the two societies. And finally, the third dimension is the response of the international community to the settlement of Armenia-Turkey relations and the regional impact of such settlement.

With reference to the first dimension, I wish to draw your attention on RA President’s message sent to his Turkish counterpart from the board of his London-bound airplane. I am quoting: “I think you would agree that the main role to break the stereotypes that exist reciprocally between the people of Armenia and Turkey, to form the atmosphere of mutual confidence is meant for authorities. We can achieve the result only if there is a belief in our task, firmness and adherence to the principles. Otherwise, when action contradicts the word, it gives the birth to uncertainty and mistrust, that wide opens the doors for forces, which are against the process. We must realize that the time in this case does not contribute to the process but makes it meaningless.

If we succeeded so far in elevating our bilateral contacts to the level where the future of building of natural relations between our countries becomes much more visible and tangible then it is the moment to show determination, to make a big step forward, leaving stable and secure region for the future generations.”

I think this message confirms RA President’s strong determination in the matter, and I am pleased that this political approach of ours is backed by the US Administration, Russia and European Union. All of them are urging us ahead on this path, and I would like to assure you that it is a well-meditated move. You may agree with me that thereby the President of Armenia struck a new chapter in the history of Armenian-Turkish relations and that from now on we will be dealing with a new reality. Whether this pleases or not to our opponents, all of us will have to take it into account as the President’s address testified once again that this is a sincere desire to establish good-neighborly relationships with the next-door States.

The second important political thesis, voiced by the President of Armenia, reaffirms our position stipulating that bilateral relations cannot be conditioned by third-party relationships and should be free from any preconditions. This approach is supported by RA Constitutional Court’s finding on the consistency of the protocols with the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia. By declaring that he was going get the protocols sent to the National Assembly, the President reassured of our readiness to ratify them. Moreover, the President assured that once approved in Turkish parliament, the protocols would be ratified by the RA National Assembly thanks to ruling coalition’s overwhelming majority.

The third important point highlighted by the President of Armenia is that the normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations and the opening of borders would help settle the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Dear colleagues, all the necessary political steps seem to have been taken on the part of Armenia, and I feel the time has come for the two presidents to show political will and push ahead with protocols by opening the borders. At the same time, you may agree with me that political authorities have a greater role to play in this matter. Much depends on how resolute they will be in their stance since it will give our citizens and the international community a closer idea of our vision of the future.

Now, let us look at the second dimension, namely how the Armenian society perceives the strategy of settlement. You may know that our efforts met with some opposition both at homeland and in the Diaspora. We think it quite natural for we have inherited such a hard legacy and a deep sorrow from history that cannot be overcome in a trice. We should be cognizant of its objective character. Many tend to think that this is not in fact a strategy of settlement but rather a challenging illusion, full of threats and in sharp contrast with our vision of rapprochement. The basic argument is that it is an attempt to lull our fears amid Azerbaijan’s warlike rhetoric and the atmosphere of hate and enmity toward Armenia and Armenians fostered in the neighboring country, as well as its ever-growing military spending. Of course, these suspicions are not groundless, and we should be on the watch. What matters most to us is the strategy embraced by Turkey’s political authorities’ toward the settlement of bilateral relations. We cannot wait too long for a response from our political partners. They must react at reasonable notice and give assurances of their readiness to have the protocols ratified in the Parliament of their country. That is President Sargsyan was right to state that authorities on either side have a decisive say in the matter since public opinion is largely affected by the stance of the political elites.

We are given a historical chance to lead the nation along this truly right path. The business elite have their approaches to the settlement drawn from the social moods. The expectations of economic entities are of great importance as they provide incentives for investment. It is not a secret that sizeable investments, both economic and political, are risk-sensitive. And it is not by mere chance that our country’s rating and creditworthiness has an economic dimension allowing it to be drawn on the financial map of the world by international organizations. Such ratings bear some element of political risk which weighs with economic entities. I am emphasizing this idea as I feel that the political environment should be supported by a public opinion and social progress. We must stand by those progressive elements which are supposed to be on the leading side of society.

Otherwise they may be reduced to minority, and we will not be able to push ahead with economic, social and cultural rapprochement.

There is a second opinion in the social dimension, namely that societies should create such an environment as would make the authorities to realize that there is no alternative to the ratification of protocols. I believe it to be a right though time-consuming approach. I am convinced that sooner or later the Armenian-Turkish relations will be normalized since closed borders between States is a non-sense in the 21st century, and rulers can find themselves in an unenviable position if they fail to keep up with the global developments. Political authorities should lead the way and not lag behind. For this very reason, efforts should be made in both the political and social fields and in this respect we must assist the political leaders in taking the best possible decisions.

The third dimension is the regional and international aspect of the matter. From this standpoint, it should be noted that the Armenian and Turkish authorities are given a unique opportunity as the key global actors do not often concur in their approaches. We must take our chance if we do not want to learn new lessons from history.

Dear colleagues, I wish to welcome Mr. Guven Sak to Armenia. As was getting ready to this forum, I tried to get acquainted with the activities and the research papers published by the TEPAV. I am convinced that the forum discussions and his remarks will be quite exciting and useful.

We are interested in having immediate contacts between Armenian and Turkish entrepreneurs. I am confident that this forum will help develop economic thought in Armenia as there are interesting analytical materials concerning the economic impact of border opening. As stated above, I fully agree with the ideas expressed by the US Ambassador to Armenia. They are sure to calm down the public opinion and clear up doubts in Armenia as I am convinced that both Armenia and Turkey will benefit from open borders.

Once again, I would like to welcome our Turkish partners to Armenia.

A keynote speaker at forum was TEPAV director Guven Sak who delivered a speech entitled “The Turkish experience in economic liberalization and cross-border regionalism: the private sector’s role in the process of developing relations with neighbors.”

December 2022