Our colleagues from the British Embassy posts in Yerevan and Ankara paid visit to both countries to meet with civil society organisations, journalists and junior decision makers in Turkey and Armenia to exchange ideas and explore opportunities for future project cooperation between two countries. Following to the visits Serra Cetin Head of Projects Team in Ankara and Lilit Kalantaryan Communications Manager in Yerevan have come up with the joint guest blog posts.
Lilit Kalantaryan Communications Manager British Embassy Yerevan
Relations between Armenia and Turkey have clearly improved over the past decade. Citizens of both countries have started to visit each other more frequently. Projects have been initiated and conducted by various organizations to build links between Armenian and Turkish artists, journalists, businessmen, youth, etc. These individuals and groups are becoming important instruments in promoting reconciliation.
Non-governmental organisations are working in various ways to bring people together and help them to learn the importance of communication and understand the habits and customs of their neighbours, to study cultural differences and similarities and to discuss the past and the present. This should be the first step in building our common future; a future which is sustainable and where there is more communication.
During our one week stay in Turkey (Ankara and Istanbul) me and my colleague, Olya Azatyan, Project Officer had the chance to meet representatives of different organisations, journalists and artists. I realized from these meetings that the outlines of our common future are still unclear. Nonetheless, these organisations and individuals are doing everything they can to bring together people and help them work or create, discuss and initiate together. They are convinced that these activities are vital and will lead to changes in perception in both countries.
Ragip Zik is a project coordinator in the Anadulu Kultur organisation. This organisation is based in Istanbul and is championing various joint activities between Armenia and Turkey. Ragip shared with me some of his experiences in Armenia:
“The first time when I visited Armenia, as soon as the people I was meeting learnt that I was from Turkey, I could notice some worry in their eyes. There was always a certain distance between us which was very hard to overcome. Just one year later when I made another visit to Armenia a new challenge was waiting for me. I had to visit Ashnak village in Aragatsotn region. Most of the population of this village were the descendents of repatriates from Sason. Most probably they have heard tons of stories from their ancestors on how they were made to leave their houses and comforts and migrate. To be frank this time I was really concerned. But all my worries turned out to be groundless. The hospitable villagers even invited me to their homes and after food and drinks I suddenly realised that we were singing the same songs, dancing the same dances and talking the same language. And I understood that we needed more initiatives, as many projects as possible to help people to communicate and to help them know more about each other’s views and concerns”
The “Great Powers” of the world continually stress the importance of diplomatic cooperation between Armenia and Turkey and have taken numerous steps to make this happen. Unfortunately, the results are few; the borders are still closed and there is no move forward in political relations. After this visit I am more than sure that the relations will dramatically improve if the pressure comes from our public opinion in Armenia and Turkey and not from “third parties”. Things will move ahead only after public perceptions are changed: when the majority understands that we really need change and that the benefit will be mutual.
“We need to communicate and discuss issues together. This is the only way to bring about change. We are working with youth in Armenia and Turkey and trying to encourage them to look at the things from the other perspective”. Ibrahim Betil, Board member of Toplum Turkish organisation.
I am sure that thousands of Armenians and Turks would sign their names under these words.
*Meeting at Hrand Dink FoundationSerra Cetin Head of Projects Team British Embassy, Ankara
I visited Yerevan in July 2012 together with a colleague of mine from the press section. The purpose of this visit was to exchange ideas and experiences, strengthen links between local staff in Armenia and Turkey and consider the scope for joint project work in the future. We also took the opportunity to meet with civil society organisations, local journalists/bloggers and academics.
Turkey-Armenia bilateral relations have been suffering for many reasons, but the main source of tension is disagreement over the past and alleged Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani land, not to mention the overruling feeling of the “fear of the unknown” on both sides. 2008 was a time when both countries attempted to patch things up: Gül visited Yerevan to watch a World Cup qualifying football match between the two national teams. “Football Diplomacy” was followed in 2009 by the signature of protocols to restore diplomatic relations, and to create a platform where both countries can settle disputes over their painful shared history (note – at the time this was perceived as a substantial contribution towards Ankara’s “zero problems with the neighbours” policy). Unfortunately the good will initiated by the “Football Diplomacy” couldn’t succeed when both countries failed to ratify protocols in their parliaments. The main reason behind Turkey’s decision not to ratify was Erdoğan’s decision to impose as a precondition Armenia’s complete withdrawal from NK.
During our visit to Yerevan, we were told by our Armenian contacts that in 2009, the protocols had created high expectations. However, the failure to ratify them had a negative impact on rapprochement. Armenia had hoped that the protocols would lead to the re-opening of the land border which has been closed since 1993. We were also told that Armenians want open borders with Turkey to overcome the disadvantage of being land-locked and suffer the inconvenience created by the closed border. It was evident that Turkey-Azerbaijan relations impose an overruling impact on Turkey-Armenia relations. It is highly unlikely that rapprochement with Armenia will have a priority in Turkey’s political agenda today, especially in the run up to 1915.
This left me with the impression that, on the whole, unfortunately there is less interest in Turkey in normalising relations with Armenia on a political level. Stereotypes, misunderstandings, fears and lack of confidence still drive both sides’ perceptions. But I still believe that there is more to be done on the civil level. There are already a number of exchange programmes for journalists and students being held between two countries and this shows us that the non-existence of the political relations is not a barrier in front of people to get involved more. As Shimon Peres once said that “far from there being light at the end of the Middle East tunnel, there was indeed light. The trouble was there was no tunnel.” We all believe that the “tunnel” between Turkey and Armenia will be built by the efforts of the civil society and the people themselves.