Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin 08ANKARA468 2008-03-10 15:20 2011-08-24 01:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Ankara
VZCZCXRO0502 RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG DE RUEHAK #0468/01 0701520 ZNR UUUUU ZZH R 101520Z MAR 08 FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5539 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 000468
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PREL PGOV SCUL OPRC AM TU SUBJECT: YOUNG TURKS VISIT ARMENIA: BUILDING TIES THAT BIND
¶1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.
¶2. (U) SUMMARY. Several Turkish alumni of British universities who visited Armenia January 20-25 shared with us a taste of their unique experience and the favorable impressions made by their Armenian contacts. The realization that Turks and Armenians share a common culture and orientation, and the kindness and hospitality shown them, moved the Turkish delegates, who admitted to having had some fears about visiting Armenia. The Turks met with a wide variety of political, business and NGO groups, as well as with fellow British university alumni. All their Armenian interlocutors spoke freely about their desire for normalized relations between Turkey and Armenia, even as they trod carefully on historical issues. With a delegation featuring journalists, economists, and academics, the visit offered fresh insights and a favorable impression of Armenia to a group of influential young Turkish professionals whose impressions, until now, of Armenia had been largely influenced by rancorous Turkish and Armenian media coverage. Noting the extensive network of U.S. university graduates in Turkey and Armenia, all the participants with whom we spoke recommended U.S. support for similar programs. END SUMMARY.
¶3. (SBU) World Bank Project Director Baris Dincer, Aksam Daily Diplomatic Correspondent Sevil Kucukkosum and, separately, TOBB University International Relations Department Associate Professor Mitat Celikpala (PROTECT) described for us March 5 their experience visiting Armenia from January 20-25 as part of an eight-person British Chevening Scholar alumni delegation. The delegation was selected by the Turkish Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC) and the financing provided by the British Embassy. Armenian Chevening Scholar alumni are scheduled to pay a return visit to Istanbul, March 17.
¶4. (SBU) The Turkish delegates with whom we spoke emphasized the benefits of the visit to their professional careers. Kucukkosum, a diplomatic correspondent, noted that Armenian media had been her primary source of news on Armenia and Armenian views on Turkey. But she found none of the Armenian media's hostility toward Turkey in the people she met -- some of whom were meeting a Turk for the very first time. Dincer, a privatization specialist, said the trip offered a unique opportunity to expand his knowledge of post-Soviet economic transition, while Celikpala, a leading Turkish South Caucasus specialist, gained invaluable insights on the pre-election mood in Armenia, and has already had published three articles on Armenia deriving from his experience.
¶5. (SBU) While each participant focused on a particular aspect of Armenian politics, society, culture and economy, a number of common observations surprised the delegates:
-- The cultural similarities between Turks and Armenians were profound and unexpected. From food to music to the way people spoke and told stories, the Turks sensed a shared history and common identity which moved them. Many of the older Armenians they met spoke Turkish, and nearly all their contacts described an ancestry in Turkey. As with Greeks, with whom Turks also share a significant cultural heritage, religion is a divide. But the Turks said they were surprised to learn that Armenian Orthodox tradition and ritual resembles Anatolian Islamic practice in many regards.
-- Historical events weighed on the interactions between the two peoples, but did not preclude open and productive discussions on a wide range of topics, including the border and Turkey-Armenia relations, even with GOAM officials. Hospitality is a shared cultural value, and the Armenian people proved friendly, kind and incapable, it seemed, of offending their guests; both sides chose to skirt the most contentious issues. Kucukkosum lamented that Armenian genocide claims sadden her more deeply now knowing that such claims come from a people who are otherwise brothers and sisters.
-- The territorial claims on Turkey perpetuated by the Dashnak Party and some diaspora groups are not taken seriously by most Armenians, the Turkish delegates came to believe. Yet they were surprised and perhaps a bit unsettled by how much symbols matter there and the reverence with which Armenians hold Mount Ararat, in Eastern Turkey.
-- The Turks said political and economic tensions in Yerevan were palpable during their visit, and were thus not surprised by the post-election conflict in Armenia. Most of their Armenian contacts had predicted PM Sargsian would not reach the fifty percent threshold and that the opposition would unify around Ter-Petrossian (LTP) in the second round. They also noticed Sargsian campaign supporters were criticizing
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LTP over his perceived moderation toward Turkey.
-- Armenians wanted Turkey to be unbiased on the Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K) conflict and would like Turkey to distinguish N-K from normalizing TU-AM bilateral relations. While discussed openly, N-K was one issue on which the Turkish delegates found a degree of inflexibility from their Armenian contacts. But they also noted that their Armenian contacts described Azerbaijanis as even more obsessed than they with the issue and even less capable of reasonable dialogue on the issue.
-- Tensions within Armenia are also fueled by a frustration with the heavy Russian, diaspora influence in the economy and Armenia's political and geographic isolation, the Turkish delegates observed. They detected a lack of confidence in the future of Russia-Armenia relations and that some Armenians blame Turkey for Armenia's dependence on Moscow. Armenians, they said, desire a strengthened Western orientation and long for Armenia's EU accession one day. While some NGOs perhaps naively wished for Turkey and Armenia to accede to the EU together, the Turks said most of their Armenian contacts view Turkey as a bridge to Europe and Turkey's EU accession as key to Armenia's own hopes of one day joining that club. In this regard, Armenians, they noted, keenly follow domestic political developments in Turkey, and are somewhat concerned about a perceived Islamic trajectory in Turkey's orientation. But a number of Armenians told the Turkish delegates that they believe the current Turkish government offers a brighter opportunity for normalized relations than previous Turkish administrations.
-- Armenian youth are more open to dialogue, even as older generations have closer cultural and linguistic ties to Turkey. A number of young Armenians claimed to have made Turkish friends on-line. This was a hopeful observation, belying a tendency among young people in other long-standing regional conflicts to become increasingly rigid and absolutist in their demands over time. Post Cultural Assistant noted that Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaijani high school students participating in a European Students Forum (AEGEE) network meeting in Ankara February 22-24 also demonstrated a capacity for productive dialogue, at least on "soft issues."
COMMENT: ALUMNI NETWORKING EFFECTIVE
¶6. (U) These observations demonstrated for the Turkish delegates that Turks have much in common with their estranged neighbors. The visit reinforced for them that Turkey can play a positive role in helping strengthen Armenia's economic independence and European orientation. Evidenced by these British university graduates' rewarding experience, U.S. alumni networking could offer an even greater opportunity to bring together young Turkish and Armenian professionals who are occupying, or can expect to occupy, influential positions in Turkish and Armenian politics, business, media and academia. Post appreciates Department and USAID support for this and other types of programming that bring Turks and Armenians together in a way that allows the two sides to better understand each other and develop an appreciation for their shared culture and traditions and respect for their differences.
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