Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin 10YEREVAN85 2010-02-19 08:55 2011-08-24 01:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Yerevan
VZCZCXRO7523 PP RUEHIK DE RUEHYE #0085/01 0500855 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 190855Z FEB 10 FM AMEMBASSY YEREVAN TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0041 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 YEREVAN 000085
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON ENRG ETRD GA TU AM SUBJECT: TURKISH THINK TANK VISIT TO YEREVAN HIGHLIGHTS INTEREST IN OPEN BORDER
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¶1. A visit to Yerevan by members of a Turkish economic think tank revealed strong interest among the Armenian business community, civil society and government for increased engagement -- both economic and political -- with Turkey. While some interlocutors lamented the hostile attitudes of some Turkish officials toward cross-border cooperation, few disputed that Armenia stands to benefit significantly from an open border. The highlight of the visit was a forum headlined by the Prime Minister and Ambassador that received considerable attention from Armenian news media and favorable reactions from the business community and GOAM officials. End Summary.
TEPAV VISITS YEREVAN
¶2. A delegation from the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), based in Ankara, visited Yerevan February 10-12. A non-profit, non-partisan think tank and research organization, TEPAV is exploring areas of possible cross-border economic cooperation in the Caucasus, and came to Yerevan on a fact-finding mission. Members also plan to visit Tbilisi in the coming weeks. In support of their visit, post arranged for a meeting with civil society representatives and also underwrote a forum organized by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) where Guven Sak, TEPAV's Executive Director and a professor of economics at Ankara University, made a presentation on Turkey's experience with economic liberalization and open trade. Other members of the TEPAV delegation included Erol Taymaz, an economics professor at Middle Eastern Technical University; and Burcu Gultekin Punsmann, a foreign policy analyst at TEPAV who has worked for nearly a decade on cross-border issues with Armenian counterparts.
¶3. During their visit, the group met with civil society representatives, donor organizations, as well as deputy culture, transportation and energy ministers. Professor Sak, positing that economic relations can precede political reconciliation, sought to identify areas of possible cooperation between Armenia and Turkey, even without a general opening of the border. Examples included restoration of Armenian monuments in eastern Turkey; reviving of dormant transportation links between the two countries (in particular the Gyumri-Kars railway, extending to Nakhichevan); and cross-border energy sales. ¶4. Noting that he has been working on similar Israeli-Palestinian joint initiatives for the past six years, Sak suggested there could be opportunities in tourism and culture.One project about which he was particularly enthusiastic was restoration of a historic bridge across the Akhurian River in Ani; one pillar stands on the Turkish side, the other on the Armenian side, and consequently would require the cooperation of both countries to undertake.
RECEPTIVE BUT AMBIVALENT
¶5. While most interlocutors expressed considerable interest in cooperation, many were doubtful about attitudes of both fellow Armenians and Turkish counterparts. Both sides lamented the refusal of Turkish officials to acknowledge the Armenian origin of monuments in eastern Turkey, and the response of the Mayor of Kars to proposals for increased cross-border cooperation with Gyumri -- with which it was connected by rail until 1993: "Why should I eat with my enemy?" Sak acknowledged that there is still a need for a change of attitudes in some parts of Turkish society.
FORUM DRAWS A-LIST CROWD
¶6. The major event of the visit was a forum on February 12, organized (with Embassy funding) by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), featuring opening remarks by both the Ambassador and Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian. The Prime Minister warmly welcomed the TEPAV visit and encouraged continued cross-border dialogue. Echoing the President's February 10 remarks at Chatham House, he emphasized the GOAM's commitment to an open border and good relations with Turkey. During the following question period, he insisted that in a 21st century knowledge-based economy, Armenia cannot afford the isolation that comes with a closed border. The Ambassador emphasized that an open border is a winning proposition for both countries. Noting that increased economic cooperation can help drive the political process, she encouraged business organizations to become increasingly visible in pressing their governments to support the normalization process.
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¶7. Professor Sak's presentation focused on Turkey's experience of economic liberalization and cross-border regionalism over the past 30 years. While he did not dwell explicitly on Armenia-Turkey normalization, the numbers told the story: Turkey's policy of economic liberalization and open borders over the past 30 years has resulted in staggering growth - in GDP, creation of new businesses, value of exports, and increased value-added content as a percentage of exports. Regions near newly-opened borders have been particularly successful. The implication for Armenia was clear: Armenia stands to experience significant growth with an open border.
¶8. The forum attracted approximately 150 persons from AmCham and other business organizations, several ambassadors, heads of international organizations and NGO members. A large press contingent was in attendance, and the event received extensive and favorable coverage on Armenian television. Both the Embassy and AmCham have received considerable positive feedback from participants. Video of the event, together with transcripts of the Ambassador's and Prime Minister's remarks, will be posted on the Embassy website.
¶9. While it was only one visit by a Turkish think tank still in the process of forming a plan of cross-border engagement, we were nonetheless heartened by the reception accorded the TEPAV delegation. The large turnout at events, the Prime Minister's ready agreement to participate in the AmCham forum (he stayed for the entire event), and the thoughtful and productive tone of all the interactions make it apparent that whatever political challenges may exist, there is a strong constituency across various segments of Armenian society for increased engagement between Turkey and Armenia. We hope to see more visits by other Turkish organizations and government representatives in order to break down barriers both physical and perceived. END COMMENT.