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Economic Cooperation as a Peace Factor in the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Process
By admin March 7, 2018

For more than 20 years, Turkey and Armenia have lived with closed borders and no diplomatic relations. The tension between the two countries exists on the ground of disagreements on the Armenian Genocide and the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Since the normalization processes of 2008-2009 and Football Diplomacy failed, no comprehensive intervention has been designed to address this issue.

The Armenian Genocide remains the largest dividing factor between the two countries. It long ago transformed from being purely a Human Rights or International Law issue to a political one. It has been playing an important role in the political relations between the European Union, Turkey and Armenia, especially with regard to Turkey’s accession agenda. Therefore, the complex political proxy war has further complicated Armenian-Turkish relations.

In the current environment of political tensions and no prospects for reconciliation on the state level, the only hope for rapprochement lies in grassroots level cooperation. Although stronger societal ties cannot guarantee a solution to the problem in its entirety, they can, in a longer term: a) become a driving force for peaceful rapprochement on a state level; and, b) create an environment of understanding and cooperation in case official agreement is achieved, thus preparing the communities in both countries for peaceful coexistence.

As of 2016, Armenia exported 169 million dollars’ worth of goods to Turkey. According to the Business Opinion Leaders’ Research Overview and Preliminary Findings, the main preferred areas of business cooperation are tourism and textile, followed by transportation, construction and agriculture. According to the Perspectives for Development of Transport and International Corridors in Armenia, Turkey and the Region, trade between Armenia and Turkey has increased six-fold since 2003. Air corridors have been established between Yerevan and Istanbul since 1996 and since 2002, no legal procedures are required for the transit of goods due to the practicality for both sides.

Moreover, according to the Public Opinion Survey conducted in 2015 by the Research Resource Center-Armenia with the assistance of the European Union, 55 percent of the respondents were in favor of a reconciliation process without preconditions. The survey respondents were also asked about the Armenian-Turkish cooperation formats, and the majority (62 percent) chose economic cooperation followed by political (37 percent). The findings of the research suggest that Armenians consider economic cooperation possible without the existence of official diplomatic relations.

However, there are challenges as well. The biggest political challenges are connected to the resumption of fighting between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan in April 2016 and President Erdogan’s statements officially supporting Azerbaijan. There is a risk associated with the resumption of fighting and increase in xenophobic attitudes towards Turkey in Armenia. However, despite the fact that some political developments hinder and put economic cooperation at risk, it remains the strongest existing tie between Armenia and Turkey. Despite the associated risks of current political developments, economic cooperation remains a strong viable option for peaceful cross-border cooperation between the two countries.

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