By SERZH SARGSYAN
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE
July 9, 2008
The problems of newly independent nations attempting to build a novel, democratic way of life did not end with the break-up of the Soviet Union. Armenia, a small country strategically located between Turkey, Russia, Iran and the energy-rich Caspian region, is a case in point. Postindependence Armenia’s potential for peaceful development has not been realized as best it could.
During the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Turkey closed its border with Armenia as an expression of ethnic solidarity with Turkic Azerbaijan. The regrettable result is that for almost 15 years, the geopolitically vital border between Armenia and Turkey has become a barrier to diplomatic and economic cooperation. It is closed not only to Armenians and Turks who might want to visit their neighboring countries, but to trade, transport and energy flows from East to West.
Strategic projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the projected Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad bypass Armenia, while the existing railway between Turkey and Armenia remains shut. And the Armenian people are not the only ones who have suffered from these restrictions and detours. All countries in the region, and the broader community of European nations, pay a high cost for these unnatural barriers to commerce, progress and international cooperation.
The time has come for a fresh effort to break this deadlock, a situation that helps no one and hurts many. As president of Armenia, I take this opportunity to propose a fresh start – a new phase of dialogue with the government and people of Turkey, with the goal of normalizing relations and opening our common border.
After my election in February, my Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gül, was one of the first heads of state to congratulate me. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the doors are open to new dialogue in this new period.
There is no real alternative to the establishment of normal relations between our countries. It is my hope that both of our governments can pass through the threshold of this new open door. Establishing normal political relations would enable us to create a commission to comprehensively discuss all of the complex issues affecting Armenia and Turkey. We cannot expect tangible progress without such structured relations. Only through them can we create an effective dialogue touching upon even the most contentious historical issues.
Already, on a more personal scale, many Armenians and Turks have found ways to get around the closed border. They take advantage of regular charter flights from Yerevan to Istanbul and Antalya. There are numerous bus and taxi routes through Georgia, and container trucks even make the long detour, enabling some trade between our two countries.
And just as the people of China and the United States shared enthusiasm for ping pong before their governments fully normalized relations, the people of Armenia and Turkey are united in their love for football – which prompts me to extend the following invitation.
On Sept. 6 a World Cup qualifier match between the Armenian and Turkish national football teams will take place in Yerevan. I hereby invite President Gül to visit Armenia to enjoy the match together with me in the stadium. Thus we will announce a new symbolic start in our relations. Whatever our differences, there are certain cultural, humanitarian and sports links that our peoples share, even with a closed border. This is why I sincerely believe that the ordinary people of Armenia and Turkey will welcome such a gesture and will cheer the day that our borders open.
There may be possible political obstacles on both sides along the way. However, we must have the courage and the foresight to act now. Armenia and Turkey need not and should not be permanent rivals. A more prosperous, mutually beneficial future for Armenia and Turkey, and the opening up of a historic East-West corridor for Europe, the Caspian region and the rest of the world, are goals that we can and must achieve.
Mr. Sargsyan is president of Armenia.