19 June 2006

784) The ties that divide / Ani, a disputed city / Armenian Annoyance

*The ties that divide - Locals dream of reopening the frontier between Turkey and Armenia
*Ani, a disputed city - Haunted by history - The ruins of a contested capital are still hostage to geopolitics
*Erdem Explained Armenian Annoyance

The ties that divide
Jun 15th 2006 | KARS
From The Economist print edition

Locals dream of reopening the frontier between Turkey and Armenia
NAIF ALIBEYOGLU, mayor of Kars, a town bordering Armenia, has a dream. He pictures a party of Turkish officials embracing their Armenian counterparts in the middle of an ancient bridge over the river that divides their countries. Reduced by war and neglect to a pair of greyish stone stumps on opposite banks of the river, its condition is an apt symbol for relations between the two countries. The bridge, part of the historic site of Ani (see article), would in theory be easy to reconstruct. Fixing the broader relationship between Turkey and Armenia promises to be a great deal harder.

Turkey was among the first countries to recognise Armenia when it emerged from the Soviet Union's wreckage in 1991. But bitter arguments over the fate of the Ottoman Armenians—did the mass killings of 1915 constitute genocide?—together with lingering border disputes have stood in the way of formal ties. The estrangement deepened in 1993 when Turkey sealed its land frontier with Armenia (while still allowing direct air travel). The Turks acted after Armenian forces had occupied a chunk of Azerbaijan in a war over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Years of secret talks between Turkish and Armenian diplomats—the latest of which were held in Vienna in March— have failed to ease tensions. And this is despite vigorous backing for renewed ties from both America and the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join.

Mr Alibeyoglu, who is from Turkey's ruling AK party, says the people of Kars are paying the price. With average annual incomes of only $823, Kars is among the country's poorest and most neglected provinces. Yet before the cold war Kars was among the young republic's most progressive places. It is vividly evoked in “Snow”, a novel by Turkey's most famous writer, Orhan Pamuk. Locals would attend the theatre and ballet and dine on caviar and champagne. Such tastes were inherited from former Russian occupiers, whose traces can still be detected in the grandeur of its Tsarist-era architecture.

Mr Alibeyoglu, whose penchant for wine and naughty sculptures would have gone unnoticed in those days, now sees a chance to reverse his city's decline, but only if Turkey unconditionally reopens its borders. By doing this, Turkey would regain some moral high ground, as well as securing access to strategic markets in Central Asia and beyond. Kars could even become a regional hub in the Caucasus, especially if a rail link to Armenia's capital, Yerevan, were restored. Trade volumes between the two countries, now averaging a measly $100m a year, almost all of it conducted via Georgia, should soar.

There is more. As many as 200,000 members of the Armenian diaspora return to their homeland every year. Many would like to cross the border into Turkey in order to visit Armenian archaeological sites. The tourist trade could be worth millions of dollars. “They would also meet Turks and realise they aren't quite as evil as they imagined,” adds Kaan Soyak, co-chairman of the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council.

But how to break the diplomatic deadlock? Mr Alibeyoglu's answer is to take matters into his own hands. In 2000 he drove to the Armenian town of Gyumri, where he appeared on television with his fellow mayor and appealed for peace. This autumn, Mr Alibeyoglu will host a festival that features, for a second time, performers from Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The Armenians will have to make a tortuous journey via the Turkish cities of Trabzon and Istanbul. But the mayor hopes that, one day soon, their journey will be much quicker.

Ani, a disputed city

Haunted by history
Jun 15th 2006 | ANI
From The Economist print edition

The ruins of a contested capital are still hostage to geopolitics
WHATEVER you think about ghosts, it is hard to speak of this desolate plateau on Turkey's eastern edge without using the word “haunted”. A millennium ago, Ani rivalled Byzantium as one of the great cities of the Christian world. At its height, the Armenian capital had over 100,000 inhabitants. Now all that stands is an impressive wall, and the gaunt but beautiful remains of churches and mosques randomly scattered across a vast expanse of grassy earth. On a hot day in early summer, with flowers blooming and birds swooping through the ruins, the place is utterly empty.

Ani's location at one of Eurasia's nodal points, where rival civilisations either clash or co-operate, has been both a blessing and a curse. The “silk route” linking Byzantium with China ran through it. But less than a century after it became the Armenian capital in 961, the city began falling victim to waves of conquerors, including Seljuk Turks, Georgians and Mongols. In 1319 it was devastated by an earthquake.

Even as a ruin, Ani has been a disputed city. In 1921 when most of the site was ceded to Turkey, the Armenians were dismayed. They have since accused the Turks of neglecting the place in a spirit of chauvinism. The Turks retort that Ani's remains have been shaken by blasts from a quarry on the Armenian side of the border.

Turkey's authorities insist that they are doing their best to conserve and develop the site. “By restoring Ani, we'll make a contribution to humanity,” says Mehmet Ufuk Erden, the local governor. “We will start with one church and one mosque, and over time we will include every single monument.” The culture ministry has listed Ani, with an Armenian church on an island in Lake Van, among the sites it is keenest to conserve. For a country that was reluctant, until recently, to accept the cultural heritage of non-Turks, this is a big change.

But some scholars say more is needed. “Piecemeal restoration is no substitute for a master plan for Ani as a whole,” argues Stefaan Poortman of the Global Heritage Fund, a California-based conservation group that helps to manage endangered historic sites. And making a master plan for a site straddling two countries is impossible unless they co-operate. Could it happen? In September, some 14 Black Sea countries hope to meet in Istanbul to dicuss their cultural heritage. So Turks and Armenians will get a chance to talk about Ani, if history's ghosts can be exorcised.

Erdem Explained Armenian Annoyance

Yeniça? Gazetesi 18.6.2006 (English translation from below newspaper)

AKP K?r?kkale MP Vahit Erdem, in his visit to Armenia in his title, as assistant of President of NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATOPA) explained the “diplomatic scandal” he lived in Yerevan. Erdem said that because of his saying that “the 1915 incident is not genocide”, he has been verbally insulted by Tigras Torosyan, speaker of the Armenian Parliament, and that because of his statement, the guest and escort vehicles allocated to him were revoked.

Erdem said that he has been inconvenienced by Armenian treatments until he boarded the aircraft. He said that “despite my diplomatic passport, I was asked to take off my jacket and shoes. After a torment of 1.5 hours, I barely made the plane in the last 5 minutes”

Erdem said that they went to Yerevan as a group of about 20 Parliamentarians and that they met with the Armenian Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs, Commander of Army, Director of Information and also civilian organization and emphasized the impolite applications of the Armenian Parliament House Speaker.

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