27 December 2006

1332) Railway Shows The Cost Of «No Peace» Kars-Gyumri is the best option for all

Interview with another interesting Turkish person, who has made great efforts for the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. The interview tries to highlight the European intentions of Turkey and the future of Armenian-Turkish relations from the viewpoint of a specialist. . .

Dr Burcu Gultekin is a research fellow at the Centre for European Studies at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. She is in charge of the “Integration, Neighbourhood, Cross-Border Issues” research program. She is acting as the Europe Coordinator for the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC), and has been involved for three years in the Economy & Conflict Project of International Alert as a member of The Economy and Conflict Research Group of the South Caucasus, and is currently the project manager of the Caucasus Business & Development-Turkey Project.

She published a first report titled “The Stakes of the Opening of Turkish-Armenian Border, Cross-Border Relations between Turkey and Armenia”, co-authored a second report with Nicolas Tavitian for the Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security, “Les Relations Arméno-Turques; la Porte Close de l’Orient” (April, 2003, Brussels). Dr Gultekin tackled the issue of Turkish-Armenian relations in the report she prepared for NATO as the Manfred Wörner research fellow in 2004-2005, titled “Prospects for Regional Cooperation on NATO’s South-Eastern Border, Developing a Turkish-Russian Cooperation in South Caucasus”. She is currently preparing a report on the normalization of the Turkish-Armenian relations for the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) based in Istanbul.

- Of what importance is EU for Turkey?

- The accession to EU is a national priority for Turkey. The reform process has been carried out with strong determination for the last four years. The negotiation talks started last year. Although there is the general acceptance negotiation talks is an open ended process, Turkey’s ultimate aim is full accession. There isn’t any alternative or any kind of B plan.

- Turkey is often blamed for not possessing the corresponding values to become a full member of EU. Do you think they are reasonable?

- Democracy and the respect of human rights are the fundamental values of the European construction. These values are defining the essential objectives and not the identity. European countries have committed themselves to the full accomplishment of democracy. Turkey, engaged in the EU accession process, is pursuing the same aspiration. Prime-Minister Erdogan translated the expression “Copenhagen criteria” into “Ankara criteria”. Democracy, human rights, abolition of death penalty, and other related issues are truly important for Turkey. We need these reforms, thereby some are arguing that the process is more important than the ultimate aim, namely to become a full-fledged EU member.

- How will the reforms made “on the paper” become integrated into the lives of ordinary Turkish citizens? Will it be a long process?

- Well, of course we need time. It is very important to translate reforms into the life of ordinary people. The best way to ensure the rule of law in a society is to empower citizens. Citizens have to know that they have rights and be acquainted with mechanisms that help to defend these rights. My point is not specific to Turkey. Many citizens of the EU member countries are de facto denied access to the justice. Access to information and the level of education are issues of particular significance in this respect. The credibility of the judiciary system in society is decisive. People should have confidence in courts and judges, even if they are facing a powerful person.

- Coming to Armenian-Turkish relations: do you think it will be ever possible to re-establish relations between us avoiding the discussion of Genocide issue? Is it possible not to touch this question and build a new kind of relationship?

- NGOs promoting public dialogue and building bridges as yours are making a significant contribution to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. We are indeed in our everyday routine work dealing with the genocide issue. We are trying to overcome and repair the consequences of what happened at the beginning of the last century. Building trust, increasing people to people contacts are crucial. It is unfortunate that this issue has become a political one impacting on the inter-governmental agenda. It seems as if it will stay as a high ranking item on the Turkish agenda as long as it remains a political question with efforts aiming at its recognition worldwide. Turkey proposed the formation of a joint group of historians. Further information on its mechanisms, aims and composition would have increased the credibility of the proposal.

- Do you think the question of opening the borders worries Turkish citizens: not people like you, who are directly integrated into the issue, but simple Turkish citizens?

- No, the Turkish-Armenian border is not an issue for the Turkish population at large. Those who follow the news and are interested in regional political issues, make a linkage with Karabakh issue, with Azerbaijan and will keep on repeating official statements. Bills adopted in foreign parliaments, perceived as an aggressive policy against Turkey, justifies for some the border closure. However, those living in the borderlands are in favor of its opening.

- You of the Turkish-Armenian business development council, which are the business fields, where Turkey and Armenia could cooperate with a mutual benefit?

- Turkish-Armenian trade relations have been developing despite the closure of the border. The unregistered trade seems on the way of formalization. I was last week at the Sadakhlo border crossing, and was surprised by the great numbers of Turkish trucks traveling between Georgia and Armenia. Some Armenian border guards speak even some Turkish and are used to Turkish passports. The most important business potential is the field of tourism. Some Armenian travel agencies are already organizing trips to Antalya and Istanbul. It would be so interesting to work on joint cross-border travel packages. Ani and Mount Ararat located on the border are advocating for that. Of course, it is decisive that these packages be profitable.

- What is the prospect of railway connection in South Caucasus? Are you optimistic on Kars-Gyumri railway opening, taking into account the new project of Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi?

- The rehabilitation of the Caucasian railway network is vital for economic integration and sustainable peace in the region. The Caucasus has no other option than to reposition itself at a transit route. The North-South connection is equally important than the East-West connection. The new Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku project is progressing well. The governments of Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan signed an agreement. A timetable is set. The feasibility study will be completed at the end 2006. The tender will be held in 2007. The construction work is expected to be completed end 2008. Turkey and Azerbaijan will invest USD 450 million for the 300 kilometre railway. USD 200-300 million of this will be spent to build the Georgian part of the railway. The railway will connect Kars to Baku through the Armenian populated very impoverished province of Georgia, Samtskhe-Javakheti.

The railway project is based on the fragmented picture of the Caucasus, and carries the risk of deep freezing conflicts. Armenia and Nakhitchevan are being totally excluded. The rehabilitation of the Kars-Baku railway running accross Armenia, is the best option for all and also for Azerbaijan. This highlights the cost of no peace: the alternative project, bypassing Armenia, should increase the stakes of a peace agreement. The BTC sets a precedent: Socar was not excluding at the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline runs through Armenia.

NewNeighbors

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