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Cablegate: Young Turks Visit Armenia: Building Ties That Bind

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RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAK #0468/01 0701520
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 101520Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5539
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 000468

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV SCUL OPRC AM TU
SUBJECT: YOUNG TURKS VISIT ARMENIA: BUILDING TIES THAT BIND

1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect
accordingly.

2. (U) SUMMARY. Several Turkish alumni of British
universities who visited Armenia January 20-25 shared with us
a taste of their unique experience and the favorable
impressions made by their Armenian contacts. The realization
that Turks and Armenians share a common culture and
orientation, and the kindness and hospitality shown them,
moved the Turkish delegates, who admitted to having had some
fears about visiting Armenia. The Turks met with a wide
variety of political, business and NGO groups, as well as
with fellow British university alumni. All their Armenian
interlocutors spoke freely about their desire for normalized
relations between Turkey and Armenia, even as they trod
carefully on historical issues. With a delegation featuring
journalists, economists, and academics, the visit offered
fresh insights and a favorable impression of Armenia to a
group of influential young Turkish professionals whose
impressions, until now, of Armenia had been largely
influenced by rancorous Turkish and Armenian media coverage.
Noting the extensive network of U.S. university graduates in
Turkey and Armenia, all the participants with whom we spoke
recommended U.S. support for similar programs. END SUMMARY.

3. (SBU) World Bank Project Director Baris Dincer, Aksam
Daily Diplomatic Correspondent Sevil Kucukkosum and,
separately, TOBB University International Relations
Department Associate Professor Mitat Celikpala (PROTECT)
described for us March 5 their experience visiting Armenia
from January 20-25 as part of an eight-person British
Chevening Scholar alumni delegation. The delegation was
selected by the Turkish Armenian Business Development Council
(TABDC) and the financing provided by the British Embassy.
Armenian Chevening Scholar alumni are scheduled to pay a
return visit to Istanbul, March 17.

4. (SBU) The Turkish delegates with whom we spoke emphasized
the benefits of the visit to their professional careers.
Kucukkosum, a diplomatic correspondent, noted that Armenian
media had been her primary source of news on Armenia and
Armenian views on Turkey. But she found none of the Armenian
media's hostility toward Turkey in the people she met -- some
of whom were meeting a Turk for the very first time. Dincer,
a privatization specialist, said the trip offered a unique
opportunity to expand his knowledge of post-Soviet economic
transition, while Celikpala, a leading Turkish South Caucasus
specialist, gained invaluable insights on the pre-election
mood in Armenia, and has already had published three articles
on Armenia deriving from his experience.

5. (SBU) While each participant focused on a particular
aspect of Armenian politics, society, culture and economy, a
number of common observations surprised the delegates:

-- The cultural similarities between Turks and Armenians were
profound and unexpected. From food to music to the way
people spoke and told stories, the Turks sensed a shared
history and common identity which moved them. Many of the
older Armenians they met spoke Turkish, and nearly all their
contacts described an ancestry in Turkey. As with Greeks,
with whom Turks also share a significant cultural heritage,
religion is a divide. But the Turks said they were surprised
to learn that Armenian Orthodox tradition and ritual
resembles Anatolian Islamic practice in many regards.

-- Historical events weighed on the interactions between the
two peoples, but did not preclude open and productive
discussions on a wide range of topics, including the border
and Turkey-Armenia relations, even with GOAM officials.
Hospitality is a shared cultural value, and the Armenian
people proved friendly, kind and incapable, it seemed, of
offending their guests; both sides chose to skirt the most
contentious issues. Kucukkosum lamented that Armenian
genocide claims sadden her more deeply now knowing that such
claims come from a people who are otherwise brothers and
sisters.

-- The territorial claims on Turkey perpetuated by the
Dashnak Party and some diaspora groups are not taken
seriously by most Armenians, the Turkish delegates came to
believe. Yet they were surprised and perhaps a bit unsettled
by how much symbols matter there and the reverence with which
Armenians hold Mount Ararat, in Eastern Turkey.

-- The Turks said political and economic tensions in Yerevan
were palpable during their visit, and were thus not surprised
by the post-election conflict in Armenia. Most of their
Armenian contacts had predicted PM Sargsian would not reach
the fifty percent threshold and that the opposition would
unify around Ter-Petrossian (LTP) in the second round. They
also noticed Sargsian campaign supporters were criticizing

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LTP over his perceived moderation toward Turkey.

-- Armenians wanted Turkey to be unbiased on the
Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K) conflict and would like Turkey to
distinguish N-K from normalizing TU-AM bilateral relations.
While discussed openly, N-K was one issue on which the
Turkish delegates found a degree of inflexibility from their
Armenian contacts. But they also noted that their Armenian
contacts described Azerbaijanis as even more obsessed than
they with the issue and even less capable of reasonable
dialogue on the issue.

-- Tensions within Armenia are also fueled by a frustration
with the heavy Russian, diaspora influence in the economy and
Armenia's political and geographic isolation, the Turkish
delegates observed. They detected a lack of confidence in
the future of Russia-Armenia relations and that some
Armenians blame Turkey for Armenia's dependence on Moscow.
Armenians, they said, desire a strengthened Western
orientation and long for Armenia's EU accession one day.
While some NGOs perhaps naively wished for Turkey and Armenia
to accede to the EU together, the Turks said most of their
Armenian contacts view Turkey as a bridge to Europe and
Turkey's EU accession as key to Armenia's own hopes of one
day joining that club. In this regard, Armenians, they
noted, keenly follow domestic political developments in
Turkey, and are somewhat concerned about a perceived Islamic
trajectory in Turkey's orientation. But a number of
Armenians told the Turkish delegates that they believe the
current Turkish government offers a brighter opportunity for
normalized relations than previous Turkish administrations.

-- Armenian youth are more open to dialogue, even as older
generations have closer cultural and linguistic ties to
Turkey. A number of young Armenians claimed to have made
Turkish friends on-line. This was a hopeful observation,
belying a tendency among young people in other long-standing
regional conflicts to become increasingly rigid and
absolutist in their demands over time. Post Cultural
Assistant noted that Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaijani high
school students participating in a European Students Forum
(AEGEE) network meeting in Ankara February 22-24 also
demonstrated a capacity for productive dialogue, at least on
"soft issues."

COMMENT: ALUMNI NETWORKING EFFECTIVE
-------------------------------------

6. (U) These observations demonstrated for the Turkish
delegates that Turks have much in common with their estranged
neighbors. The visit reinforced for them that Turkey can
play a positive role in helping strengthen Armenia's economic
independence and European orientation. Evidenced by these
British university graduates' rewarding experience, U.S.
alumni networking could offer an even greater opportunity to
bring together young Turkish and Armenian professionals who
are occupying, or can expect to occupy, influential positions
in Turkish and Armenian politics, business, media and
academia. Post appreciates Department and USAID support for
this and other types of programming that bring Turks and
Armenians together in a way that allows the two sides to
better understand each other and develop an appreciation for
their shared culture and traditions and respect for their
differences.

Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at
http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Turk ey

WILSON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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