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Cablegate: Turkish Think Tank Visit to Yerevan Highlights

VZCZCXRO7523
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHYE #0085/01 0500855
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 190855Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY YEREVAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0041
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 YEREVAN 000085

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON ENRG ETRD GA TU AM
SUBJECT: TURKISH THINK TANK VISIT TO YEREVAN HIGHLIGHTS
INTEREST IN OPEN BORDER

YEREVAN 00000085 001.2 OF 002


SUMMARY
-------
1. A visit to Yerevan by members of a Turkish economic think
tank revealed strong interest among the Armenian business
community, civil society and government for increased
engagement -- both economic and political -- with Turkey.
While some interlocutors lamented the hostile attitudes of
some Turkish officials toward cross-border cooperation, few
disputed that Armenia stands to benefit significantly from an
open border. The highlight of the visit was a forum
headlined by the Prime Minister and Ambassador that received
considerable attention from Armenian news media and favorable
reactions from the business community and GOAM officials.
End Summary.

TEPAV VISITS YEREVAN
--------------------

2. A delegation from the Economic Policy Research Foundation
of Turkey (TEPAV), based in Ankara, visited Yerevan February
10-12. A non-profit, non-partisan think tank and research
organization, TEPAV is exploring areas of possible
cross-border economic cooperation in the Caucasus, and came
to Yerevan on a fact-finding mission. Members also plan to
visit Tbilisi in the coming weeks. In support of their
visit, post arranged for a meeting with civil society
representatives and also underwrote a forum organized by the
American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) where Guven Sak,
TEPAV's Executive Director and a professor of economics at
Ankara University, made a presentation on Turkey's experience
with economic liberalization and open trade. Other members
of the TEPAV delegation included Erol Taymaz, an
economics professor at Middle Eastern Technical University;
and Burcu Gultekin Punsmann, a foreign policy analyst at
TEPAV who has worked for nearly a decade on cross-border
issues with Armenian counterparts.

3. During their visit, the group met with civil society
representatives, donor organizations, as well as deputy
culture, transportation and energy ministers. Professor Sak,
positing that economic relations can precede political
reconciliation, sought to identify areas of possible
cooperation between Armenia and Turkey, even without a
general opening of the border. Examples included restoration
of Armenian monuments in eastern Turkey; reviving of dormant
transportation links between the two countries (in particular
the Gyumri-Kars railway, extending to Nakhichevan); and
cross-border energy sales.
4. Noting that he has been working on similar
Israeli-Palestinian joint initiatives for the past six years,
Sak suggested there could be opportunities in tourism and
culture.One project about which he was particularly
enthusiastic was restoration of a historic bridge across the
Akhurian River in Ani; one pillar stands on the Turkish side,
the other on the Armenian side, and consequently would
require the cooperation of both countries to undertake.

RECEPTIVE BUT AMBIVALENT
------------------------

5. While most interlocutors expressed considerable interest
in cooperation, many were doubtful about attitudes of both
fellow Armenians and Turkish counterparts. Both sides
lamented the refusal of Turkish officials to acknowledge the
Armenian origin of monuments in eastern Turkey, and the
response of the Mayor of Kars to proposals for increased
cross-border cooperation with Gyumri -- with which it was
connected by rail until 1993: "Why should I eat with my
enemy?" Sak acknowledged that there is still a need for a
change of attitudes in some parts of Turkish society.

FORUM DRAWS A-LIST CROWD
------------------------

6. The major event of the visit was a forum on February 12,
organized (with Embassy funding) by the American Chamber of
Commerce (AmCham), featuring opening remarks by both the
Ambassador and Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian. The
Prime Minister warmly welcomed the TEPAV visit and encouraged
continued cross-border dialogue. Echoing the President's
February 10 remarks at Chatham House, he emphasized the
GOAM's commitment to an open border and good relations with
Turkey. During the following question period, he insisted
that in a 21st century knowledge-based economy, Armenia
cannot afford the isolation that comes with a closed border.
The Ambassador emphasized that an open border is a winning
proposition for both countries. Noting that increased
economic cooperation can help drive the political process,
she encouraged business organizations to become increasingly
visible in pressing their governments to support the
normalization process.

YEREVAN 00000085 002.2 OF 002

7. Professor Sak's presentation focused on Turkey's
experience of economic liberalization and cross-border
regionalism over the past 30 years. While he did not dwell
explicitly on Armenia-Turkey normalization, the numbers told
the story: Turkey's policy of economic liberalization and
open borders over the past 30 years has resulted in
staggering growth - in GDP, creation of new businesses, value
of exports, and increased value-added content as a percentage
of exports. Regions near newly-opened borders have been
particularly successful. The implication for Armenia was
clear: Armenia stands to experience significant growth with
an open border.

8. The forum attracted approximately 150 persons from AmCham
and other business organizations, several ambassadors, heads
of international organizations and NGO members. A large
press contingent was in attendance, and the event received
extensive and favorable coverage on Armenian television.
Both the Embassy and AmCham have received considerable
positive feedback from participants. Video of the event,
together with transcripts of the Ambassador's and Prime
Minister's remarks, will be posted on the Embassy website.

COMMENT
-------

9. While it was only one visit by a Turkish think tank still
in the process of forming a plan of cross-border engagement,
we were nonetheless heartened by the reception accorded the
TEPAV delegation. The large turnout at events, the Prime
Minister's ready agreement to participate in the AmCham forum
(he stayed for the entire event), and the thoughtful and
productive tone of all the interactions make it apparent that
whatever political challenges may exist, there is a strong
constituency across various segments of Armenian society for
increased engagement between Turkey and Armenia. We hope to
see more visits by other Turkish organizations and government
representatives in order to break down barriers both physical
and perceived. END COMMENT.
YOVANOVITCH

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