People's Voices on Armenia-Turkey Protocols

Fall 2009

Critical decisions on foreign policies affect people’s lives just as decisions on domestic policies do. ICHD continually focuses on bringing people to the table of negotiations and critical decisions on foreign policy, conflict resolution and security, peace and stability in the region.

The unprecedented efforts and commitment of Armenian and Turkish political leaders towards completing talks aimed at restoring ties between the two neighbors resulted in agreeing a “Road Map” of normalization of relationship in late April 2009. The process retained the impetus when Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued two protocols on the establishment of diplomatic relations between two countries and development of relations signed by Armenia and Turkey under Swiss mediation on August 31. Both documents triggered controversial discussions and disputes in both societies turning into a topic of “hot” debates. The protocols have become instrumental in blaming the government for non-transparent and unreasonable decisions. These allegations are deeply rooted in reality of decision making practices in Armenia at large. Indeed, the democratic way of decision making in Armenia is still in the stage of development.  The dramatic growth in power of special interest groups has both constrained leaders and squeezed ordinary citizens out of the decision-making process. As a result, many citizens feel alienated, and decision makers have lost touch with their constituents’ true concerns.

To channel the voice of the citizens to decision makers on this very sensitive issue, through open public discussion, ICHD, supported by the USAID, has launched initiative to expose perspectives of civil society to the decision makers and to enable the consideration of people’s opinions, concerns and expectations in this critical process in late September 2009. ICHD’s initiative moved isolated beneficiaries from the margin of the process closer to its hearth and enabled finding valid and viable solutions to a vital issue for the country through a participatory process.

The initiative provided Armenian decision makers a unique opportunity to learn about authentic perception of common residents in all regions of the country on compromises and concessions suggested for the Armenian-Turkish reconciliation process. The Armenian decision makers have been also exposed on the results of the final vote for the most acceptable “Road Map” scenario, as well as provisions of the Armenian-Turkish Protocols.

Though Turkey and Armenia bid to de-block border, however, it is not yet straightforward that the consequences of this visible step will lead to critical improvement of the relations between the neighbors and stability in the region. Scenario planning exercise has been considered instrumental in unveiling possible consequences of the border de-blocking. We have incorporated those factors that have been critical in the international practice of similar context into proposed scenario planning process. The developments in the relations between Syria and Lebanon, USSR and USA, Pakistan and India, Mexico and USA, Egypt and Israel, China and India, Peru and Ecuador, Georgia and Russia, Macedonia and Greece, in the context of respective historical canvas etc. The international practice of the conflicts covering landlocked countries will be considered specifically.

The factors considered particularly include: the role of key international players and international relations (such as Armenia-Russia and Turkey-Azerbaijan relations), security, migration and border management issues, emerging treats caused by marginal groups and terrorism, emerging political challenges, motivation for favoring the regional stability beyond de-blocking borders, development of political economic circumstances under mutual dependences, opportunities and challenges for energy transit and joint projects, cross-border cooperation and trade, integration of the social infrastructure in the region (health, media and education services), opportunities challenges to overcome denialism and psychological syndromes, cultural integration, challenges of emerging conflicts, etc.

Five scenarios have been developed in the cross-roads of various combinations of two key factors: the economic versus political relations between two countries.

The first scenario, “Silent De-blocking”, considered minor economic relations against rather irrational political relations and agenda strictly affected by the international community. The Scenario considers that the Armenian-Turkish border is de-blocked and welcomed by the international community. Any attempt to voice the international recognition of the Genocide and border issues is recognized as harming for Armenia-Turkey relations and is “compelled down” by the international actors. No economic miracle for Armenia, rather some economic effect in border regions happens. Georgia is no more the single gate for Armenia with consequent political gains for Armenia in the region. Opportunities for large projects and investments in perspective and dependence from mere opportunities.

The second scenario, “Open Border between Debtors”, considered minor economic relations against increasingly irrational political relations. The scenario envisages open borders while no correlation with the resolution of the NK conflict. Continues complaints on the background of irrational-emotional relationships. Armenia and Armenians continue efforts to achieve full international recognition of the Genocide. The borders remain partially recognized while no actual steps taken. Turkey continue its hostile policies against Armenia supporting Azerbaijan in NK conflict, denializm, refusing large economic projects and cooperation, creating obstacles for carriers. The open border is merely a transit zone. Armenia gained power as it is not depending on the route through George. The international community is overall happy with the open borders and prefers pressing Armenian side to take further “give-up”.

The third scenario, “All Quiet on the Western Front” covered the current status quo that is featured by de facto semi-transparent economic border (traffic through the third countries) and ad hoc political relations. Under this scenario the protocols have been signed but the border remains blocked. Turkey continues the policy of denializm. Armenia and Diaspora work for the full international recognition of the Genocide. Armenian-Turkish relations remain abrasive. Armenia rejects to step back in sake of open borders. The blocked border makes impossible large economic projects and Georgia remains the sole and expensive gate to the outer world for Armenia. Remittances remain the key source of income for too many of Armenian households. There is no common approach about challenges and opportunities of de-blocked borders amongst Armenian society: opinions diverge. Though the official approach rejects preconditions, voices of some Armenians suggest preconditions for improving relations with Turkey.

The fourth scenario, “Unknown Winner, Unclear Prize” envisages extended economic relations and regional economic projects against increasing pragmatic political relations and challenging dependencies for the country. In this scenario both countries try to improve relations. The attempts to voice the cute angles of Armenian-Turkish common history are recognized as harmful by the international community. The Turkey becomes more active in its policy of denializm, sticks Diaspora and carrots Armenian Government. The Armenian diplomacy remains the hostage of the Turkish promises. Turkey initiates the process of clearing the border recognition issue. The cooperation in communication and energy sectors are mostly in sake of the Russian-Turkish economic interests, as the Armenian infrastructures are owned by the Russian capital. Turkey terrifies Armenia by its power to freeze possible large economic projects. Armenia little by little retreats in political sphere to save economic opportunities. Though the NK issue does not figure in the process, Turkey intervenes in the regulation using its leverages. Economic investments foster the development of Armenia.

The fifth scenario, “Knight’s Move”, considered the situation with open borders in combination with interest based pragmatic political and economic relations between the neighbors. In this scenario, the de-blocked border and dialogue brings about improved relations between neighbors. Both countries strive for pragmatic relations. Armenian diplomacy succeeds to separate the processes of international recognition of the Genocide and improving Armenia-Turkey relations. The recognition process is on its way and is a matter of international concern. The international community welcomes the Armenian approach to recognition as an international affair. Turkey continues supporting Azerbaijan and its position on NK conflict remains unchanged. Open borders create great economic opportunities. Armenia thrives to streamline its interests with the interests of the global centers of power and follows its economic interests without surrendering on political axis. Armenia becomes a player on Kurdish issue Armenian economy revamps and restructures.

ICHD organized 10 THMs in all regions of the country and in 4 THMs in Yerevan in September–October 2009. The THMs have been particularly organized in Artashat (Ararat region), Yeghegnadzor (Vayots Dzor region), Sisian (Syunik region), Martuni (Gegharquniq region), Hrazdan (Kotayk region), Ijevan (Tavush region), Vanadzor (Lori region), Gyumri (Shirak region), Armavir (Armavir region) and Ashtarak (Aragatsotn region).

Through ICHD’s initiative citizens got a unique chance for the first time ever to openly discuss own attitudes towards and possible compromises with Turkish policies. Hence, the initiative has been in the focus of the Armenian media. The reports and the cameras of 3-4 leading national TVs broadcasting in Armenia and globally have been covering the THM process and its results. The reporters have particularly exposed the opinions and voices of the local people in their interviews. The THMs were on the news 24 hours, a week-long. It is particularly critical that general public got an opportunity to weight the messages delivered by the political leaders of the country against the voices of common citizens from all corners of the entire country during the hottest time of the discussions. On the other hand, the political leadership of the country got opportunity to consider the views and concerns of their constituency while making moves in the real time mode.

ICHD analyzed (pre-processed, disaggregated, classified, argumented and synthesized) about 3400 messages and ideas of over 1200 Armenian citizens. We also prepared the electronic publication of the outcomes of the report in Armenian and English. The analysis of citizens’ qualitative response combined with the interpretation of the voting results revealed a number of preliminary key findings and observations.

Firstly, it is seems that citizens attach more importance to the political consequences of the process as they see them, rather than to the economic prospective.

Secondly, it is also clear that citizens attach utmost importance to the following key issues in the regulation of Armenian-Turkish relations: (i) International recognition of the Armenian Genocide; (ii) Armenian-Turkish border issues; (iii) Armenia-Diaspora Relations;  (iv) Economic development of the country; (v) Competitiveness of the Armenian economy; (vi) Business interests, influence, competition in the local market and social justice; (vii) Relations with the United States, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran; (viii) Resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and the peace process; (ix) Role of the international community and global centers of power; (x) Political initiative, responsibility and diplomacy; (xi) Timing, Pace and Vision; (xii) Public participation in the process; (xiii) Migration, trafficking and crime; (xiv) Media and education; (xv) Domestic politics; (xvi) Trust and stereotypes, and; (xvii) European integration process.

Thirdly, it is obvious that among the knowledge, attitude and perception of the citizens on the Armenian-Turkish Relations, the concerns, emotions, phobias, as well as values, stereotypes and beliefs dominate over the Interests, positions and intentions. This means that the emotional and irrational, i.e. value and/or stereotype based opinions rule over the rational-pragmatic approaches.

Fourthly, it is also clear that whether people see opportunities or challenges beyond certain issues, both the concerns and enthusiasm of people equally contribute towards shaping political expectations, thus creating a burden of duty for the political leadership in the process. While it is clear that the process will not run smoothly even under the mediation and strict mentorship of the international community, the overall burden of expectations will become a challenge for the process, which may slow down or destabilize the process at certain milestones.

The lessons learned throughout the implementation of the project and through consolidation of the preliminary findings and observations allowed ICHD to make two recommendations to the donors and policy makers on fostering the process of normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations further.

ICHD recommended introducing and implementing mechanisms that would enable sharing and balancing the burden of the responsibility for the success of the process among the leaders in civil society in both countries. Such mechanism shall include political, economic, social and cultural layers of the process and should engage business, political, civil society and spiritual leaders. Such mechanism and initiatives will reduce the burden of responsibility of the political duty bearers and will increase flexibility in the process of making decisions. More specifically, civil society leaders shall take their share of the burden and responsibility for the success of the process.

ICHD also recommended designing interventions carefully, as the hottest issues and challenges in the hearth of the process are entangled with the identity of people both in Armenia, Turkey and Diasporas. A “first generation” direct intervention aimed at “rapid reconciliation “between societies may lead to very unexpected and even more unwanted results. Threats for identity may find a release in increased hostility. Thus all interventions shall consider the identity dimension as a critical challenge and risk.



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