The Armenian-Turkish tourism cooperation


Facing issues, challenges, and business strategies to develop prospective common benefits

by Julien Boucly


I am grateful to the SATR project members who spent time answering my questions and supporting my research. UMB(E)A delegates  Armen Melkonyan and Arthur Ghazaryan offered great answers to my inquiries. Additionally, the entire ICHD team provided great support of my work during the entire time of my research.

I would like to express special gratitude to Volodia Arushanian, Mustafa Pestereli, YeghisheTanashyan, ArmenHovhannisyan, Mehmet Ebinc, and members of several travel agencies and associations from Turkey and Armenia who answered my questions with great enthusiasm and sincerity.

Finally, I am thankful to Pierre Couteau who assisted my work with his advice and recommendations.  


Since October 2010, International Center for Human Development (ICHD) has been involved in Support to Armenian Turkish Rapprochement (SATR). One goal of this project is the “development of new business partnerships and regional professional network.” The consortium of Armenian and Turkish partners implementing the program has fulfilled this aim by initiating meetings, conferences, studies and Business to Business (B to B) panels, linking professionals from various economic sectors. This study pays special attention to the tourism industry, which represents a prospective field for Armenian-Turkish cooperation. Since SATR will conclude in October, 2012, this report attempts to account for what has been accomplished since 2010 under this program, especially after the creation of the Association of Armenian Turkish Travel companies (AATTc). But it also offers an overview of the Armenian-Turkish tourism cooperation’s situation apart from SATR implementations by presenting key stakeholders, opportunities, and challenges related to this issue.   

This research study has been conducted by a political science student who interned at ICHD during the period of July 22nd  through August 31st, 2012. It is based on various resources, including SATR partners’ reports, American and European Union studies, and credible academic research papers. Press articles mostly provided by Armenian and Turkish agencies for the period between 2007 and 2012 have been used as factual information. We also found firsthand information on several websites detailing programs of travel agents, organizations, exhibitions and official meetings. Conclusions have also been drawn from the execution and analysis of interviews with travel agents and tourism organizations’ delegates.

Before entering the core of the research study, the main motivations for developing “regional tourism” must be revealed and some parameters of this tourism cooperation must be defined. It is necessary to underline how important it is to pay attention to tourism sector cooperation when it comes to have a vested interest in the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement process. Since the border has been closed for nearly 20 years and political tension has hardly provided governmental rapprochement between the two countries, business exchanges have played an important role in developing positive relations between Armenian and Turkish people. The tourism industry can be considered a prolific field for cooperation. Linked to Eastern Anatolia by history, Armenian people are eager to cross the border and discover their heritage in Turkey. Development of the Armenian tourism sector--especially since 2000--also provides opportunities to welcome Turkish travelers. Considered with textile as “the main sector where cooperation already exits and is recommended” (from Businessmen opinion), tourism collaborations date back to the early 1990’s. A previous report also notes that 26 tourism businessmen respondents out of 28 have cooperated with their Turkish/Armenian neighbors. Moreover, tourism cooperation cannot only be appreciated with regard to its economic benefits;  business collaborations and touristic trips set grounds for what some call “popular diplomacy.” By meeting each other and discovering their common culture and history, the two societies can make progress toward eliminating the  suspicion and resentment that remains between their countries. What must be kept in mind is the main role of civil society, associations, individuals and the private business sector in this tourism cooperation process. This is finally a major asset while diplomatic relations hardly gives favor to reconciliation.

This research aims to give an overview of Turkish-Armenian tourism cooperation, but it focuses on “regional tourism,” which concerns preoccupations and specific areas. On the Armenian side, the gradual increase of international tourism demand coincided with the development of travel agencies operating in Turkey, especially in Istanbul and Antalya. This research study accounts for trips to these destination and to the Eastern part of Turkey, as they represent a large market for the Armenian-Turkish tourism industries. It is important to pay special attention to “regional tourism”, because the main stakeholders interviewed during the inquiry were focusing on this issue. Moreover, regional tourism seems to be the untapped potential and cooperation could open up major opportunities. In order to define regional tourism more thoroughly, it is essential to consider the roles of Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Iranian and Georgian territories are mainly used as transit areas in the closed-border situation and are automatically included in the Armenian-Turkish preoccupations. It is actually already a subject of divergence whether the tourism cooperation should focus on bilateral or regional relations. Thus, let’s first consider the geographical area concerned by the Armenian tours, commonly designated as “Historical Western Armenia” or “Eastern Anatolia.” These Armenian tours focus on areas including Cilicia, Van region, Mount Ararat, and touristic sites in Turkey such as the Historical City of Ani, Akhtamar Island and several Armenian monasteries and churches in Anatolia.  Turkish tours, on the other hand, draw a regional tourism area around the South Caucasus, including Georgia and Azerbaijan.

There are several issues and concrete projects that require Armenian-Turkish cooperation around these areas. First, the tourism cooperation refers to business collaborations. Travel agents operating abroad are usually linked to partners in the hosting country, who facilitate the organization of the trips. Their tasks include coordination of hotel stays, guided tours, transportation, and visa accommodations. These partnerships also aim to enlarge the tourism market; travel agencies create new packages in the neighboring countries for their local and foreign clients. Thus, regional tourism joint-promotion aimed at foreigners and particularly Armenians from the diaspora is a main issue of tourism cooperation projects. This can be accomplished in international and regional exhibitions by designing and advertising joint-programs. Moreover, the cooperation can also implement stakeholders apart from tourism business experts and officials. These stakeholders are implemented in several kinds of cooperation projects as the renovation and the promotion of historical sites or the implementations for fostering ways of communication between the two countries. The cooperation could also help identify and resolve difficulties impeding tourism development. This would include lobbying actions and finally the involvement of the two states in the cooperation process.

Considering that many different stakeholders are involved in the cooperation actions, merely questioning ourselves on the regional tourism  issues would be unsatisfying, because it would not provide information about the ways to lead Turkish-Armenian cooperation programs. The following question aims to illustrate this preoccupation:

How do the different agents implemented in tourism issues handle the Armenian-Turkish tourism relations?

The first section pays attention to the tourism valorization of Armenian-Turkish historical heritage in Eastern Anatolia. The renovation and the promotion of several historical sites represent an important issue for both Turkish and Armenian tourism agents and could unite them. We decided to focus on the renovation project accomplished for the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island and to pay attention to the current program held in the Historical City of Ani.

The second section reveals an issue of Armenian-Turkish tourism cooperation: “crossing the border.”It has been designated as the major preoccupation by several agents from both the Armenian and Turkish sides. Travel agents would certainly appreciate the opportunities created by an opened border, or at least by a normalized situation. Facing difficulties with this issue, some of them attempt to resolve to the problem by opening new air routes.

The third section describes the cooperation programs and actions which have been established and those that are currently in progress. We attempt here to identify two approaches on cooperation, distinguishing divergent strategies led by different tourism agents. On one side, we can define a “regional concern approach.” On the other side, we can identify a “national and international platforms approach.”

Section 1

The promotion of the Armenian historical heritage in Eastern Turkey:
Taking advantage of renovation projects to foster cooperation.

In the region of Van there remain hundreds of historical sites, monasteries, churches, and cities, evidence of Armenian heritage. These sites are the fundamental elements of  regional tourism development and represent the opportunity to link tourism promoters from Turkey and Armenia. With most of these sites remaining in a state of ruin, their renovation must be considered as an imperative cultural and economic issue. Then, the role of tourism organizations and agencies in preservation projects should not be underestimated. It is also essential to appreciate in which views the historical sites are promoted and to question whether their promotion valorizes their Armenian affiliation or not.

Our analysis will focus a few sites that the main stakeholders interviewed during the inquiry are concerned with.

Opening The Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island: Faith and Tourism of the Van Region.

After nearly a century of neglecting the monument, the Turkish State embarked on a restoration program for  Akhtamar Island. The renovation took place between 2005 and 2007, leading to the reopening of the monument on March 29, 2007. The program was financed (approximately 1.4 million USD) by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The reconstruction, led by the Armenian-Turkish architect ZakariaMildanoglu, has been accomplished with the assistance of the Van municipality. The regional administrations are eager to develop an attractive area for faith-related tourism. Thus, the monument is a Turkish State property and has been reopened as a secular museum under the name of the Armenian Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross of Akdamar.

Through this renovation program, we can highlight the main difficulties and issues faced by any project concerning the promotion of Armenian heritage in Turkey. Among several goals, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism aims to develop religious and cultural tourism in Southern Anatolia. Many decisions, however, have been made in contradiction with this goal, treating the monument without respect for its religious and cultural value. First, the church opened on March 2007 as a “secular museum” where the celebration of religious offices were not authorized. As a result of repeated requests from Armenian Patriarchate and Armenian activits the Turkish government finally made a concession. In 2010, it was permitted to perform an annual mass celebration in September. Second, the reconstructed site has been renamed. This act has been widely perceived as an outrageous denial of Armenian historical presence in the region. Initially called the Sourb Khach Church (Church of the Holy Cross in Armenian) of Akhtamar Island, the museum is now named “Akdamar,” which means “white vein” in Turkish. Last but not least, a main subject of discontent remained until October 2010 because no cross had been added to the dome of the monument since the completion of its renovation. Given that the Turkish State allowed a  first mass to be celebrated in September 2010, a cross should have been placed before the celebration. Finally, the cross was not put on the dome before October 2nd, with the deputy minister citing technical problems. This oversight has led to an important boycott of the celebration, among which the Armenian Apostolic Church of Etchimiadzine, the Armenian State (which did not send an official) and some travel agencies participated in different ways. Faced with these elements, we can assert that the promoters of the faith-related tourism remain dependent on political and ideological developments in the region.

The municipalities and local agents from the region of Van appreciate the Armenian heritage renovation projects with a vested-interest in their prospective advantages. The Holy Cross Church renovation shows the economic benefits of this kind of program, and the numbers speak for themselves. According to an Armenian newspaper article dated from April 2010, an annual average of 5, 000 tourists were visiting Akhtamar Church before it was renovated. In 2009, Cihan news Turkish press agency accounted for 23.932 visitors at Akdamar. There were 30, 804 visitors in 2010, and 25, 500 were accounted for in the first six month of 2011. Archbishop Aram Ateshyan commented that the mass celebration of September 11th, 2011 brought together nearly 3,.000 pilgrims which could hardly enter the little monument. According to Abdullah Tuncdemir, director of Van branch of TURSAB, more than one service a year should be tolerated by Turkish State in the future following years. The next celebration will take place on September 9,, 2012. It is planned that a Yerevan-Van Air flight will facilitate the travel of Armenian pilgrims. Moreover, since 2007, the renovation project was to continue on Akhtamar Island. In order to be able to welcome the crowd of visitors of 2011 a new quay has been built. Green areas on the island are currently under a special program of maintenance and new lightings illuminate the monument.  Akhtamar seems to become a major touristic area in Eastern Anatolia. It fosters the idea that several similar religious monuments in the region (as the St Girargos Armenian Church in Diyarbakir or the Seven Churches monastery of VaragaVank) should also be promoted for tourism activities.

Akhtamar renovation is a case in point of regional tourism promotion. It aims to promote faith-related tourism in Eastern Anatolia and to create an attractive region for travelers interested in their religious heritage. Nevertheless, ideological concerns set against the valorization of the Armenian affiliation of the site impede the ambition of developing an Armenian-Turkish tourism joint-promotion. The City of Ani does not face a similar situation as it is promoted in a different way.

The promotion of the Historical City of Ani: a global tourism project

The City of Ani used to be the capital of the kingdom of Armenia (961-1045) and is located on the Silk Route. Thus, it is a main Armenian and world heritage site, but is currently in a dramatic state of ruin. It is important to ascertain the identity of the stakeholders in its renovation and how they promote the site.

We first noticed the role undertaken by the international organization of UNESCO. In 2004, the European Union Parliament urged Turkish authorities to ask for the registration of several historical sites, such as Akhtamar Island and Ani city on the world heritage list.  With regard to Ani, this call has been taken up by the Turkish State. It recently registered the site in the preliminary world heritage list. As the Turkish officials and media are inclined to minimize the “Armenian nature” of the site, it is accurate to question how it has been presented by the UNESCO delegation. The official presentation accounts for Ani “bearing exceptional testimony to the Armenian cultural, artistic, architectural and urban design development as a whole” but also put forward its “multinational and multi religious” affiliation. Moreover, it is important to perceive that this UNESCO promotion reveals a certain ambition from the Turkish State: integrating the site into an international tourism issue.

This strategy of global promotion is in line with renovation programs. Since 1995, various projects have been led by Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, but the current one should be more intensive as it had been promoted for the UNESCO registration. It involves Turkish and international experts and it is financed with the assistance of World Monument Fund. The first phase of the project concerning the church of the Holy Savior (SurpP’rkitch) is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. The restoration program is expected to cost 1 million USD and to take four years. It started in January 2012.

With regard to these elements, the renovation and promotion of the historical city of Ani does not seem to give any role to the Armenian stakeholders. Turkish officials briefly mention the need for the two countries to “cooperate to restore the ancient town of Ani” but there has been no deep thought about any kind of state interaction. Armenian experts are said to be integrated in the projects but they do not seem to be part of the WMF collaboration program. Armenian travel agencies’ organizations do not seem to involve themselves in any kind of action either, although some argued for intending to lobby in order to defend their interests on this issue. Is an opportunity for developing Armenian-Turkish tourism cooperation left aside? Yeghishe Tanashyan, vice president of AATA (Armenian Association of Travel Agents), claimed that the renovation and promotion of Ani city would bring an even more important growth of tourism than the one of Akhtamar Island. According to Turkish official statistics, 23.000 tourists visited Ani in the first half of 2011 but Armenians did not account for a large part of the visitors. Nevertheless, the location of the site (geographically on the border) can be considered an opportunity to develop tourism exchanges.  The restoration of this crossroad on the Silk Route should emphasis that the city of Ani represents a physical bridge between the two countries. Some go as far as to image the ultimate goal of creating a free zone which would allow tourists to cross the border on a pedestrian bridge. If this hypothesis presently seems far from realistic, it is obviously implied that Armenian stakeholders in the renovation of Ani would keep in mind the idea of an opened border. On the contrary, a strategy of international promotion from the Turkish side would go in the opposite way.

Section 2

Crossing the closed-border:
Looking for Armenian-Turkish cooperation routes

Tourism prospects regarding to an opened border and to the Turkish-Armenian normalization

On April 3th 1993, the Turkish government closed the border with Armenia in support of Azerbaijan in the Karabagh conflict. Since then, in spite of the hindrances to Turkish-Armenian relations induced by this decision, tourism activities connecting the two sides of the border have not been nonexistent. Armenians have still been eager to discover their historical heritage in Turkey as they visit Ani City or Akhtamar Island. Turkish and Armenian tourism agents have been keen to foster regional tourism. As tourism businessmen consider the opportunities of a hypothetical reopening of the border, we can account for important benefits that could be brought to the tourism sector.  

First, the reopening of the border should come with a normalization of diplomatic relations. According to a survey led among tourism businessmen from Turkey and Armenia, one of the major hindrances to tourism industrie cooperation is a lack of consulting and information about programs and legislations. Diplomatic missions providing such services would foster the development of a more effective tourism market. Moreover, an opened-border would intensify contacts between travel agents and organizations, facilitating business to business meetings, conferences and cooperation programs.

Second, the main benefits of an opened-border would be in transportation and the movement of people issue. Armenian and Turkish tourists would be concerned, as well as international foreigners. Today, road vehicles go around the border by passing through Georgia or Iran. This travel represents an important loss of time (20 hours from Yerevan to Van) and money (Visa and transportation.These transportation difficulties do not provide benefic opportunities for the promotion of the historical City of Ani. Indeed, it is hardly accessible to tourists coming from Armenia although it is located on the border.  With regard to foreigners, members of the Turkish Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC) argued that 380,000 travelers visited Armenia in 2006, pointing that these tourists could have brought to Eastern Turkey approximately 76 million USD if they had easily crossed the border.
There is no purpose in dealing with the issue of reopening the border without acknowledging the realism of this hypothesis. Actually, if “the protocols” of 2009brought hope for change in Turkey-Armenia relations, recent developments have driven away the possibility of a quick reopening of the border. In October 2009, an optimistic Armenian newspaper argued that it could happen before the end of the year. On February 12,  2010, a discussion on “Turkish-Armenian Relations and Cross-Border regionalism” took place in Yerevan. The panelists, including Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, shown great enthousiasm.  However, after the negotiation process  broke off on April 2010, the idea of normalization stepped back. From travel agents’ and members of Turkish-Armenian organizations’ points of view the reopening of the border is no longer part of the political debate. Delegates of the Association of Armenian and Turkish Travel companies (AATTc) argued that lobbying on the two side of the border could enhance the normalization but also stated claimed that the associations of travel agents had not enough weight to accelerate any change yet.

Finally, the question at stake here is: “what can be expected on the field of normalization concerning tourism issues?” Professionals pointed out policies which could be followed, as well as hindrances which could be removed:

  1. Fostering cooperation by supporting organizations such as AATTc
  2. Removing administrative obstacles (due to political reluctance) to the official registration of these organizations.
  3. Harmonizing legislation on road transportation (removing seats limitation for Armenian busses on Turkish territory) and advertisement (facilitating promotion of joint-tours).
  4. Supporting and facilitating Van-Yerevan air route opening.

Finally, these demands are not shared by all the Turkish-Armenian tourism cooperation stakeholders. However, they exemplify concrete steps which can be accomplished in spite of a closed border. 

  1. Van-Yerevan air route project : a challenge for Armenian and Turkish travel agents

Among the cooperation projects demanding support, we decided to focus on the opening of a Van-Yerevan Air route. This project is a case exemplifying the Turkish-Armenian tourism industries cooperation, its aims, challenges and divergence of optimistic and pessimistic views.

Van-Yerevan air flight would be forty minutes long. When it comes to supporting regional tourism, this opportunity to facilitate communication between the two cities seems quite relevant. The current connection is not effective for tourism development; travel by road is considered  long and uncomfortable. Air connection via Istanbul is even longer. In 1996, an air corridor was opened between Istanbul and Yerevan, reestablishing relations that had been broken since 1993. But the weekly air flight between the two capitals and the Yerevan-Antalya (-Trabzon or –Bodrum) summer flights do not facilitate communication between Eastern Turkey and Armenia. In this view, Van-Yerevan may be a major step for regional cooperation.

What are the main difficulties faced by the opening of this air route and how are they handled? The first issue was to obtain state approval. In the beginning, difficulties emerged on the Turkish side. In August 2011, ArslanBayram, owner of Van Way Airlines Company, had to postpone the opening of the project until he could get Ankara’s permission, which he later obtained. The second challenge consisted of transforming Van airport into an international platform. Today, Van’s facilities are still considered an internal airport but a solution has been found with the cooperation of the Turkish State. It has been stated that custom and security services would be transferred from the border by busses in case of charters flight between Van and Yerevan. Also, according to Abdullah Tuncdemir, member of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Van, a new international terminal should be under construction in Van. Finally, the major challenge is to make this new airline economically sustainable. Parameters concerning the airplanes hardly provide ideal solutions. Difficulties remain in the conditions of rent and maintenance of the airplanes (annual or seasonal), their transfer from a third airport (Van having not any based-airplanes) and the model and size of the vehicles. These questions were the subject of negotiations during several meetings. It has been more heavily debated since July 2011, subsequent to the creation of the AATTc. The association has been the leading promoter of the project but it did not convince many other agents involved in the Armenian-Turkish tourism cooperation. Critics opposed to the project questioned its economic sustainability. The price of travel would remain more important than busses; wealthy and middle-class customers would not be satisfied by the current security and comfort facilities of Van. Also, it is argued that the project essentially focuses on the Yerevan to Van connection, which is meant mainly for Armenian tourists going to Turkey. Thus, it would be necessary to promote tourism equally from both sides of the border. Regarding the current development of the project, these last critiques do not seem to be groundless. Indeed, at the moment, what is expected by AATTc is an initial flight on September 9th, 2012. It would be a round-trip flight from Yerevan to Van aiming to allow many Armenian tourists to attend the Celebration of the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island. The circumstances of the mass celebration make this flight economically profitable. From AATTc delegates’ point of view, it would provide indirect positive effects on tourism activities even if there are no major monetary earnings for the airline industry. However, according to most of the businessmen, regular round-trip flights are currently not profitable from an economic standpoint.   

Taking into account the divergence of views concerning this Van-Yerevan air route, it can be asserted that the Armenian-Turkish tourism cooperation cannot be the expression of a unique idea. Different approaches, strategies and interests are hidden besides this issue shared by several stakeholders.

Section 3

The main role of travel agents in the Turkish-Armenian tourism Cooperation
Strategies and organizations

The following section describes an attempt to identify two ways of perceiving the Armenian-Turkish tourism cooperation, which foster different strategies and actions. We should not claim that two groups of stakeholders strictly belong to two divergent approaches excluding one another. Nevertheless, the membership in an organization, the participation in a cooperation project, and the faith in a specific way constitute some elements of distinction which allow us to draw a categorization of several travel agents. It is relevant to ask ourselves whether these agents complete one another or act in competition.

The “regional concern approach”

Although it may be precipitated to draw an analysis of a quite young project, we would try to offer a comment on the nearly one year old Association of Armenian and Turkish Travel companies (AATTc). Regarding this association, a certain approach of the Turkish-Armenian tourism cooperation can be identified as a “regional concern approach.” It refers to the idea of valorizing the action of regional (and local, to a certain extent) stakeholders in Eastern Anatolia and Armenia. It does not mean that connections with national and international agents are rejected. However, the main goal of this approach is to consider the development of regional tourism as the concern of regional agents from Turkey and Armenia acting for their common benefits.

Let’s witness first how AATTc emerged with this particular view of the Armenian-Turkish cooperation. The project has been initiated by the Support for Armenian Turkish Rapprochement program (SATR). At first glance, this base would designate AATTc as a cooperation project on the national and international ground. Indeed, SATR provided AATTc with funds during one year and it is itself financed by the United State Agency for International Development (USAID). Moreover, SATR is led by a consortium of Armenian and Turkish organizations acting on a national scale. We would designate AATTc as a regional/local project because of its integration into the SATR 3rd priority area on “business partnership” and because the instigators of the association are regional tourism agents themselves. Six tourism businessmen acting in the Eastern Anatolia and Armenia created the association, signing a memorandum of understanding on July 22, 2011.Three were Armenian travel agencies, one other was a Turkish travel agency and two represented hotels in Van. Financial support from SATR program permitted the launch of  the association during its first year. But, as the period of the grant is now over, the association may continue to act independently. Because there are no important financial needs at the moment, the association does not require a registration fee. There are now ten members in the organization:

  1. Narekavank Tour LLC (Armenia) Secretariat and Co-Chair
  2. LH Travel (Armenia)
  3. Mush-E (Armenia)
  4. Nata Tour (Armenia)
  5. Sil Plaza Hotel (Armenia)
  6. Ayanis Travel (Turkey) Co-Chair
  7. Tamara Hotel (Turkey)
  8. Mahan Tourism (Turkey)
  9. Rescate Hotel (Turkey)
  10. Van AsyaFuarcilik (Turkey)
  11. Oselo International Tours (Turkey, membership pending)

The secretariat and Armenian chair, Narekavank tour LLC is a travel agency exclusively specialized in regional tours in the Caucasus and in Anatolia (what is referred as “Historical Western Armenia”). It means that it operates in Armenia, Georgia, Turkey (Eastern) and Iran (northwest). Its clients are approximately 10% foreigners, 20% Armenians from the diaspora and 70% Armenians locals. It is also to be noted that Narekavank is a young business created in February 2008 by two co-founders well-connected to Turkey cooperation projects (as TABDC, ICE)  and to tourism activities (as the direction of tourism office). Yet, Narekavank does not seem strongly linked to the international and to the Armenian national travel agencies networks. Finally, the regional tourism activity of this travel agency essentially consists of leading Armenian locals to Eastern Turkey (and, to a limited extent, hosting international and Turkish tourists in Armenia). The leading position of Narekavank tour LLC in the association cannot let us exclude the idea that it has a certain influence on the AATTc cooperation strategies.

A deeper inquiry would have to describe the connections between AATTc members and their links with other organizations as the Armenian Association of Travel Agents (AATA) or the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). At the moment, it is argued that there is no theoretical contradiction about seeing these organizations completing one another; but facts shows that AATTc does not aim to subordinate its action to another institution. On the Turkish side, Abdullah Tuncdemir, president of Ayanis tour (co-chair of AATTc) is director of Van board of the Association of Turkish Travel Agency (TURSAB). However, the support of TURSAB national boards to AATTc remains unclear. Concerning AATTc members themselves, they aim to enlarge their community but constantly keep in mind the idea that the organization should always act for its members benefit. This  means that even if a larger community would provide more weight to their lobbying actions, the members would see no interest in hosting a national or international agent as far as they are mainly local and regional organizations. A deeper inquiry would pay attention to the new future opportunities that will offer the recent membership of OSELO Tur, a travel agency based in Istanbul. Finally, it is to be noticed that the organization is not registered in Turkey and does not seem eager to be. This element emphasizes the regional scale and the business field qualifying AATTc’s approach to the tourism cooperation. 

What are the specific goals and actions led by the association? In which ways does it develop regional tourism? First, the goals and commitments established on July 22, 2011 dealt with promoting tourism services and fostering cooperation of Travel Agencies from Turkey and Armenia. But it also specifies concrete purposes, such as opening a direct flight between Yerevan and Van, participating in international tourism exhibitions and offering regional tour packages. The great deal of effort made for the fulfillment of the air line project gives relevant illustration of AATTc’s views on the tourism cooperation. Even if the project is not economically sustainable for air flight agencies, indirect benefits for tour operators lead the association to consider it a helpful project. Aside from this project of connecting the two countries by a regional air flight, there is the idea of the regional tourism joint-promotion. AATTc gives concrete examples of  this idea when the Turkish and Armenian members exhibit their programs together. On October 7, 2011, Narekavank Tour represented AATTc at the “Silk Road Exhibition” in Van aiming to develop a regional tour package and make contacts with new members. A few months later, five members participated in the Berlin International Tourism Exchanges (ITB) on March 9-13 2012 among nearly 10 000 exhibitors. The Association offered them a prestigious umbrella as the delegates of a regional tourism organization, which they could not afford when they were isolated travel agencies. International agents could appreciate a booklet of programs jointly designed by the Armenian and Turkish agencies of the region.

Moreover, special views on several tourism issues illustrate AATTc’s approach to the regional cooperation. First, AATTc delegates are among those who believe travel agents can act for the preservation and the promotion of the Armenian heritage in Eastern Turkey. They also claim that travel agencies would act more effectively under the umbrella of a regional organization. Thus, AATTc aims to foster new restoration projects in Mush and Van. Delegates of the association would support renovation programs by participating in meetings, bringing their knowledge and advice, getting Turkish State authorizations, and finding national of international funds. Renovation agenda would also be strengthened by lobbying strategies. Moreover, the delegates figured that tourism travel agencies’ opportunities to get more weight in political and administrative could be improved. With regard to normalization or specific demands on ANI restoration, the association expressed confidence in its chance to defend the interests of regional tourism agents in Turkey as well as in Armenia. The association also perceives great support to their project in local municipalities (Van and Kars) and regional organizations such as the Trade and Industry Chamber of Van VATSO.

Nevertheless, several tourism agents do not share AATTc’s approach on the Armenian-Turkish cooperation.  

The “National and international platforms approach”

Apart from the AATTc project, other views on Turkish-Armenian ways to cooperate on tourism activities can be identified. AATTc recently broke out with a new approach, but it does not substitute strategies, organizations and tourism collaborations which have existed for more than ten years. In contrast to AATTc’s approach, we would designate this original strategy as the “national and international platforms approach.” Several stakeholders implemented in the Turkish-Armenian tourism cooperation are concerned. They differ from AATTc in their conceptions of regional tourism and their activities.

According to this second approach, two organizations can set grounds for the cooperation on a national and institutional scale. These refer to the Association of Armenian Travel Agents (AATA) and the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB). The first one was established in 1999 and brought together over twenty Armenian tourism industry companies on voluntary membership. On the other hand, the registration to the second one is mandatory for any Turkish travel agency since 1972. It is argued that these associations, and especially TURSAB, have more weight and legitimacy to lead a program of cooperation. Therefore, some would claim that the regional tourism cooperation should not avoid integrating key stakeholders of the Turkish tourism market by only involving regional agents from Van or Kars. Consequently, it is appropriate to lead a deeper inquiry on the connections existing between the national and regional chapters of TURSAB, looking for a possible divergence of approachs on regional tourism. These national associations also offer more opportunities to develop Armenian-Turkish cooperation on the international ground, using their connections with global organizations. The American Society of Travel Agent (ASTA),  an international travel trade association uniting members from nearly 140 countries, is a case of this issue. Several Turkish and Armenian tourism agents attend this international platform in order to get in touch with each other. They can benefit from the well-connected Turkish chapter of ASTA and, to a certain extent, from a ten-year old dynamic Armenian chapter. Moreover, the AATA organizes a major tourism event with the ASTA : the Caucasus Travel Show (CTS), also designated as the “Country of talking stones” travel exhibition.

CTS word event, which has been organized every year since 2001,  is the main Armenian tourism fair. It provides opportunities for developing Armenian-Turkish tourism collaborations, as B to B meetings and conferences on Caucasus tourism issues are held. However, this reflects a specific approach on regional tourism, dealing with the establishment of Armenia-Turkey-Georgia interrelations more than an Armenian-Turkish cooperation. CTS exhibition also aims to act under national and institutional legitimacy as the event takes place under the patronage of the Armenian Ministry of Economy. Accounting for the CTS-2010’s concrete benefits to Armenian-Turkish relations, it can be noticed that among the 87 organizations taking part in the event, 40 were Turkish agents (from Van province especially). Moreover, agents holding specific regional activities, such as Narekavank tour LLC, take part in this international event. The participation of Van and other regional agents illustrates that the two approaches and their main promoters should not be strictly separated from each other. Then, we may question whether AATTc would be represented at CTS 2012 or not.  

As Five Star Travel Tour is an active organizer of CTS event, it could be relevant to consider this company as a key promoter of the “national and international approach” on the Armenian-Turkish cooperation. Indeed, Five Star director holds the chapter’s presidency of ASTA in Armenia (since 2001), and he is also vice president of AATA (since 1999). This provides the company with broad international connections and links with the main playersof the Turkish market. These latter illustrate the national approach: priority in the connection with TURSAB general direction, and partnerships with agencies based in Istanbul. Armenian and Turkish agents collaborate during national events. They meet at the Travel Turkey Izmir expo, organized under TURSAB and Turkish minister of Culture and Tourism umbrella (the event of 2010 hosting nearly 600 exhibitors), or at the East Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel Exhibition (EMITT). Five Star Travel also uses international platforms to meet Turkish partners, as ASTA’s “International Destinations Expo” held in Istanbul (2010) or CTS events. As previously noted, this international way promotes cooperation not only with Turkey but also with Georgia. International supporters also give favor to the integration of Azerbaijan agents, and the process faces important difficulties. In this way, Five Star Travel helped to organize several B to B panels during last years in Tbilisi (2009 Business forum), Istanbul (2010), and Yerevan (2010-2011). Finally, it is to notice that Five Star Travel took part in SATR meetings but it decided not to join the AATTc.

Several parameters of the tourism cooperation can help us to understand the divergence of views expressed on the related issue. First, it is mostly argued that the cooperation should equally benefit the two countries. According to this preoccupation, Five Star Travel gives favor to initiatives that would strongly integrate the promotion of incoming tourism in Armenia. The idea of Yeghishe Tanashyan, president of the company, is to enlarge a flow of Turkish tourists which has already been growing for the few past years. Familiarization travels organized for TURSAB agencies (2011) aims to incite them to bring travelers to Armenia. They would design new tours to Armenia dedicated to Turkish people, as well as international clients, and they would also extend to Armenia their “Eastern Turkey tours.” Finally, to understand Five Star Travel’s position, it is important to note that this company is not dedicated to coordinating trips from Armenia to Turkey. This can also explain the little interest it paid to the Van-Yerevan air flight project.

Another point of divergence concerns the habities of private agents. Some of them consider that it is not their intention to deal with issues which are not stricly related to business. Within the issue of Armenian heritage renovations in Eastern Turkey, and especially concerning the Historical City of Ani, only diplomatic relations are considered a way to link Armenian and Turkish stakeholders. With the private sector having no power to initiate cooperation in this regard, it cannot be travel agencies’ preoccupation. Moreover, lobbying or boycott actions (as it occurred in September 2010 for Akhtamar Mass event) concerning regional tourism demands are not observed with optimism. Some would consider few opportunities in this kind of actions. They argue that no strong community of interests exists in the regional tourism sector and claim that business stems out of political or cultural issues. Nevertheless, concerning Ani’s City valorization, it is worth saying that a governmental handling from Turkish institution may not adequately promote the Armenian heritage of the site. In the current situation, excluding diplomatic relations, associative and private involvements seem to be desirable.

To conclude, it is important to remind that these two different approaches on the Armenian-Turkish cooperation are always parts of business strategies directed by companies. The networking and the involvement in the Turkish tourism market is a field of competition between Armenian companies. That is why several agents equally eager to promote relations with Turkey would not be willing to cooperate with each other. Nevertheless, the two approaches can also complement each other , as they converge on several issues, such as opening the border. Also, they are not always preoccupied with the same issues. The “regional concern approach” fosters regional tours and local partnerships, while the “national and international platforms approach” concentrates on incoming tourism (in Armenia) and national/international networking.


Before summarizing key findings of this research and offering few recommendations, we should remember the main limits of our conclusions. The scope of the survey has been strictly defined. With regard to the Armenian-Turkish fields for cooperation, we decided to focus our attention on regional tourism. More specifically, we had a vested interest in “Western Armenia tourism”--cultural tours in Eastern Turkey mainly dedicated to Armenians. A larger survey should pay more attention to Armenian tourism activities in Istanbul and Antalya, and to Turkish activities in the Caucasus region. Second, our inquiry consisted mostly of interviews with Armenian Travel agents and associations’ delegates. Special attention toTURSAB’s views on the Armenian-Turkish cooperation would provide more comprehensive conclusions. Finally, consistent information related to governmental and local officials’ approaches on tourism co-development would allow us to specify most of our conclusions.

However, the following observations allow us to offer few conclusions and recommendations.


  1. The renovation of the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island account for the major benefits of Armenian heritage promotion projects in terms of incoming tourism for Turkey and of tour operating for Armenian travel agencies. This should foster new programs of restoration in the region.
  2. A major challenge has been identified concerning the methods of promoting Armenian heritage in Eastern Turkey. The cooperation of Armenian and Turkish private stakeholders (tourism and cultural associations, experts) in the situation of non-existent diplomatic relations seems all the more desirable in order to prevent frustrations and resentments.
  3. Armenian and Turkish tourism agents all agree on the necessity of a normalized situation between the two States and on the opportunities induced by the hypothesis of opening the border. This consensus should give legitimacy to any association of Armenian and Turkish stakeholders jointly defending their common interests.
  4. Opening of the border is currently not on the agenda. Therefore, the Van-Yerevan air route project demonstrates the possibility of alternative solutions provided by Armenian and Turkish businessmen cooperating together.
  5. The Armenian-Turkish tourism cooperation issue faces divergence of views from many stakeholders. These are related to business and networking strategies and specialized activities of every travel agent. Thus, cooperation cannot be fostered in a single direction but should be promoted in several ways.
  6. The enlargement of AATTc in order to be present on a national scale would provide more legitimacy to its demands and actions.
  7. The model of TURSAB in terms of state recognition and national responsibilities could inspire the development of the AATA, aiming to strengthen the authority of the national platforms. The dialog between the two national tourism associations could be fostered and provided with support from both Armenian and Turkish States.

Finally, the tourism sector gives insight into the common benefits provided by the private collaborations and the associated cooperation between Armenia and Turkey. Another step for fostering the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement would be to spread consciousness about these benefits both in civil society and political minds. Indeed, it is most probably partly because of the ignorance of such cooperation projects’ existence that a climate of suspicion remains on both sides of the border.

Set of Initials

AATA: Armenian Association of Travel Agents
AATTc: Association of Armenian Turkish Travel companies 
ASTA: American Society of Travel Agents
CTS: Caucasus Travel Show
EMITT: Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel Exhibition
ICE: Information and assistance Center for Armenian and Turkish Entrepreneurs
ICHD: International Center for Human Development
TEPAV: Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey
TABDC: Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council
TURSAB: Association of Turkish Travel Agencies
SATR: Support to Armenian Turkish Rapprochement
VATSO: Trade and Industry Chamber of Van
UMB(E)A: Union of Manufacturers and Businemen (employers) of Armenia
USAID: United State Agency for International Development


References and sources

Academic Studies:
Ayata B. (2012), « Tolerance as a European Norm or an Ottoman Practice? », KFG Working Paper series, no41, Berlin

Behrendt S. (2011), « Getting to Yes: Prospects for the Armenian-Turkish Dialogue », Geoeconomica, Geneva
GultekinB. (2010), « Building Bridge of Trust and Confidence between Turks and Armenians in Support of the Normalization and Reconciliation Process », TEPAV Policy Note, Ankara
GultekinB. (2010), « The On going Official Contacts and Cooperation on the Turkish-Armenian Border, The Impossibility for Neighbours to Elude Geography », TEPAV Policy Note, Ankara
Gultekin B. Simao L. Tavitian N. (2007)« The Case for Opening the Turkish-Armenian Border », Trans European Policy Studies Association (TEPSA), Brussels
Phillips D. (2012) « Diplomatic History: The Turkey-Armenia Protocols », Institute for the Study of Human Rights Columbia University, New York


“Armenian-Turkish Business Relations through the Eyes of Business Opinion Leaders”, SATR Study Report, Yerevan 2011
“Perspectives for Development of Transport and International Corridors in Armenia, Turkey and the Region”, SATR Study Report, Yerevan 2011
“Taking the reins: Effects of an open Armenian - Turkish border and its significance on European Integration” and “Turkey’s Trade Policy Towards Europe, the South Caucasus and Armenia”, SATR Study Report, Yerevan, Istanbul 2011

“|Armenian-Turkish Citizens’ Mutual Perceptions and Dialogue Project”, TESEV-HASA studyreport,Yerevan, Istanbul 2004

Armenian press:

Turkish press: 

International organizations websites
UNESCO official website: http://whc.unesco.org/,
World Monument Fond official website: http://www.wmf.org/
USAID official website: http://armenia.usaid.gov/
ASTA official website: http://asta.org/

Regional (Turkish-Armenian or Caucasus) organizations websites
ICE official website: http://armturkbusiness.org/?p=news&l=en
SATR project official website: http://armturkdialogue.net/
TABDC official website: http://www.tabdc.org/
EPF official website: http://www.epfound.am/

Armenian organizations, events and tourism agents
UMB(E)A official website : http://www.umba.am/
ICHD official website :http://ichd.org/
AATA presentation/ CTS2011 official website:  http://www.cts.am/
Narekavank Tour LLC: http://nvtour.am/
Five stars Travel: http://www.fivestars.am/main/index.php

Turkish organizations, events and tourism agents
TEPAV: http://www.tepav.org.tr/tr/
TURSAB official website: http://www.tursab.org.tr/en
Travel Turkey Izmir expo: http://www.travelturkey-expo.com/
EMITT expo: http://emittistanbul.com/en
Fest Travel: http://www.festtravel.com/en/
OseloTur: http://www.oselotur.com/

ANI Tour, VolodiaArushanian, August 2012, Yerevan
Fest Travel, Mustafa Pestereli, August, 2012, Yerevan
Five stars travel, YeghisheTanashyan, July, 2012, Yerevan
Narekavank tour LLC, ArmenHovhannisyan, August, 2012, Yerevan
Oselo İnternational Tours, Mehmet EBINC, August, 2012 (E-mail)
UMB(E)A, ArmenMelkonyan and ArturGhazaryan, July 2012, Yerevan

Cf.“Armenian-Turkish Citizens’ Mutual Perceptions and Dialogue Project”, TESEV-HASA studyreport,Yerevan, Istanbul 2004: according to this opinion poll, 73,5% of Armenians respondents  would be willing to go to Turkey for tourism and vacation (and overwhelming majority of them (94,8%) would like to visit Turkey to see the land of their ancestors. Also, Majority of Turkish respondents (50,4%) would go to Armenia for business and trade.

Cf.“Armenian-Turkish Business Relations through the Eyes of Business Opinion Leaders”, SATR Study Report, Yerevan 2011


Narekavank tour LLC initially planned to lead 250 visitors from Armenia; Ani Tour would have lead 100 people to the celebration instead of more than 300 persons initially planned.

“Armenian-Turkish Business Relations through the Eyes of Business Opinion Leaders”, SATR Study Report, Yerevan 2011

More information on the Turkey-Armenia protocols: http://hrcolumbia.org/peacebuilding/diplomatic_history.pdf

More information about SATR and Armenian and Turkish partners implemented: http://armturkdialogue.net/about-satr/




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