A group of Turkish and Armenian journalists traveling through Turkey, Armenia and Georgia between May 24 and June 6 in order to gain first-hand insight into their neighbors say that the closed border between Turkey and Armenia is negatively affecting relations between the two countries, advocating the opening of the border.
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan after Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan in 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Arsen Kharatyan from Voice of America has told Today's Zaman that the closed border is a symbolic issue. “The day we stop reaching each other's countries via other countries, both societies will understand each other more closely. Passing through Georgia to Armenia shows that every level of relations is mediated by third parties,” said Kharatyan, adding that constructive, sincere and honest dialogue on both the government and civil society level would contribute positively to the future of relations.
The group of 15 journalists visited six locations in Turkey: İstanbul, Malatya, Kayseri, Cappadocia, Ankara and Kars. The group then traveled to Armenia, where they are spending a week visiting cities and villages across the country, including Gyumri, Goris, Sevan and Yerevan.
The Turkey-Armenia Media Reporting Bus Tour is organized by the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT) of İstanbul Kültür University, in partnership with the Yerevan-based Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF), as part of the Support to Armenia-Turkey Rapprochement (SATR) project and is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The tour aims to establish a network for future reporting on Turkish-Armenian relations.
“If someone wants to understand the present, he or she must deal with the past and perceive it with their own eyes, rather than hearing it from the outside,” said Kharatyan, adding that the tour was a journey of self-discovery for the journalists.
When asked his assessment of possible future relations between both countries in the future, Kharatyan replied that currently the discussions between Turkey and Armenia were stuck on the level of intellectual discourse, adding that sustainable peace could only be achieved by maintaining honesty between the nations. “I hope there will be a time in our lives when we openly have many discussions. I agree with Turkish officials that we have to solve this problem instead of leaving it to our children,” said Kharatyan.
Speaking to Today's Zaman, Andranik Ispiryan from the Yerevan-based news agency News.am stated, “The border between Turkey and Armenia is the only closed border in the 21st century,” suggesting that closed borders prevent relations from improving between the countries.
“I believe the closed border affects relations negatively, not only on the diplomatic level but also on the societal level,” said Ispiryan, proposing that if the border were open the two societies would have an opportunity to learn about the culture of the other nation, which would also help to reduce misconceptions on both sides.
Agreeing with Ispiryan, Zafer Opsar from the Bursa-based news portal Bursaport.com told Today's Zaman that the closed border does not contribute positively to relations between the countries, adding that both sides would benefit from the opening of the borders.
“I am hopeful for the future, and I believe our trip will contribute to the future of relations. But I think the word ‘genocide' blocks the development of relations. Both countries can overcome the problems by empathy only,” he said, adding that the tour was of great importance in improving relations.
“Journalists are the voice of the public. We [Turkish and Armenian journalists] have the opportunity to observe the neighboring country without the involvement of third parties,” said Opsar.
Susae Elanchenny, representative of GPoT, told Today's Zaman that the goal of the tour was to facilitate Turkish and Armenian journalists' understanding of their neighboring countries and peoples. “Given the current impasse in official relations, I believe that the media can play a particularly important role in moving the normalization process forward,” said Elanchenny.
“Of course, we [GPoT] don't expect to solve the entire issue on this two-week bus tour with these 15 journalists, but I believe that thanks to civil society projects, like this one, the biases, stereotypes and misunderstandings that hinder dialogue are decreasing and will hopefully only further decrease in the future,” she added.
Speaking about the closed border, Varya Meruzhanyan, representative of EPF, told Today's Zaman that before the borders can be opened people on both sides will need to make an effort to open their mental borders, stating, “We are hopeful that this bus tour will serve as a small step towards achieving that goal.”
She also added that with the current deadlock in official relations between the nations it is important that people from both countries continue to receive information about the other.