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Kristine Aghalaryan

The Turks Will Come to Armenia. Yerevan is a Lively Town

An interview with Istanbul Bogazici University Foreign Relations Faculty Lecturer; Professor Behlul Ozkan. When will Turkey be integrated into EU? It is very difficult to say the time about Turkey’s integration to EU. It is going to be a long process. I believe it will take more than 10 years because in some countries the public opinion is against Turkey's integration into the EU such as Austria, Germany and France. And Turkey should start a public opinion campaign in order to change the image of Turkey with the European people. Still there are misperceptions or biased opinions about Turkey in the textbooks, in schools, in European history. And Turkey is represented as the enemy of European civilization, enemy of Christianity. And in order to change this image they are in need of a strong public opinion. That is why I believe there is a minimum 10 years for integration. Moreover, there is another perspective: Turkey's economy is increasing, and now it is in the top ten economies in the world. Moreover, it is one of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. That means, in ten years Turkey's economy will be at the level of Italy, Greece, and Spain. And at that time, I do not know, whether Turkey will want to become a member of EU because we have a young population, and most of the Turkish people can say. «Ok, I don't want to become a member of EU, because I'm already reach, and I don't want to spent my taxes to finance all retired European people such as Germany, France, and that will be another challenge for Turkey's integration. There are 600 journalists in the prisons of Turkey. How does Turkey want to integrate into EU with this number of journalists in the prisons? Why don't you make some changes in the Law for avoiding such problems? Of course, it is not good for Turkey, and nobody defends it: no academician, no journalist, no intellectual defends it. But the situation was worst in 1980s. There is a real development in Turkish law. And EU integration is another positive step. I do not know the exact number, and I believe the number is less than 600, but I believe in the future there will not be any problem like this for Turkey, because right now if you are penalized by the Turkish court, you can go to international European court of justice (and most of journalists go to EU court of justice), and Turkish government is forced to free these journalists from the prison. That is an important development for Turkey. YouTube is also closed in Turkey because of some negative clips about Ataturk. I'm, of course, against this. And interesting thing is that Turkish Prime Minister is also against it. But in Turkey I can use YouTube. There is a software program on the internet and if you download it, you can use it. The main problem between YouTube and Turkish government is tax problem. Tax problem or clips about Ataturk? Yes, this is the reason that is put on the table. But behind the table the problem is YouTube and the revenues from Turkey because you advertise on YouTube, you pay YouTube. Turkish Telecommunication minister explained this to the public. I am not supporting it. This is not only Ataturk's clips, but also an important tax issues. Some of the applications of Google are also closed in Turkey, for example, maps, because the government restricted it and forced Google to open an office in Turkey and pay tax for revenues. How do you evaluate the Turkish government activity? I think it is very successful government. At the economic level they privatized most of the state companies, and a global financial crisis has not affected Turkish economy. At the democratic level, for example, they made opening the Kurdish issue. And this is the first government in Turkey who openly announce that should be more democracy for Turks. At the same time there are some problematic areas, for example, that should be more democratic developments about presidency, universities, press. These are the negative sides. But if I analyze pros and cons the positive sides are more than negative. Is it possible for the Kurds to get autonomy in Turkey? I do not know what kind of autonomy, I don't know the real answer, but there is an ongoing debate in Turkey. Every solution should be discussed in the public opinion. The problem is we can not generalize about the Kurds. There are some Kurds who don’t want autonomy, who are happy with more democratic guides, some of them want autonomy, some of them want federal state, and some of them want total independence. I believe, in the democratic country, every solution should be discussed openly. If someone advocates for independence, he should establish a party, open the way for elections, it can depend on is idea. If they want autonomy and they are in majority, they can get the autonomy. Do you really see such an opportunity? The real problem is we have PKK and it is using weapons as a method to solve this problem. As long as this conflict continues, we can’t discuss this issue. The real problem in Turkey is to stop fighting between PKK and Turkish government, and get all this Turkish representatives into the parliament and discuss issues freely. That is the objective or aim of the government right now. There is an ongoing conflict in South of Turkey. As long as this conflict continues, as long as people die both Kurds and Turks, it is very difficult to discuss these issues. Turkish government privatized the Armenian Church’s lands in Turkey, Armenian Church tries to get it back. How do you see the solution of this problem? Isn't it possible that the Turkish government will give it back to the Armenian Church? I do not know the details of that problem, I don’t have any information, but legally, if Armenian Patriarchy owns these land, and if they are taken from them, either they should be returned back to Patriarch or they should pay to the owners for this lands. If they nationalized these lands there are 2 solutions: any government should be a buyer by the law, it can not act unlawful against Armenian Patriarchy. Either you nationalize this land, either pay to the owners and get it back. There are a lot of Iranians that come to Armenia as tourists. Why don’t Turkish people come to Armenia as tourists? That is an interesting question.  Most of the Turks, I am talking about rich Turks, upper middle class, their face is turned to West. They prefer to go to Italy, Greece. For example, it is very easy to go to Syria, Lebanon, but nobody goes there. This is a big problem. Nobody knows any information about Yerevan in Turkey. Another problem is that there are not frequent flights. There is an only Istanbul-Yerevan flight in the midnight. On the other hand, we have an Istanbul-Tbilisi flight, and nobody go there. They want to go to Western European countries. This is not normal; you have to visit your neighbors. But if the land border is open there will be a lot of people visiting Yerevan from Eastern Turkey because it is very convenient to go by car, and Yerevan is very modern, there are jazz bars, cafes. It is a very lively city. You can’t find such an atmosphere in the Eastern Turkey. Armenian population is very literate, very advanced level society. As far as I know it is very advanced in the service sector. There are already cultural contacts between 2 societies, for example, most of Armenian composers come to Istanbul, and they gave concerts. Culture of 2 societies is very close together, music is similar, the same history.  If the land border opens, I am sure, thousand of Turkish people will visit Yerevan by cars buying things from here like Armenian liquor, and other souvenirs, that will impact Armenian tourism. Another thing there are casinos in Yerevan and people will come here to gamble because gambling is not legal in Turkey.  That will affect the tourism, but this will be a regional tourism from Eastern Turkey to Armenia. I do not feel as a foreigner in Armenia because the culture, people, atmosphere is not different from Turkey. But my impression is that this country is isolated. 85 % borders are close. We can feel it. When I came here first time by car from Georgia, I travelled all the way from Tbilisi to Yerevan, and I saw rural sides, the regions are almost empty, people migrated from Armenia, because it is not very easy to live in a country which is closed to borders. I don't think it is a viable state, because Turkish and Azerbaijanis borders are closed, Iran is not very stabile country, it is under American embargo, there is not a real way out for Armenia, and the only remaining country is Georgia which is a politically and economically unstable country. And it almost impacts an Armenian economy. Would you open the Armenian-Turkish border if you were a president of Turkey? Yes, I do. But the problem is I am not a president of Turkey. I have no problem of electing once again. Major problem about the opening the border is that the opposition party accuses the government of betraying the Azeris and they manipulate the public opinion against the government, and any government who wants to be elected once again in the next elections changes their decision. That is the major problem. But I am very optimistic about the border, I think in a couple of years we will see major change in the relations between two countries