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Bridging A Divide In Europe

Bridging A Divide In EuropeAFletcher School graduate student says that tensions between Turkeyand Armenia won’t subside as long as the border betweenthe countries remains sealed. Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.14.05] Centuries-old tensions betweenArmenia and Turkey continue to percolate, thanks in large partto the sealed border that divides the two countries. The counterproductiveclosed-border policy, says a FletcherSchool student, has impoverished many people in the two nationswhile blocking any chance of working toward a resolution.

“Thecurrent policies in the region applied by both countries are indisputablya failure. It is time to open a fresh process of dialogue andreconciliation by opening the Turkish-Armenian border,”Harout Semerdjian, a graduate student in international relations,wrote in the English-language publication Moscow Times.

WhenArmenia achieved independence in 1991 after the dissolution ofthe Soviet Union, it faced many problems.

“Forthe large and influential Armenian diaspora worldwide, the mostimportant issue remained recognition of the events of 1915 asgenocide,” Semerdjian wrote. “However, for the majorityof Armenians living in Armenia, the most significant issue becamesurvival in a period of economic hardship and social turmoil.”

Turkey,he added, also faces setbacks: “In recent years, farmershave put entire villages in the Sivas region of the country upfor sale. Isolated eastern provinces such as Erzerum, Kars andIgdir near the Armenian border are anxious to boost their economyin order to improve their low standards of living.”

Enforcinga sealed border, Semerdjian contended, only exacerbates the problem.

“Itonly maintains the poverty in the border regions, which wouldotherwise benefit from cross-border economic activity.”

Thetension stems from long-standing conflicts, such as the slayingof over a million Armenians at the hands of Turkish soldiers in1915 (whether or not it was genocide is a hotly debated subject)and the recent dispute over the Azerbaijani enclave of NagornyKarabakh, which is heavily populated by Armenians.

Thesetensions, Semerdjian asserted, are hurting both nations.

“Whileauthorities in Turkey may feel they are punishing Armenia in supportof Azerbaijan, both countries are in fact merely punishing theirown people by maintaining closed borders.”

Buta foundation of understanding cannot be established without communication,Semerdjian wrote.

“Howcan Turkey expect the Armenian diaspora to behave in a positive,conciliatory manner when it is unwilling to establish basic communicationlinks between the two countries? How can Armenia expect Turkeyto understand its needs and historical issues when Mount Araratcurrently acts as an Iron Curtain rather than a mountain of peace?”

Semerdjian,a member of the Turkish-ArmenianBusiness Development Council, wrote that unsealing the borderwould be mutually beneficial.

“Openborders would encourage contact, trade, business opportunitiesand tourism between the population of both countries -- whichwould in turn create a sense of confidence and greater understandingbetween the two peoples.”

Headded that opening the border would be a strong, independent stepfor both nations.

“Itwould demonstrate to the international community the strong willand determination of both countries to solve their differencesthemselves, not in the corridors of the French senate or the U.S.Congress,” he wrote.

Semerdjianurged top Armenian and Turkish officials to reconsider their reasonsfor keeping the border sealed.

“Leadersof both countries should be encouraged to think in global andrealistic terms and start taking alternate steps toward peace,if they are serious about bringing harmony and eventual prosperityto the region.”








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