Turkish Businessmen Call for Opening of Borders

(RFE/RL)–A group of visiting businessmen from Turkey’s regions close to Armenia called on Saturday for the reopening of the border between the two countries as they discussed ways of promoting bilateral trade with their prospective Armenian partners.

About three dozen entrepreneurs from the Turkish cities of Kars–Igdir and Artvin–met with members of the Armenian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs at the start of a visit to Armenia.

Behcet Atgun–an economist from Erzrum who accompanied the delegation said–"I would love to see the border reopen tomorrow."

"There are people who are interested in spreading discord between our nations," said oil trader Sehet Ozturk. "But we must get along and cooperate."

The businessmen–among them traders and manufacturers of consumer goods–come from some of Turkey’s poorest regions that have long viewed cross-border commerce with Armenia as an opportunity to boost the depressed local economy. But their persistent calls–endorsed by more influential Turkish business circles–have carried little weight with successive governmen’s in Ankara that have linked the normalization of bilateral ties to the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

The head of the Armenian business association–Arsen Ghazarian–said he is "tired" of and has lost faith in the business community’s efforts to have the Turkish government reconsider its policy on Armenia. Those efforts have been spearheaded by the private Turkish-Armenian Business Council–of which Ghazarian is aco-chair. His Turkish counterpart–Kaan Soyak–has made a strong case for reopened border–saying that Turkey and Armenia have a lot to gain from direct commercial links.

The frustration was echoed by other Armenian businessmen present at the meeting. They complained about the continuing Turkish ban on imports of Armenian-made products even through third countries. Cheap Turkish consumer goods–by contrast–are imported to Armenia in large quantities via neighboring Iran and Georgia.

"My company has imported many production components from Turkey," said Ashot Apoyan–chief executive of the Ashtarak Kat dairy which has tried unsuccessfully to reach the Turkish market. "But we are now abandoning any imports from Turkey because of this unequal and unfair trade regime."

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