YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Only one in three Armenians supports Armenia’s fence-mending agreements with Turkey and the possible opening of the border between the two estranged nations, according to an opinion poll released on Monday.
The poll conducted by the Armenian Marketing Association (AMA) appears to be the most comprehensive survey yet of Armenian public opinion on the dramatic thaw in Turkish-Armenian relations. The non-governmental group interviewed some 2,500 randomly chosen residents across the country in late January and early February.
The survey, which the AMA says was not financed or commissioned by any other organization, found not only a lack of popular support for the Western-backed rapprochement but also a large number of Armenians undecided about its various aspects and implications.
“Many people are confused, they don’t know whom to believe,” the AMA chairman, Aram Navasardian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. He said the confusion stems from diametrically opposite assessments of the process made by the Armenian government and its political opponents.
According to the AMA, nearly 31 percent of respondents supported, to varying degrees, the increased diplomatic, civil-society and other contacts between Armenia and Turkey. Almost the same percentage of those polled fully or largely opposed such contacts, with the remaining 40 percent either undecided or having no definite opinion.
Accordingly, only 36.3 percent of respondents said the normalization protocols signed by Ankara and Yerevan last October are good for Armenia. Most of the others were either undecided or said the protocols favor only the Turkish side.
The AMA poll suggests that public opinion is almost evenly split on the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border, which is envisaged by the protocols. It shows that only one-third of Armenians want to have an open border with Turkey while those who are firmly or mostly against make up just over 30 percent of the population.
Western governments and lending institutions say border opening would have a quick and highly positive impact on the Armenian economy. The Armenian government takes a similar view. The AMA said it is shared by only 41.2 percent of those polled, with another 36.3 percent being “neutral” on the subject or not knowing whether cross-border commerce with Turkey would bring their country economic benefits.
Navasardian stressed that AMA pollsters did not seek to identify reasons for the popular attitudes towards Armenia’s relations with Turkey and the controversial protocols in particular. He said that should be the subject of a separate study.
A similar but less detailed survey was conducted by the government-linked Armenian Sociological Association (ASA) in Yerevan last September, three weeks before the signing of the protocols. According to its findings, 52.4 percent of city residents were unhappy with the Turkish-Armenian deal and only 39 percent approved of it.
Armenians opposed to the protocols primarily reject a clause envisaging the creation of a Turkish-Armenian historical “subcommission” that would investigate the veracity of the Armenian Genocide. The Turks have made no secret of their intent to exploit the very existence of such a body to prevent more countries from recognizing the massacres as genocide. The Armenian government denies this.
Some of the protocol critics, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, also strongly object to Yerevan’s pledge to recognize the existing Turkish-Armenian frontier. An economic report prepared by the party’s financial experts late last year showed that the border’s possible opening would cause Armenia more economic losses than benefits.