VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU/First Person
YEREVAN - Turkish Daily News
Political circles and the public in Armenia are quite curious about Turkish President Abdullah Gül's response to an invitation extended by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to watch the Turkey-Armenia football World Cup qualifier that will take place in Yerevan Sept. 6.
Rumors that Turkish and Armenian diplomats held secret negotiations over the topic in Switzerland have further increased the level of curiosity. Contact between the two sides certainly does not take place only in the meeting rooms of third parties. A group from Turkey also had contacts in Yerevan last week. Yet both sides, Turkey and Armenia, prefer to remain silent for now.
On the other hand, top-level Armenian politicians insistently refrain from being interviewed by journalists from the Turkish media these days, because they think any interviews they'd have with Turkish journalists would be manipulated, and therefore, not be reflected objectively to the Turkish public. So they try to be cautious about interviews, with the idea that they might spoil the course of softening relations between Turkey and Armenia. Even though I, as a Turkish journalist of Armenian descent, was not treated like other journalists in Yerevan, this did not save a planned interview that I was going to conduct with a top-level politician from postponement to an uncertain “next time” due to a last-moment occurrence.
I asked the opinions of many Armenians on the street. Most of them do not have a positive perspective toward the Sargsyan administration. My general impression is that the majority of citizens in Armenia want to see country's first president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, in power again.
By the way, many citizens also think that the last presidential elections were biased. For them, the government of Sargsyan is the main source of the internal conflict that occurred in March. That is actually the reason why Sargsyan has recently been trying hard to regain the public's confidence. One of his big goals is to develop Armenia's economy, which has had a significant growth rate in recent years, and in this way, to increase the level of prosperity in Armenian society. But his priority is to expand the scope of bilateral relations with neighboring countries, which definitely, and above all, include Turkey.
Turkey's addressee Armenia, not the diaspora
Meanwhile, the “genocide” issue is still a taboo in Armenia. Only young intellectuals have a moderate approach toward possible dialogue with Turkey. “I believe in the importance of possible dialogue with Turkey,” said Dr. Hayk Demoyan, the 33-year-old director of the Genocide Museum in Yerevan. “Turkey's internal peace is highly important for us. I lost a large part of my family during the painful event that occurred in the past decades. I am still a part of those lands. My roots belong to those lands. That's why a dialogue with Turkey is important.”
University students, too, have an interest in Turkey and the Turks. This is the impression I got as a result of a number of interviews I conducted with students in different universities in Yerevan. Some students even spend their holidays in Turkey. Young people in Armenia also hold the opinion that the two peoples need to communicate with each other and talk about the traumas that happened in the past. And they are quite critical about interferences by the diaspora and the countries of the West in the problems between Turkey and Armenia. Young academics, on the other hand, underline that Armenia is an independent country and the problems between it and Turkey can be solved only with the cooperation of both.
Some Turkish families spend their holiday in Armenia
Although there exists a number of political problems between the two countries, the two peoples have already exceeded the borders to get to know each other. I met so many Turkish families at the cafés and restaurants in Yerevan's famous Republic Square. They told me they were curious about Armenia and its people, so they visited Yerevan. Most of them were from Istanbul and had come there together with their Armenian neighbors. One of these Turks is Nermin Nemrutlu. She said she and her friend decided to spend their holiday in Yerevan, so they went there. “This is actually my second visit to Armenia. I feel comfortable here. Turkish and Armenian people do have many common characteristics. We have a similar perception of life, similar eating habits… The way we express our happiness, etc,” she said. In response to Turkish holiday-goers, rich families from Armenia also pay visits to Turkey. In addition to flights operated by Armavia, the state airline of Armenia, Turkish firm Atlas Jet also operates flights to Armenia, six flights a week. Both companies plan to increase the number of flights as demand from both sides for mutual visits is increasing.