Thursday, June 19, 2008

Congressman Berman urges Turkey to end counter-productive practice of closed borders

Between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea lie the countries of the Caucasus – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Due to disputes that have festered over the course of many years, there are enough compelling questions involving these three countries and their neighbors to occupy us all day long, Howard L. Berman, chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee said in his opening statement at “The Caucasus: Frozen Conflicts and Closed Borders” hearing.

“During the course of this hearing I’d like to focus on the frozen conflicts affecting economic and political integration in the region, and how U.S. foreign policy is responding to them.

“I’d like to start with one of the most puzzling and problematic matters: the Turkish land blockade of Armenia, in place since 1993. It’s a punishing policy that holds the Armenian economy back and enormously increases the cost of much of Armenia’s trade with other nations.

“The land blockade is also, quite possibly, illegal, as it seems to breach Turkey’s undertaking in the 1922 Treaty of Kars to keep its border-crossings with Armenia open. And it violates the spirit of the World Trade Organization, of which both Turkey and Armenia are members.

“It’s baffling why Ankara would want to pursue this land blockade, which also harms the economy of eastern Turkey, and is therefore clearly contrary to its own interests. It’s no secret that many Turkish businessmen, especially in the east, have been lobbying for lifting the land blockade.

“It also seems manifestly contrary to the strategic interests of Turkey, which purports to be a solid member of the Western alliance. Without an outlet to Turkey or Azerbaijan, Armenia is forced to rely on its connections to two of Turkey’s historical rivals, Russia and Iran – and given how antithetical the Iranian regime is to the secular, modern Turkish government, it seems odd that Ankara would want to undertake any actions that will enhance Tehran’s influence in Yerevan.

“Furthermore, the land blockade has done absolutely nothing to persuade Armenia to alter its policies on the Nagorno Karabakh issue – the ostensible cause of the land blockade in the first place. Nor is there any prospect that it will do so. Armenia has demonstrated its resolve to support the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh. Turkey is more likely to win influence with the Armenian government if it pursues a policy of good-neighborliness than if it slams the border closed.

“Why hasn’t the State Department – which opposes the land blockade – spoken out more forcefully on this matter? Certainly it’s in our interest to diminish Iran’s influence among its neighbors, not to enhance it. Ambassador Fried, I’m hoping you’ll lay out for us the steps our government has taken and is taking to convince our ally Turkey to end, once and for all, this counter-productive practice of closed borders,” Congressman Berman said

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