Alternative

Free Tourist Zone in Ani


Annotation

 

Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process will require further steps and joint efforts. It cannot be moved forward with exaggerated expectations and additional speeding may seriously harm the future of bilateral relations. At the meantime, as it was mentioned at the round table debate at Ankara Middle East Technical University (METU) on October 24, 2011, every other day of silence and lack of initiatives may erect an even higher wall of isolation between people who are separated for almost a century.

Based on our observations and continuous work with different groups, including students, professors farmers, business people, government officials, public opinion formers both in Armenia and in Turkey, as well as representatives of both nations currently residing in Europe, Middle East and other parts of the world, we may conclude that the need to re-establish contacts is not being reduced even after “freezing” the process of bilateral Protocols ratification by both parties.

 

In particular, the idea of establishing a free tourist zone had been actively discussed with above mentioned groups and got an initial support by the majority of respondents in 2010-2012. In particular from over 500 people (200 in Turkey and 200 in Armenia plus 100 permanent residents of European countries of Armenian and Turkish origin) 391 were in favor of establishing a free tourist zone on the border of Armenia and Turkey.  23 Armenians in Armenia and 36 Armenians in Europe are in favor of establishing a free tourist zone on the border of Armenia if the Armenian Genocide will be recognized by Turkey.  17 Turks in Turkey and 24 Turks in Europe are in favor of mentioned proposal only in case of final settlement of conflict over Nagorno Karabagh. 3 among Armenian respondents and 11 among Turks were against the idea of establishing a free tourist zone on the border of Armenia and Turkey or had no idea about it.

 

Hence most of respondents support the above mentioned idea and look at it as one of the tools that need to be used to put bilateral relations on a normal footing.  It is for that reason that we made a decision to develop further the idea of establishing a free tourist zone in Ani in collaboration with our colleagues from Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV).  Furthermore, we intend to invite our colleagues from TEPAV in Ankara, as well as our colleagues from METU in Ankara to discuss the terms to conduct feasibility study on establishing a free tourist zone, as well as other means of cooperation between Armenia and Turkey.

 

We suggest that the free tourist zone shall be based on a simple model of attracting people.  Particularly, before starting regular and more systematic exchange of tourist groups from both countries, it might be reasonable to start from inviting dwellers from neighboring towns.  Initially visiting historical sites of Ani may be limited in terms of territory and time.  Some 5 to 10 hectares of most attractive sites may be used for 3-5 hours tours and get-together meetings of dwellers from neighboring towns.  Special interest groups, such as farmers, architectures, students and others may also be considered.  Limiting the size of tourist zone and the time for visits may justify the request for non-visa travel to Ani.  In case of success, the process of expanding time and territory limits may be jointly justified and properly managed.

 

We believe that the establishment of free tourist zone precisely matches the interests of both nations and leads to the creation of favorable climate for political dialogue and cooperation.  In addition, we may also expect the following outcomes from mentioned initiative:

Social

People from both countries will have a chance to get together, communicate, discuss various issues of mutual interest and concern, and thus break the negative stereotypes existing on both sides of the border.  New and more realistic opinions may be formed to assist the overall process of reconciliation.

Cultural

New and old cultural values may be explored, not to exclude commonalities in customs, beliefs, traditions, as well as sense of camaraderie, harmony of paths in different fields of social life and culture.

Economic

Various souvenirs, gifts, hand crafted goods may be exhibited, traded and fairs can be organized benefiting micro and small businesses on both sides of the border.  Different dishes from Armenian and Turkish cuisine may also be put on display, tasted and purchased, thus making the get-together meetings and tours both interesting and profitable for visitors and traders.

Political

In case of reaching certain frequency and increase in numbers of people interested in visiting the free tourist zone, and turning it to a growing trend, one can also expect revitalization of the reconciliation process without preconditions and prejudices.  This may also help to lobby the governments of Armenia and Turkey to take further steps on reconciliation.

 

Conclusion

Based on our observations and preliminary study we may conclude that reconciliation process requires further steps and joint endeavors.  We agreed with Prof. Huseyin Bagci, Mr. Guven Sak, Mr. Noyan Soyak, and other colleagues to coordinate our efforts toward drafting and implementing projects that may mostly benefit our nations, and serve the interests of regional security, cooperation and friendship.  Previous stages, including meetings, exchange of views and ideas, round table debates, conferences, lectures and surveys, clearly demonstrate our firm commitment, as well as willingness and readiness of all progressive minded people to create feasible mechanisms to reach the goals set by both parties for more efficient process of reconciliation.  Establishment of free tourist zone in Ani is an initiative that gained consensus by mentioned parties and seeks adequate support by external sources.  Finally, encouraging social, cultural, economic, and political consequences are anticipated from implementing this initiative.

 

Proposed actions

We suggest that Prof. Husyein Bagci, Prof. Suha Bölükbaşı, Mr. Guven Sak, Dr. Burcu Punsmann visit Armenia for a series of meetings with Research Center “Alternative”, public opinion formers, lectures, round table debates, TV talk show on June 16-19.  This will allow to further discuss the details on free tourist zone initiative, design the contents of intended feasibility study, and to work out a plan of actions on mentioned direction.  Finally, parties may consider joint efforts to apply for funding or co-funding of corresponding project.

 

Research Center ALTERNATIVE

Yerevan, Armenia

 

 

Medieval city of Ani, as viewed from Armenia

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