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Turk-Armenian NGO is a No-Go

Friday 9 May 2008, by Fulya Özerkan

A Turkish-Armenian business organization is not permitted to open a branch in Istanbul, in total contrast to the government’s willingness to restart political dialogue with Armenia following elections there.

While political leaders of both Turkey and Armenia debate ways to “open dialogue,” an effort by a Brussels-based association of Turkish and Armenian businessmen has been told that even an Istanbul office for the nongovernmental organization is off the table, it was revealed yesterday.

The request began with Brussels-based Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council’s request last year to establish an office in Istanbul. But, the Turkish Daily News learned that the request was quietly rejected by the Interior Ministry in February.

Kaan Soyak, co-chairman of the Council, confirmed that four Turkish members of the organization including himself applied last May to open the office supposed to connect the Turkey-EU network in order to foster business opportunities.

“We have received no response for nine months and in February, the Istanbul Governor’s Office sent a letter rejecting our request without any justification,” Soyak told the TDN yesterday.

Until February, he continued, Turkish and Armenian members of the Council had the impression that the Interior Ministry would allow the opening of the office because at round-table discussions in the United States last November, Turkish diplomats heralded the government’s plans to allow the office. However, the letter from the Istanbul Governor’s Office was in total contrast to expectations.

“… As a result of the inquiry carried out by our ministry, permission is not granted for opening the agency of the mentioned organization in Turkey, and it is requested to end the activities of your functioning branches and agencies, if any, in our province and notify us of their addresses,” noted the letter, the original copy of which was obtained by the TDN. The letter carries the signature of Fikret Kasapoğlu, deputy governor of Istanbul.

Speaking to the TDN, Kasapoğlu said the Governor’s Office had no involvement in the issue and that all the authority rested with the Interior Ministry.

“This means double-standards. I cannot understand why the Turkish government is opposing this,” said Soyak, drawing attention to what he called a “paradox” that the government currently opposing the opening of a Turkish-Armenian office in Istanbul sought help from the same Council a few years ago to lobby against a controversial report proposed by the European Parliament. The report, which was eventually blocked in the parliament, required that Turkey recognize the alleged Armenian genocide as a precondition to become a member of the European Union.

The TDN learned that the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) stepped in for the opening of the office in Istanbul and was planning to raise the issue during talks with EU officials, who came to Ankara for the bi-annual Troika meeting Tuesday.

The Troika is comprised of the EU commission, EU term president and the next term president. It discusses reforms and the pace of negotiations with candidate countries.

The government’s rejection comes right after calls for dialogue with Armenia in the wake of the elections there, a development that raised hopes for the opening of a new chapter in troubled relations.

The Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council is a nongovernmental network of Turkish and Armenian business leaders working since 1997 for the restoration of normal relations between Turkey and Armenia and for the reopening of their common border.

The two neighbors have had no diplomatic links after Ankara severed ties in protest to the Armenian occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, over which Armenia fought Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan in a war in the early 1990s. Attempts by the Armenian diaspora to garner international support for recognition of genocide claims have further soured ties.

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Source : Thursday, May 8, 2008 TDN

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