Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Armenian Border Doubts

Armenian border villagers distrust moves to open up to Turkey.
By Davit Muradian
Armenians living along their country’s border with Turkey are deeply distrustful of moves by politicians to build ties with the neighbouring state, saying they fear a repeat of the massacres of 1915.



The founders of the village Bagaran were refugees from an Armenian village of the same name in what is now Turkey, who were driven from their homes by the campaign against them during World War One. The Turkish government denies that the killings were genocide, and the villagers see that as a sign that the Turks are still not to be trusted.



“I have the writings of my grandfather, who came from western Armenia,” said Maria Mkrtchian, a 55-year-old resident of Bagaran, referring to the region in what is now Turkey where Armenians once lived.



“They lived through an unbearable nightmare. When they heard the soldiers were coming to their village, they built a bridge in just three days and crossed over the river Akhuryan, which had burst its banks. When I read about this, the thought of that nation makes me feel terror and fear, and no matter how much the politicians talk about there being no danger, I am still scared,” said Mkrtchian, a teacher of Armenian language and literature in the local school.



Bagaran sits on the banks of the Akhuryan river, which forms the border here.



The Turkish-Armenian border has been closed since 1993 when Turkey decided to support its allies in Azerbaijan in their war with Armenia, when Armenians seized control of the region of Nagorny-Karabakh. The villagers would like to see a relaxation of the current tough border controls, which are here enforced by Russian border guards sent by under a Russian-Armenian pact, but are suspicious of any move to open the border itself.



“The only thing that concerns me is economic aggression. They will fill the Armenian market with the same goods, just at lower prices. We will be ruined, we will have to sell our property and even our land. If there is no way of earning, that’s what will happen,” said Sanasar Harutinian, the 52-year-old head of the village administration, in a viewpoint that is widely held here.



“It would be better if they left things as they are. Some people say that opening the border will benefit us; that trade will start developing. But all the same, there are Turkish goods in our market anyway, so what is the sense in formally opening or closing the border?” asked 37-year-old science teacher Arshak Melqonian.



“Whatever happens, it is the peasants who guard the border, and who therefore receive the first blow. The state should be more concerned about the population of the border villages.”



But it is not a universal opinion. Davit Danielian, a 58-year-old accountant in the local administration, said that opening the border would help develop the economy and keep young people in the village. He said the border regime had relaxed since Soviet times, when there was even a case of a woman in labour not being allowed to leave the village because her papers were not in order, and it was time to move ahead in other ways too.



“Relations will be built with the neighbouring Turkish village, movement between us will start, and mutually beneficial trade too,” he said.



“The people have changed, times are not what they were. Maybe they were ignorant in 1915, when all this happened, but what can happen now?”



Davit Muradian is a reporter from the Ar television company in Yerevan.