As Armenia’s summer vacation season winds down, one country, Turkey, will be missing from many of the usual travel tales. With Armenia’s attempts to reconcile with Turkey now at a standstill, Armenian tourists this summer largely bucked the trend of recent years and gave Turkey’s sun-drenched beaches a miss.
Over the past few years, Yerevan’s TezTour agency saw summer sales of travel packages to Antalya, the popular Turkish Mediterranean Sea resort town, increase annually by 30 to 40 percent. Not any more.
“Anything can influence people’s decision to spend their vacation in this or that place. In this situation, the Turkish coasts are really vulnerable [to a decline in Armenian visitors],” said the firm’s Yerevan office director, Narine Davtian. “Business should have nothing to do with politics, but, in this case, they’re interconnected.”
The posters advertising vacations in Turkey that used to flood Yerevan each summer have largely disappeared. [For details, see the EurasiaNet's archive.] In their place, other posters warn city residents against vacationing in Turkey, urging them “not to arm the Turkish army” by putting money into Turkey’s economy.
Some travel agencies refused to sell tours to Antalya outright. First Travel Director Karen Andreasian claims safety concerns for Armenian tourists amidst the uptick in tensions between Yerevan and Ankara drove his agency’s decision. "I urge everybody to boycott Antalya," Andreasian said.
With Turkey now blackballed, tourists headed instead to the beaches of Spain, Greece, Tunisia, and longtime seasonal favorite, Georgia. Armenian holiday destinations are frequently seen as too expensive.
The government maintains that such boycotts are not part of a specific policy, but, rather, the natural result of Turkey’s alleged inability to meet Armenia halfway on a reconciliation agreement. Turkey, in turn, blames Armenia. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan this April called a timeout for attempts to normalize ties with Turkey; Ankara broke its diplomatic relations with Yerevan in 1993 to protest the war with Turkish ally Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Politics is politics, but it influences the moods and preferences of the people,” said Mari Grigorian, deputy head of the Ministry of Economy’s department for tourism and regional economic development. “We should use any chance to promote domestic tourism and make it attractive for people.”
Grigorian, who is no relation to this reporter, said that the government has no official data about the number of Armenians who travel to Turkey each year since the two countries do not have diplomatic relations.
Aside from diplomatic wrangles, though, Armenians have also been subjected to a full-force television campaign to steer clear of both Turkish beach resorts and Turkish products.
In one TV ad, a Turkish-speaking man, dressed as an official, is featured sitting under a portrait of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and the Turkish flag. Smiling, the man via a voiceover thanks Armenians for boosting Turkey’s economy and strengthening its army by buying Turkish products. He ends by saying “thank you” in Armenian -- “shnorhakalutiun.”
At the same time, news coverage of Turkey on Armenian television, particularly Public Television, has become notably chilly after earlier attempts at emphasizing the chances for reconciliation.
Some analysts see nothing unusual in the coverage or in Armenians’ decision to bypass Antalya and other Turkish resorts this year.
“We must keep in mind what’s going on. There has been an attempt to normalize relations, and Turkey didn’t support this move despite many actions by the Armenian authorities,” opined Armenian National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Director Ruben Safrastian, a Turkish studies specialist. Disappointment with Turkey followed and soured the public mood, Safrastian believes.
One sociologist agrees. “People had great expectations, and once again they saw it was useless to expect anything from a country like Turkey; all this would surely affect the public mood,” commented Aharon Adibekian, director of the Sociometer polling center.
Interviews with Yerevan residents often confirm that analysis. Thirty-seven-year-old linguist Vardan Hakobian believes Armenians who spend money in Turkey to be “traitors” who deny Ottoman Turkey’s 1915 slaughter of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians.
Seventy-year-old pensioner Matevos Mkrtumian expressed similar bewilderment about Armenians who “go to develop the tourism of a country which is their enemy.”
“Armenians have never seen anything good from the Turks. How can we believe them now?” he asked.
One computer programmer, however, who asked not to be named, believes that summer vacations should not be mixed with politics.
“My great-grandparents also fled from Western Armenia [term often used for areas of Eastern Turkey traditionally inhabited by ethnic Armenians – ed], but I don’t want to mix things up,” said the programmer. “My vacation in Antalya was wonderful, though I must confess that very often I tried to forget I was in Turkey.”
Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan.
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