Don’t let the Turks buy land in Armenia; impose tariffs on Turkish imports

The Armenian government must take two important steps before opening the border with Turkey: 1) Prohibit Turkish citizens from buying real estate in Armenia; and 2) Placing tariffs on the import of products from Turkey.

Obviously, Turkish citizens do not have to cross the Armenian border in order to buy real estate in Armenia. But, with the opening of the mutual land border, more Turkish citizens will be able to come to Armenia, thus increasing the flow of people and products from Turkey.

Allowing citizens of a hostile country like Turkey to buy real estate in Armenia is a serious threat to national security, especially if those properties are located near sensitive border areas.

There is a big contradiction between what the Constitution and the laws of Armenia stipulate regarding the purchase of real estate by foreigners and what is actually practiced. Now that a constitutional committee has been set up to reform the existing Constitution, last amended in 2015, it is a good time to reconsider the existing provisions regarding who can buy real estate in Armenia. There should be a ban on the purchase of properties by foreigners near the Armenian border. Also, citizens of Azerbaijan and Turkey should not be allowed to buy any type of property anywhere in Armenia.

This problem is particularly urgent because several years ago the Turkish government passed a law prohibiting the purchase of real estate in Turkey by citizens of four countries: Armenia, Cuba, North Korea and Syria. Citizens of 35 other countries are restricted from buying property in Turkey depending on the nature and location of the land. One would think that since the Turkish government has banned Armenian citizens from buying land in Turkey, Armenia should have reciprocated by banning the purchase of land in Armenia by Turkish citizens.

I wrote an article in 2012, informing Armenian officials of the Turkish law prohibiting Armenian citizens from buying land in Turkey and urging “the Armenian Parliament to consider adopting retaliatory measures against Turkish citizens interested in ‘purchase of Armenian properties’. Unfortunately, my suggestion was ignored.

The 1995 Constitution prohibits foreigners from buying land in Armenia. However, this was contradicted by the subsequent report of the Armenian government to the World Trade Organization: “Foreigners have the right to own real estate built on Armenian land”. The report also stated that “the [Armenian] the legislation grants the government the power to limit and prohibit foreign investment on national security grounds.

In line with the 1995 Constitution, subsequent Armenian constitutions of 2005 and 2015 also stated that “foreign citizens and stateless persons do not enjoy the right of ownership over land, except as provided by law”.

If foreigners are not allowed to buy land or real estate in Armenia, then how could they buy it? In 2019 alone, foreigners, contrary to the Armenian Constitution, bought 186 apartments, 72 houses, two factories, nine public properties and even 121 land plots. How was it possible?

What is much more disturbing is that citizens of enemy states of Azerbaijan and Turkey have purchased properties in Armenia without any objection. According to figures released last week by the Armenian government’s cadastre or official real estate register, from 2010 to 2021 Azerbaijani citizens bought six properties in Armenia, including five apartments and one public property. During the same period, Turkish citizens bought 71 properties, including 55 apartments, five houses, one garage, seven public properties and three plots in Armenia.

I assume that many Turkish citizens who bought real estate in Armenia are of Armenian origin. I suggest that the Armenian government make an exception for those of Armenian descent, if and when the purchase of real estate by Turkish citizens is prohibited.

Finally, regarding the import of products from Turkey and other countries, the Armenian government must impose tariffs to protect the viability of domestic production. Since Turkey has a very large population, it is able to produce much cheaper items due to mass scale. Armenian producers, unable to compete with them, will go bankrupt. Already the Armenian market is flooded with Turkish products. After the opening of the border, Turkish products will no longer have to bear import costs via Georgia, which means that they will be even cheaper, which will create a bigger problem for domestic producers. Worse still, the collapse in the value of the Turkish lira has made the prices of products imported from Turkey cheaper.

Before several sectors of the Armenian economy are completely devastated, the Armenian government must impose tariffs on imported Turkish products to protect Armenia’s vulnerable producers.

Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, California. He is the chairman of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated $917 million in humanitarian aid, mostly medicine, to Armenia and Artsakh since 1989 (including his predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He was decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also an Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipient.

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