WASHINGTON, DC – Armenia and Turkey have long been at odds. Divided over a tragic past, the neighboring countries do not have diplomatic ties, and their border remains closed.
Despite this, in November 2014, a group of Turks traveled to Armenia for Startup Weekend, an event where aspiring entrepreneurs hone and pitch their ideas to investors and experts. In mixed teams, young Armenians and Turks worked together to build new ventures. “We weren’t focused on being Armenian or Turkish – just on being the best,” a Turkish participant noted.
That sentiment is exactly what the people who backed the trip – diplomats from the United States and the European Union – had hoped to achieve. For decades they have struggled to find common ground for Armenians and Turks to begin a dialogue. The common personality types, values, and single-minded focus of entrepreneurs created an opening.
Entrepreneurship has become a catalyst for progress in similarly thorny situations worldwide. The focus on job and wealth creation has become a “talking point” upon which nearly all governments can agree – or at least find little with which to disagree. That has made it a handy tool for a new form of diplomacy.