Turkey’s Stability Plan
From an Azeri perspective, Turkey’s latest Caucasus stability plan may have more staying power than previous schemes. by BBC Monitoring 2 April 2009
The Azerbaijani public in general, politicians, and the media separately are trying to second-guess the outcome of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue, a piece produced by an Azerbaijani think-tank group concludes. Against the background of the opportune geopolitical situation, the Turkish government set itself in position to take advantage of the emerging situation in the Caucasus after the Russian-Georgian August war, step up its role and subsequently settle problems with Armenia to clear obstacles along the way to the European Union, the article said. According to the report, earlier Caucasus initiatives failed for lack of backing by the key regional players. The following analytical report was published by the private Azerbaijani news agency Turan on 24 March headlined "A Proposal Hard to Reject.”
Turkey's geopolitical and diplomatic role has begun to grow in the region since about the second half of last year, giving rise to all kinds of gossip.
As is known, on 11 August 2008 following the Russian intervention in Georgia, Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan spoke about the possibility of forming a Caucasus alliance. Two days later, he voiced this idea on a visit to Moscow. And on 20 August Turkey proposed a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform (CSCP). As was stated, "first of all, the platform has geopolitical grounds, pursues an aim of establishing peace and security in the region, and secures economic cooperation and energy security." The work on the realization of the CSCP allowed Turkey to further step up "shuttle" diplomacy and political presence in the region. Subsequently, there came the turn of "football diplomacy"
when in defiance of expectations, the Turkish president accepted the invitation of the new Armenian president to watch a qualifying game between the two countries' national football teams in Yerevan.
This meeting has given impetus to the resumption of the active Turkish-Armenian dialogue in the course of which the prospects of settling many disputed problems, including the issue of opening the borders between the two countries, are being discussed in earnest. To say that these active and uncommon initiatives of Turkey were interpreted ambiguously by the Azerbaijani public would mean nothing. Thus, a part of the public believes that by playing with Russia and Armenia the government of Erdogan is gradually distancing itself from the West (the USA) by indirectly betraying Azerbaijan's interests.
Similar moods were heated up by some reports carried by the Turkish media. The Sabah
newspaper, controlled by the son-in-law of the Turkish prime minister, reported on 13 March that as a result of secret Armenian-Turkish talks an agreement was hammered out on the establishment of diplomatic relations, appointment of ambassadors, and setting up a joint commission for the purpose of normalization of relations, the conduct of investigation into the 1915 events, discussion of issues of territorial claims of Armenia to Turkey, the opening of borders, and beginning of trade relations.
Under the same report, information on this agreement would be made public after 24 April. Similar information was also carried by the Star
newspaper close to government circles. The concern of the Azerbaijani public is understandable though unreasonably overstated. So in comment on the agitating reports of the Turkish newspapers, Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan Hulusi Kilic said on 18 March that "statements on the opening of borders are heard only in the media. Turkey's policy about Azerbaijan remains unchanged." Similar statements were also made by other Turkish officials.
NOTHING NEW IN ERDOGAN'S INITIATIVE
The feverish reactions of a series of our media outlets to the CSCP are also surprising. The idea of CSCP initiated by Erdogan is not new. At one time, the late former presidents of Georgia and Ichkeria [Chechnya], Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Dzhokhar Dudayev, initiated the idea of establishing a Caucasus Home to unite the Caucasus peoples.
In 1992, they even set up a confederation of the Caucasus peoples which Georgia, Azerbaijan, and a series of movements from the North Caucasus joined. After several years, the next president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, and another Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze, discussed the establishment of a Caucasus security and cooperation organization. The idea of establishing a Caucasus parliament – a structure to unite the South Caucasus region and republics of the North Caucasus – was also discussed. In 1996 during a visit of former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev to Georgia, a Tbilisi declaration was signed where there was also talk of the Caucasus Home under the South Caucasus.
On 15 January 2000 in Tbilisi [the former] Turkish President Suleyman Demirel put forward a pact for stability in the South Caucasus. However, as distinct from previous projects, Demirel’s plan was geographically broad: it enveloped not only the South Caucasus but also the Black Sea basin with an outlet to the Balkans and was to have been realized under the aegis of the OSCE. Previously the USA, Russia, and the EU countries had come forward with similar integration-related projects for the Caucasus in various versions. In previous years, this idea did not cause a surge of emotions and rejection in our society. Apparently, at that time, no one believed in its quick implementation. It looked definitely unpersuasive since other than Azerbaijan and Georgia, there were very fundamental contradictions among all other countries of the region. Nevertheless, after the August 2008 events in the South Caucasus a certain vacuum emerged. On the one hand, by recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Moscow certainly weakened tangibly the position of the USA. However, on the other hand, with these acts, it also significantly complicated its own claims to the role of peacekeeper, guarantor, and arbiter. The "geopolitical breaches" that have emerged in the region allowed Turkey to develop unprecedented activity which technically met the interests of both the West and Russia. Damaging its own image, Russia made attempts to acquire at least temporary allies in confrontation with the West (the USA).
TURKEY'S ROLE IN CAUCASUS
Under the existing situation, such an ally for Russia could only be Turkey. Being from "the Western camp," at the same time, it feels a certain "resentment" toward its own allies. Moreover, Turkey depends on Russian gas supplies and has a solid goods turnover ($34 billion) with Russia. At the same time, Turkey with its activity could neutralize the undesirable, for Russia, geopolitical influence of other players in the South Caucasus. Probably, all these were well understood in Ankara and possibly it was just these considerations that made Erdogan reanimate the idea of integration into the South Caucasus. And it is not surprising that Moscow supported this project within which there was no hint at other players apart from the South Caucasus, Turkey, and Russia.
In a nutshell, Erdogan’s August proposal was not at all spontaneous, it had a prehistory and evolved in the course of development of events and, it goes without saying, has its own aims. The most important of them for Turkey is to reinforce its role in the region. It is also clear that the task of the West in the South Caucasus is to tear Armenia away from Russia. It is obvious that the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border [would] serve simultaneously to strengthen Turkey's role and to reduce the level of confrontation in the region (by significantly facilitating the realization of the West's plans). Such a role for Turkey, to all appearances, is absolutely acceptable to the West (the USA). To this testifies the fact that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid an official visit to Turkey on 7 March during which she was received by the president, prime minister, and foreign minister.
The media characterized this visit as a "repairing move" (relations between Ankara and Washington were fairly spoiled by the Bush administration). It is noteworthy that after Hillary Clinton, the new U.S. President Barack Obama is planning to visit Turkey in April. Another target for Turkey is to end once and for all the boring problem of recognition of the mythic "genocide" of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. It should be acknowledged that a serious argument has cropped up for Turkey: recognition of the genocide may once and for all spoil mutual relations between Ankara and Washington and bring to a standstill for a long time the process of normalization of relations with Yerevan. The latter is one of the conditions for Turkey to be accepted to the European Union and therefore, the establishment of friendly relations with Armenia will actually remove a threat of recognizing the genocide.
The realization of all these tasks will undoubtedly lead to reinforcement of Turkey's influence in the region and expand its potential in the resolution of the existing conflicts in the region. Exactly for this reason Turkey is currently doing everything in order to reinforce its position in the South Caucasus. Yerevan also perceived Erdogan's initiative positively. There is no doubt that this step is important for the Armenian authorities from the point of view of the possibility of joining regional energy projects. Official Yerevan thereby cuts the ground from under the feet of the pro-Western electorate of the country with former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and multiplies its possibilities for political maneuvering. During the official visit of Erdogan to Baku on 20 August, President Ilham Aliev also backed the initiative of the Turkish side. Probably, the Azerbaijani leadership fairly decided that if the aim of Moscow is to retain under its influence in the South Caucasus with the help of the conflicts, then breaking this monopoly, and Turkey's involvement in the affairs of the region, opens more positive prospects for Baku.
Briefly, by initiating the CSCP and stepping up peacemaking activities in the region, Turkey has in essence made a proposal it will be hard for all countries to refuse. Time will show to what extent this "proposal" meets Azerbaijan's interests.