Turkey: Can Turkey Salvage Sabotaged Relations with Armenia?

Turkey: Can Turkey Salvage Sabotaged Relations with Armenia?
by CDeliso

Balkanalysis.com, AZ
May 10 2004

Armenia’s president, Robert Kocharian, will not appear at the NATO
summit of 27-29 June to be held in Istanbul, owing to the continued
political alienation between his country and its historic nemesis to
the west.

While signs seemed encouraging not long ago that Turkey might end its
11-year blockade and open the border with Armenia, that possibility
was unceremoniously quashed by continued bellyaching from Baku.

Azerbaijan has demanded that its historic allies and ethnic kin, the
Turks, support it over the intractable Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. For
the Azerbaijanis, Turkey’s opening the border before a settlement
has been reached would be tantamount to betrayal. According to an
article published today,

“…Turkey signaled last year its readiness to reopen its border with
Armenia before a Karabakh settlement — a move which would please the
United States and the European Union but would jeopardize its close
ties with Azerbaijan. Some Armenian sources involved in contacts with
Turkish officials said earlier this year that the decision to lift
the 11-year blockade might be announced during the NATO summit.

However, Kocharian’s decision not to travel to Istanbul suggests
that the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border is still not on
the cards.”

Armenian presidential press secretary Ashot Kocharian hastened to
add that the decision “…has nothing to do with the Armenia-NATO
relationship which is currently on the rise.” He mentioned Armenia’s
participation in the U.S.-led alliance’s Partnership for Peace
program. A less senior official than President Kocharian will make
the trip, and it is hoped that tripartite peace talks will be held
on the sidelines of the summit.

According to the same article,

“…Turkish leaders reportedly assured Azerbaijan’s President Ilham
Aliev last month that they will continue to link the normalization
of relations with Armenia to a pro Azerbaijani solution to the
Karabakh dispute. ‘It is out of the question for now to reopen
the Turkish-Armenian border,’ Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said

According to Gul, “…such a thing [opening the border before a
settlement] is not the issue. For some reason, this is spoken about
a great deal in Azerbaijan. Whenever we come across Azeri reporters
they ask us this question.”

However, given the longstanding nature of the dispute and the
likelihood that no solution will satisfy Baku’s desires, the Turks
will probably be waiting a long time to normalize relations with
Armenia. Which is too bad for them, considering that having friendly
relations with one’s neighbors is looked upon as a big plus by the
European Union, which Turkey hopes to join someday.

So what, then, do the Turks get for their endless support for
Azerbaijan’s territorial pretensions? Aside from a sort of patriotic
satisfaction, not very much.

Some in Turkey can see that they’re getting a raw deal. Besides
hindering its drive towards EU membership, Turkey’s uncompromising
support for Baku is unhelpful because it is not reciprocated. The
newspaper Radikal recently reflected on why Azerbaijan, purported to
be such a close ally, has not done more to support the self-declared
“Turkish Republic of North Cyprus,” considering the similarities
between this situation and the Nagorno-Karabakh one:

“…The issue also carries a geopolitical aspect. The TRNC is a concrete
form of separation in the context of international relations and
was formed unilaterally as a result of military intervention
by Turkey. However, today’s geopolitics frowns on separatism,
micro-nationalism and political formations based on ethnicity excepting
where there is mutual consent. On the contrary, today’s geopolitics
favors integration based upon democracy, political equality and
economic sharing. This is another political reason why the TRNC is
not recognized. The interests and policies of countries faced with
splits or threatened by separation are in line with this geopolitics.

One of those countries is Azerbaijan, with its problem of upper
Karabakh. The serious problem faced by Baku is that 20% of its land
is currently occupied by Armenia and the upper Karabakh separatist
movement. Therefore, the Azerbaijani representatives in the European
Council’s Parliament were leaning towards not recognizing the TRNC.
‘The Parliament vote would mean recognizing the TRNC,’ said one
Azerbaijani official. ‘This would set a risky precedent for the
future recognition of the administration in upper Karabakh.’ This
development should remind Turkey that in international relations
there is no friendship or brotherhood, but only interests.”

That said, we might ask whether Turkey’s interests are being
respected in the case of Armenian relations. A Eurasianet.org article
published one month ago, entitled “Could Turkey Spoil Nagorno-Karabakh
Peace?” disingenuously misrepresents the question. It does so by
framing the debate in the typical guise of a clash between Caucasus
neighbors, rather than to look for once at Turkish-Armenian relations
as being a legitimate and significant topic in its own right. In
this light, we could rephrase the crucial debate as being, rather,
“Could Azerbaijan Spoil Armenian-Turkish Peace?”

Azerbaijani officials continue to play the issue for nationalist
effect, relying on the handy “backup” of having great natural
resource riches at their disposal. President Ilham Aliyev makes
fulsome statements to the effect that:

“…Turkey is a great and powerful nation and I am sure that Turkey
will withstand the pressures [to open its border with Armenia]… the
Turkish-Azerbaijani brotherhood is above everything.”

Azerbaijani Parliament Speaker Murtuz Alasgarov was equally
melodramatic on 6 April when he declared that, “…if Turkey
opens the border with Armenia, it will deal a blow not only to
Azerbaijani-Turkish friendship but also to the entire Turkic world.”
Arrayed against these dire and suspect pronouncements are a plethora
of facts that support the idea of rapprochement. According to

“…the World Bank has estimated that the lifting of both the Azerbaijani
and Turkish blockades could increase Armenia’s GDP by as much as 30-38
percent. The Turkish-Armenian Business Council has estimated that
bilateral trade could reach $300 million per year with the lifting
of the blockade.”

Currently, the author adds, Turkish-Armenian trade between the two
states (estimated at roughly $70 million) must occur via neighboring
Georgia and Iran. Ankara would like the Armenians to let bygones be
bygones and “give up” their quest to gain worldwide support for the
mass killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottomans from
1905-15. While that’s a long shot, there’s nothing like economic
cheer to expedite international forgiveness. Certainly normalizing
relations could not make them worse.

However, the government of Azerbaijan is not concerned with the
economic well-being of Armenia or even with that of its great ally,
Turkey. Its motivations are simple:

“…without Turkey, Azerbaijan would be the only state maintaining a
blockade of Armenia over Yerevan’s ongoing occupation of Azerbaijani
territory captured during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. A decision to
open Turkey’s borders with Armenia, Aliyev said, would leave Baku at a
disadvantage in negotiating for the withdrawal of Armenian troops from
Azerbaijani territory. ‘If Turkey were to open its doors to Armenia,
Azerbaijan will lose an important lever in finding a solution to the
conflict,’ the president told reporters on 24 March after returning
from an official visit to Uzbekistan. ‘It also would make it impossible
for us to continue the peace talks and would even bring the talks to
an end.'”

So far the Turks have rushed to soothe every Azerbaijani temper
tantrum. However, this has only estranged them from their own interests
and has thus meant a certain sacrifice:

“…from the EU’s perspective, lifting the blockade of Armenia
remains a key component of any program for change. A draft version
of the European Parliament’s yearly report on the status of Turkey’s
accession bid reportedly called on the country ‘to open the borders
with Armenia, establish good-neighbor relations . . . and to give up
any action impeding the reconciliation of the two countries.'”

As Turkey continues its committed quest towards EU membership, there
will come a point when it will have to reconsider its unquestioning
allegiance to Azerbaijan- one which is not particularly helpful and
which has not been entirely respected by the latter party, either.

As time goes on, it will become increasingly clear that opening the
border with Armenia is in Turkey’s own best interests- and for those
of the region as well. It remains to be seen how much pressure will
need to be exerted, and from what quarters, to prompt Ankara to make
the switch- and let the chips fall where they may.