Diplomacy Could Fool The World Or Change The Caucasus

Dr Charles Tannock

New Europe

Oc t 19 2009

Relations between Turkey and Armenia have been overshadowed by the
Armenian genocide for close to a hundred years. So the protocols
signed last Saturday (10 October), aimed at establishing diplomatic
relations and opening the common border, represent a remarkable peak
in relations between those two countries. The question is whether
the protocols will have a chance of ever being implemented.

Of course, there have been accusations against Turkey of making empty
gestures over Armenia to impress the West, particularly the EU, which
Turkey hopes to join one day. Isolated and economically stagnant,
Armenia has much to gain from normalized relations and a re-opening
of the shared border. So it has made great efforts and painfully
offered to ignore the genocide issue for now, to reach out to Turkey.

Turkey’s decision to react positively to Armenia’s overtures first
appeared to be based on long-term strategic considerations. Turkey
knows that improving relations by opening its long closed border with
Armenia is essential to its goal of both becoming a regional political
player as well as joining the EU, which wants peaceful and trade-rich
borders, not borders that are disputed or highly militarized.

But the strategy became more obvious, when Turkey inserted a quasi
precondition to the ratification of the protocols, the resolution of
the conflict about Nagorno Karabakh, which is official Azerbaijani
territory despite being part of Armenia’s historic homeland and 90
per cent of the population being ethnic Armenians. Foreign Minister
Davutoglu wanted to make a respective speech at the signing ceremony,
which US pressure prevented in the very last minute – so no speeches
were consequently held.

Turkey’s breakthrough with Armenia has incited a sharp deterioration
of relations with Azerbaijan, which remains on a war footing with
Armenia. The Aliyev government in Baku now feels abandoned by its
closest regional ally and Muslim Turkic ‘brother’. After all in the
early 1990’s, Turkey officially justified closing its border with
Armenia as an act of solidarity with Azerbaijan, which had just lost
the war with Armenia over Karabakh.

Now, while the Islamist AK party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
enjoys a very comfortable parliamentary majority in the house, Erdogan
said only one day after the signature what Davutoglu was not allowed to
say on the evening: The Turkish parliament would find it difficult to
ratify the protocols as long as there are Armenian troops on Azeri
territory, i.e. in Karabakh. Remembering that the international
community has been trying to find a solution for Karabakh for more
than 15 years, this statement seems to signal that Turkey does not
intend to open the border in the foreseeable future.

Observers feared that this could lead to a total breakdown of the
process, but the Armenian President apparently decided to show to
the world that the ball remains in the Turkish court, by announcing
that he would still visit Turkey for the return football match between
Turkey and Armenia on 14 October. The first match last autumn was the
occasion for his invitation to the Turkish President and triggered
the whole rapprochement process, hence dubbed "football diplomacy".

The biggest problem with Erdogan’s statement is that it renders the
frozen conflict Karabakh dispute virtually unsolvable. Experts were
hoping that a normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia
would force Azerbaijan to make more meaningful proposals in the
negotiations about Karabakh. Instead, the situation is now inverted.

The Azerbaijani leadership now knows that any concession on Karabakh
would also trigger a victory for Armenia’s diplomacy vis-a-vis Turkey,
open the border and strengthen Armenia’s independence. Baku has
said several times that all this would be contrary to its national

If there is still a potential to conclude this process, it now depends
strongly on Turkey’s motivation to go ahead, bypassing Azerbaijani
pressure. To this end, the question of energy supply is part of
Turkey’s calculations.

Azerbaijan may have a lot of oil and gas, but Turkey is indispensable
to the transport and marketing of those energy resources to key
European markets. This consideration correlates with the view of
many analysts that Turkey wants above all to portray itself as
a reliable energy hub essential to Western energy security. The
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline has now been operational for three
years and the proposed Nabucco gas pipeline, which also runs from
Azerbaijan through Turkey, has won heavy financial and diplomatic
backing from both the EU and the US. By kicking up a fuss about the
Turkey-Armenia rapprochement, Azerbaijan will irritate its Western
partner, whose approval will be vital as Azerbaijan itself seeks
greater integration into Euroatlantic security and economic structures.

The Turkey-Armenia détente is also an effort by both sides to affirm
ties to Russia.

Moscow has long been Armenia’s protector against any military
aggression by Turkey. Armenia is also Russia’s only strong friend
in the South Caucasus. Turkey’s relations with Russia have been less
straightforward over the past century but recently they have warmed

Just before Turkey and Armenia announced their breakthrough, Russia and
Turkey announced a series of measures to deepen cooperation on energy
issues. In particular, Turkey is facilitating Gazprom’s Southstream
pipeline through its territorial waters – which is the Kremlin’s
latest effort to maintain a stranglehold on gas supplies to Europe –
while at the same time with strong EU backing Turkey is pressing ahead
with the Nabucco project, provided an angry Azerbaijan does not pull
out. Clearly, Russia is using some tempting economic and strategic
sweeteners to try and drive a wedge between Turkey and the EU, while
Turkey seems to enjoy playing Russia and the EU against each other.

Of course Turkey’s decision to heed Armenia’s call for normalized
relations is infused with a healthy dose of cynical realpolitik,
but the same can be said for Armenia, which ultimately has as much
to gain from the deal as Turkey does, not least the ability to trade
with the impoverished eastern Turkish regions and enable nostalgic
Armenians to readily visit and restore some of the cultural patrimony
to their long abandoned historic villages close to the border.

But these realpolitik maneuvers should not obscure the tangible
progress that this détente could represent. Turkey still has far to
go before it can convince the EU of its readiness to join.

But any moves to reduce tension in the South Caucasus should be
welcomed unequivocally. Anyway, the Caucasus badly needs a sign like
this potentially first ever diplomatic resolution of a dispute. To
allow for all this, the key question for the West now is how to
ensure that Armenia and Turkey actually ratify and implement the
Swiss brokered protocols.

Dr Charles Tannock, MEP Foreign Affairs Spokesman of the ERC Group
(European Conservatives and Reformists) in the European Parliament


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