Armenia-Turkey Peace Collapse Fans Caucasus Tension

Matt Robinson

Kuwait Times
May 3 2010

The collapse of a plan to end a century of hostility between Armenia
and Turkey may have its biggest repercussions in the dispute over
Nagorno-Karabakh, a flashpoint near a corridor bringing oil and gas
to the West. The peace initiative between two of the players in a
complex web of relationships in the south Caucasus crumbled last week
when Armenia suspended ratification of the accord. Observers said the
pact, which would have established diplomatic relations and opened
their land border, was already dead locked as neither parliament had
approved the deal.

But its suspension has left another, potentially explosive issue
hanging in the balance-the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous
region lost by Azerbaijan to Armenian-backed forces in the bloodiest
of the ethnic conflicts that accompanied the 1991 collapse of the
Soviet Union. Many had hoped normalised relations between Armenia
and Turkey would help unlock talks on the enclave, which has run its
own affairs with the support of Armenia since splitting away from
Azerbaijan. It is connected to Armenia by a slim corridor.

Azerbaijan, a close Turkish ally and energy trading partner, saw the
accord as a betrayal, potentially robbing it of leverage over Armenia
in negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh. Analysts say the suspension will
do little to soothe Azeri concerns. "The process has left Azerbaijan
isolated, and effectively pulled the rug from under its foreign
policy framework," said Svante Cornell of the Central Asia-Caucasus
Institute. "It also leaves Armenia’s leadership weakened. Thus – more
frustration and more insecurity , the last thing the region needs,"
he said.

The deal agreed a year ago was the closest Turkey and Armenia had
come to moving past the World War One mass killing of Armenians by
Ottoman Turks that has poisoned their relationship. The United States
and Russia both backed the accord as a means of stabilising the south
Caucasus and encouraging greater trade and prosperity. Turkey stood
to reap diplomatic kudos in the West as it bids for membership of
the European Union. Landlocked Armenia would have benefited from
the reopening of its western frontier, closed by Turkey in 1993 in
solidarity with Azerbaijan.

Washington said last week the deal was not dead, but more time might
be needed to "create some new momentum". But diplomats say they see
little chance of Turkey dropping its demand for Armenian concessions
on Nagorno-Karabakh, or of Armenia complying in exchange for an
open frontier.

The peace overtures have severely strained ties between Turkey and
Azerbaijan, affecting negotiations on gas supplies key to the planned
Nabucco pipeline, which aims to bypass Russia to supply gas to the
European Union. Azerbaijan late last year struck deals to sell more
gas to Russia, whose South Stream pipeline project is the main rival
to Nabucco. such deals will draw supplies away from Nabucco and make
it harder for the project to get off the ground.

In the belief that Washington was the main driver of the
Turkish-Armenian thaw, Azerbaijan this month cancelled joint military
exercises with the United States and threatened to reconsider their
"strategic relationship". "Long-term peace and normalisation of
relations in the south Caucasus cannot be achieved by rewarding
aggression and by excluding the region’s strategically most important
country," Novruz Mammadov, chief foreign policy adviser to Azeri
President Ilham Aliyev, wrote last week.

An estimated 30,000 people died in the Nagorno-Karabakh war before
a ceasefire was agreed in 1994. More than 15 years of mediation by
Russia, the United States and France have yielded a loose framework of
"basic principles", but no peace deal. Snipers and landmines on the
frontline meanwhile pick off young Azeri and Armenian conscripts on
a regular basis. Intensified negotiations last year between Aliyev
and Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan fuelled hope that some sort of
solution might be close.

The International Crisis Group thinktank warned this month of a
threat from "domestically entrenched maximalist forces" opposed to
a Nagorno-Karabakh deal in Armenia and Azerbaijan. "If the talks
fail now, Armenia and Azerbaijan may find themselves trapped in
a spiralling military escalation which will have unpredictable
consequences for both countries and for wider regional security,"
ICG analyst Tabib Huseynov wrote. Thanks to its elevated position and
heavy fortifications, military experts say Nagorno-Karabakh would be
difficult to retake. But that has not stopped Azerbaijan from spending
heavily on its military and frequently threatening to try.

The Azerbaijan army has all capabilities to hit any target on the
territory of Armenia if necessary," Defence Minister Safar Abiyev
said last week. A resumption in hostilities could quickly suck in
other powers in a region crisscrossed by energy pipelines. Russia’s
largest military base outside its borders is located in Armenia,
and the two countries are close allies. – AFP

You may also like