ANKARA: Nothing New In The Caucasian Triangle

NOTHING NEW IN THE CAUCASIAN TRIANGLE

Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey
Dec 19 2013

MUSTAFA AYDIN

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit to Yerevan on Dec. 12
to attend the Council Meeting of the Organization of the Black Sea
Economic Cooperation briefly focused the attention of regional experts
to the Turkey-Armenia-Azerbaijan triangle. The visit was perceived,
and in fact presented by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, as a signal
for Turkey’s wish to start the thawing process in Turkish-Armenian
relations. It was the first high-level visit from Turkey to Armenia
since the two countries tried to patch up their relations in 2009
with two protocols and failed to pass them through their Parliaments,
leaving behind a bitter aftertaste. Azerbaijan vehemently opposed
the protocols from that time, and since then has been able to create
further inroads in Turkey through additional energy projects, new
investments, public diplomacy attack and new political connections.

Although not confirmed officially, rumors were circulated on the
eve of Davutoglu’s visit that Turkey might reconsider establishing
diplomatic relations and opening one of the border crossings with
Armenia in return for its withdrawal from two of the seven occupied
Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh. However, nothing
new came out of the visit except a few goodwill messages.

Perhaps nothing could have been expected, as the memory of the failure
from the latest attempt is still alive for both sides. What was left
behind from that debacle was the statement from the Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, linking the opening of the border
between the two countries to ending the occupation of Azerbaijani
territory, and reservations and cautioning of the Armenian
Constitutional Court against the implementation of the protocols.

Up until Erdogan’s visit to Baku in May 2009, Turkey always cited a
“move towards the right direction” in Nagorno-Karabakh as an impetus
for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. The main
reason behind raising a “solution” of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem
as precondition, which the protocols carefully left untouched, was
closely related with Azerbaijan’s objections and tough reaction.

Turkey realized then that such a venture with Armenia at the expense of
Turkish-Azerbaijani ties would be more costly, especially considering
the energy connection, and backed down, shelving the protocols without
ratification.

If anything, Azerbaijan’s hold on Turkey has increased over the last
few years. In addition to going ahead with the Trans-Anatolia Gas
Pipeline (TANAP) project, the two countries signed further energy
cooperation agreements. The State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR),
the main Azerbaijani partner on TANAP, is also investing in refineries,
aiming to increase its share in Turkey’s petrochemical products market,
from current 25 percent to 40 percent by 2018. It’s investment into
STAR Refinery will make it the biggest private sector investment in
the history of the Republic of Turkey.

These, together with buying a Turkish media group, establishing a
think tank and various high level forums, as well as creating further
cooperation channels with Turkish experts closed to the government,
Azerbaijan has managed to create an environment in Turkey where
the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations will heavily depend
Azerbaijan’s reaction, as well as the willingness of both sides and
the helpful encouragement of third parties, such as Russia and the U.S.

Although the normalization of the relations ahead of 2015 would help
ease potential international pressure on Turkey, especially from
the U.S., the time constraint, Azerbaijan’s objections and election
season in Turkey make it difficult to make critical decisions on such
a sensitive issue. Under the circumstances, Davutoglu’s visit might
not be enough to create a fresh start in Turkish-Armenian relations.

December/19/2013

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