TURKEY STUCK BETWEEN AZERBAIJAN AND ARMENIA IN 2014
Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Dec 25 2014
Muddled up with its controversial policies in the Middle East,
including being closely involved in the Syrian civil war and the Iraqi
crisis, Turkey failed to improve relations with neighboring countries
in the South Caucasus as it was again caught between its strategic
ally Azerbaijan and long-term foe Armenia during the past year.
As in previous years, Ankara did its best in 2014 to advance its ties
with three regional countries — Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia
— via bilateral, multilateral and tripartite meetings focused on
political and economic issues in the region, which in fact occupy a
prominent place in Turkey’s foreign affairs.
Despite the balanced ties established by Turkey, which is trying
to present itself as a role model with Western-NATO links in the
backyard of Russia and Iran, Ankara’s successful foreign affair
policies rest on its relations with regional partner Azerbaijan,
the region’s economic powerhouse with vast energy resources that are
important for turning Turkey into an energy hub and transit corridor.
To this end Ankara did not stop, but rather extended, its efforts to
stir the static Turkish-Armenian ties in the last days of 2013 when
the then-foreign minister, current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu,
made a rare and long-awaited diplomatic initiative, visiting the
capital city of Yerevan to attend the Black Sea Economic Cooperation
Organization (BSEC) on Dec. 12, 2013. As the first such high-level
visit in five years — since the standstill in the Zurich protocols
signed in 2009 to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey —
the visit did not yield favorable results as neither side appeared
prepared to make concessions after the two-hour meeting between
Davutoglu and Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan once again
became a mark of Turkey’s failed aspirations to emerge as a peacemaker
in the region. The sealed gates between Turkey and Armenia have long
been considered a significant element, particularly by leaving Armenia
isolated in the region, in reaching a long-awaited resolution of the
conflict that would also support ally Azerbaijan.
However, so far, no positive results have been achieved and the status
“It does not appear that Turkey had a South Caucasus policy [in
2014],” said Gerard Libaridian, an Armenian-American historian and
politician who also served as an advisor to former Armenian President
Levon Ter-Petrosyan during the 1990s, the most tense time for
Turkish-Armenian ties. During that period Turkey closed its borders
with Armenia, breaking off all diplomatic ties in a bid to support
Azerbaijan, when Armenian armed forces began seizing its territories
as part of the bloody Nagorno-Karabakh war.
Since the war, Karabakh has been under the control of ethnic Armenians
but their declaration of independence has not been recognized by the
international community, which still considers it part of Azerbaijan.
Despite the 1994 truce that officially put an end to the warfare,
border skirmishes and exchanges of gunfire continue on the frontline,
killing as many as 30 civilians from each side every year.
Decades-long negotiations to settle the conflict, led by the OSCE
Minsk Group, have so far failed.
The tense ties between Turkey and Armenia came long before the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as each side disputed what happened to the
Armenians in 1915.
Libaridian says that Turkey has “a distinctly pro-Azerbaijani policy,
a tolerant policy toward Georgia and a less than tolerant policy toward
Armenia.” According to him, the first and third were the predominant
issues in 2014 and overall there was a lack of progress, but he did
call President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s April 23 pronouncement “a huge
step for the Turkish government.”
Turkey made its first condolences to the Armenians for the 1915 events
in the first half of 2014. Though it was regarded as promising,
it was not warmly accepted by Armenians as it failed to reference
the events as a genocide nor did it refer to other ethnicities who
also suffered during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. To put it
in Libaridian’s words, “Whether one uses the term genocide or not,
deportations and massacres effectuated on that scale in an organized
and planned manner do not happen as if they are a natural disaster,
such as a hurricane.”
In Yerevan, Richard Giragosian, the director of the Regional
Studies Center (RSC), said Erdogan’s condolences were surprising and
“That statement not only offered a ‘safer space’ within which to
discuss the genocide issue, it also broadened the base for dialogue
by sending a message not only to Armenians but also to Erdogan’s own
base of supporters,” Giragosian said, adding that from now on every
Turkish prime minister will be expected to make a similar statement
during the April 24 commemoration of the events.
The positive atmosphere established by the condolences did not last
long given Erdogan’s regular use of offensive and disparaging language
to target different ethnicities and religions, with Georgians and
Armenians as the main target during his presidential campaign in
“They called me a Georgian,” Erdogan said in an interview with Turkey’s
NTV. “Pardon me for saying this, but they said even uglier things,
they called me an Armenian,” he said, adding, “As far as I have
learned from my father and grandfather, I am a Turk.”
Despite these negative developments, a few weeks later Armenian Foreign
Minister Nalbandyan visited Turkey for Erdogan’s inauguration, a move
that suggested both leaders were interested in healing old wounds
and leading their nations into a period of cooperation.
However, directly after this meeting Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan
said in his speech at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24 that his
government may withdraw from the Zurich protocols — the only accords
made so far to ease Turkish-Armenian troubled relations — dealing
a blow to the normalization process between the countries.
Believing the year contained enough positive efforts to at least
sustain the momentum, Giragosian, however, found diplomatic engagement
“meager and marginal” as there were no follow-up meetings after
Davutoglu’s Yerevan trip.
Sedat Laciner, a prominent academic and scholar of Turkey’s foreign
affairs, including Turkish-Armenian ties, underlined Azerbaijan’s role
in preventing further progress as regards the 2009 protocols, saying,
“Now the alliance with Azerbaijan has taken ties with Armenia hostage.”
“Turkey’s Caucasus policies towards Armenia turned into a strategic
partnership with Azerbaijan and thus energy politics so that no
considerable moves were experienced in 2014,” Laciner said.
In the coming year, the 100th anniversary of the events of 1915,
experts agree that Turkey has to take serious steps to change the
status quo in the region. How Turkey moves forward in this process
is important. If Ankara can proceed in a logical manner, rather than
pulling on long-held emotional responses, it will show its willingness
to finally deal with the Armenian issue in an honest and fruitful way.