Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Turkish-Armenian Thaw: 
Implications for the South Caucasus

The Caucasian Review of International Affairs, on online journal, has a good rundown of all the developments on the Turkish-Armenian front (or should we say the Turkish-Armenian-Azeri-Russian-American front). As the piece makes clear, there are several players in the chess game being played out right now in the South Caucasus. 

From the CRIA's article:
Turkey’s recent and ongoing rapprochement with Armenia, addressed in last week’s Caucasus Update from the Turkish angle, has implications that could reverberate throughout the South Caucasus and beyond. Arguably, the normalisation of ties between Armenia and Turkey would be an event of equivalent regional significance as the Russo-Georgian war of last August.

Details remain unclear. This diplomatic murkiness testifies to just how explosive the issue has become for the Turkish, Azerbaijani and Armenian governments. The outlines, however, are apparent – that Turkey and Armenia are expected to begin opening their mutual border and establishing diplomatic relations probably sooner than later. The Turkish overtures are contingent on two things: firstly, that US President Barack Obama does not openly acknowledge the Armenian ‘genocide’, and secondly (and much less publicly) that Armenia renounces or at least quietly suspends its own push for genocide recognition and its long-dormant claims to Turkey’s eastern provinces as part of its “Greater Armenia” concept.

A third condition – that any formal moves are also conditional on Armenian progress towards removing its troops from Nagorno-Karabakh and the territories around it – is unconfirmed. The very idea that Turkey would go through with the border talks without attaching any conditions on Karabakh has provoked fury in Azerbaijan, especially since Turkey sealed the border in 1993 in response to the Armenian occupation of the regions, a reality which has clearly not changed. In Baku, the issue has created a rare patch of common ground for the government and the opposition (APA, April 7).

Essentially, what has developed appears to be an enormous three-way game. Firstly, Turkey’s determination to go ahead with the thaw – including the establishment of an alleged framework for talks in the areas of border openings, diplomatic representations, and dispute commissions (Wall Street Journal, April 2) – has been curbed by its recognition of the obvious, and urgent, need to keep their ethnic and linguistic brethren in Azerbaijan on side. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on April 7 that "The Azerbaijani-Armenian dispute should be resolved first. Then, problems between Turkey and Armenia can be solved, too”. According to Today’s Zaman, Turkey’s bluff may be to limit the thaw to occasional border openings and limited diplomatic contact until October, when a World Cup qualifying match between Armenia and Turkey (the return leg of the fixture which began the whole process last September with Turkish President’s visit to Yerevan) is due to take place in Istanbul (Today’s Zaman, April 9). This would give Ankara time to push Azerbaijan and Armenia into a compromise over Karabakh, probably under the auspices of Turkey’s much-discussed Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform.
You can read the rest of the article here. Also, Hurriyet's English-language edition has an interview with Turkish culture minister Ertugrul Gunay and his ideas for how Turkey and Armenia can cooperate in the cultural sphere.

(Photo: An out of commission Armenian artillery piece on the border with Turkey. By Yigal Schleifer)

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