Crisis in the South Caucasus: Turkey’s Big Moment?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Georgia-Russia crisis offers Turkey “a unique chance to bolster its regional clout, check Russian and Iranian influence and help secure the flow of Western-bound oil and natural gas from former Soviet Central Asia and Azerbaijan,” writes Amberin Zaman in an August analysis for the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

To this end, the ‘Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform’ proposed by Turkey in response to the post-war climate is “a step in the right direction,” according to The Economist’s Turkey correspondent. 

But “one glaring hitch” is that the country does not have formal ties with Armenia, fears Zaman, while some have described the plan as “an empty gesture” which is “vague and lacking in substance” and designed to allow Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan “to burnish his credentials as a statesman and hog the international stage”. 

Nevertheless, the author argues that the initiative could prove useful for improving Turkey-Armenia relations, which is “clearly in Turkey’s interests” despite “formidable diplomatic obstacles”. 

Zaman believes the Georgian conflict has “starkly illuminated” the need for all the region’s players “to rethink the status quo”. For example, re-opening its railway to Armenia would help Turkey avert “a looming [humanitarian] crisis” in that country and allow aid to reach Georgia, she argues. 

Ethnic and religious ties mean that Turkey’s foreign policy has long favoured Azerbaijan over Armenia, explains the author. Nevertheless, she claims there is “growing recognition in official circles that isolating Armenia is hurting Turkey without necessarily helping Azerbaijan”. 

She asserts that “Turkish and Armenian diplomats have been holding secret talks” that “could lay the ground for re-establishing diplomatic ties” between the two countries, but warns that Turkey will require Armenia to stop backing its diaspora’s campaign for international genocide recognition and declare “that it has no territorial claims” on Turkish soil if this is to happen. 

Ultimately, the views of Turkish army will have a decisive impact on the chances of any rapprochement with Armenia, concludes Zaman, who interprets their current silence as a good sign. 

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