Turkey and Georgia: Strategic Connections

23 March 2012
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As for now, Georgia is the only neighbor of Turkey towards whom the ‘zero problems’ policy has been successful. Turkish-Georgian economic ties have boosted, political relations are free from disputes, and it seems that the two countries understand importance of regional interdependence.


The last step of lifting passport requirements in order to pass through the Turkish-Georgian border is the best symbol of the outstanding mutual relations. This analysis will focus on main developments in Turkey-Georgia bilateral relations in the last decade, and will try to illustrate some of the challenges stemming from regional problems and difficult Turkey-Georgia-Russia triangle. The analysis will try to find a meaningful answer to the question how it is possible to balance between two mutually estranged countries without deteriorating relations with any of them.

Domestic Changes and Further Tightening of Close Relations

Turkey was one of the first countries who recognized Georgia’s independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then the two countries have been able to develop friendly relations based on cooperation and mutual understanding. But it was the last decade which set pace to further tighten Turkish-Georgian friendship. There were two motors in this acceleration: the rise in power of Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) in November of 2002 and the Rose Revolution resulting in an election win in Georgia by the United National Movement of Georgia (in 2003). Despite emerging from totally different backgrounds, the two parties have something in common – change that they have brought to both the internal and foreign policies of Turkey and Georgia.

Turkey has been intensifying its relations with Georgia since AKP’s rise to power. The implementation of the Strategic Depth (Stratejik Derinlik) doctrine enabled Turkey to shed new light on the Southern Caucasus region. As it was heralded by (the former adviser to Turkish Prime Minister and current Foreign Affairs Minister) Ahmet Davutoğlu, Strategic Depth is based on five main principles: balance between democracy and security, ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy, developing and tightening relations with states of neighboring regions, multi-dimensional approach in foreign policy, and using diplomacy as a means of soft power. (1) The two first principles seem to be the most applicable to the Turkey’s policy towards Georgia.

The policy of ‘zero problems’ with neighbors has two aspects - firstly, the solution of existing disputes and conflicts with the neighboring countries, and secondly, to maintain peaceful relations with them. It is argued that Turkey is able to fully use its potential only in a situation of peace in the region. The lack of stability in the region causes a decrease in  Turkey’s importance not only in this area, but also at the international level. Therefore, it is important for Ankara to establish peaceful relations with Armenia, eliminate animosity in relations with Greece (including the Cyprus problem), and normalize relations with Syria. Whereas relations with Georgia are normalized, according to ‘zero problems’ policy, Turkey should maintain them in this shape.

Developing a relationship with the neighboring regions is associated with Turkish active policy in the region and making use of its potential stemming from geographic localization of the country. As stipulated in the Strategic Depth doctrine, Turkey should strengthen economic and political relations with the countries of the Balkans, the Middle East, Caucasus, and Central Asia. These relations should be based on the win-win principle, meaning that both parties can benefit from cooperation.

As seen in the Georgian Foreign Policy Strategy document, the priorities of Georgian foreign policy are: territorial integrity, strengthening national security, regional stability, and European and Euro-Atlantic integration. (2) The focal point on regional stability is good relations with neighbors, which is emphasized in the above-mentioned strategy. The strategy attributes special significance to Turkey, since it characterizes this country as Georgia’s leading regional partner. The document names Turkey and Georgia as strategic partners, particularly in areas such as trade, economy, energy, defense, and security. According to the strategy, Turkey’s support for Georgia’s territorial integrity is of great importance, as well as its support for the process of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration and the development of the Georgian Armed Forces. (3)

Trade and Investment Connection

Nowadays, Turkey is Georgia’s biggest trade partner, what means that it has replaced Russia. Additionally, Turkey is the second biggest investor in Georgia.  From 2002 to 2010, bilateral trade volume increased substantially, from $240 million to $1 billion, respectively. (4) Turkey mainly exports food and electrical appliances to Georgia, and imports in return include mostly electrical engineering products and non-ferrous metals.

In 2007, Turkey and Georgia signed a Free Trade Agreement and Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation. The Free Trade Agreement aims to strengthen the commercial relations and increase the trade volume between two countries. On the other hand, the Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation seeks to facilitate and increase Turkish investments, especially in constructing sector. In 2007, projects completed by Turkish constructors in Georgia reached to $750 million.

Turkish companies became important investors in Georgia and only American firms have a larger market share than them. Concerning investments, Turkey has participated in construction work (including airport terminals), invested in a glass factory, telecommunications and airport operations businesses, in addition to creating many small- and medium-scale companies in Georgia. Currently, the main investment projects planned to be realized between the two countries are: the Kars-Tbilisi Railway and the Rize-Poti fiber optic cable line.

But it is not only the business in which Turkey invests. The activities of Turkish entrepreneurs and educators have been important parameters for bilateral economic relations in the region. In Georgia, there are a few high schools and one private university supported by Turkish businessmen. These educational institutions have supported human capital and provided the grounds for development. They also strengthen Turkey’s role in the region, as more and more foreign students are given scholarships provided by the Turkish government and learn the Turkish language, which is an especially significant factor in enhancing economic relations.

Transport Connections

Cooperation in the area of transport infrastructure is another important dimension of bilateral relations. Besides the direct land connection, there are three flights per day between Tbilisi and Istanbul, with one between Istanbul and Batumi. The international airport in Batumi is located 20 km northeast of Turkey’s border region Hopa, and serves as a domestic and international airport not only for Georgia, but also for northeastern Turkey.

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railroad project will considerably enhance the transit transport capabilities of the participant countries. Railroad upgrades have been under consideration since 1993. The proposed line would require 98 kilometers of new railroad to be built at a cost of $250 million. (5) When completed by 2012 (with possible extensions to Baku in Azerbaijan and the Turkish port of Trabzon), the line would not only open a new route for bilateral trade, but would also transform Georgia into Turkey's window to the greater market of Eurasia. Currently, Turkey's only railroad access to Central Asia goes through Iran.

People’s Connections

Regarding the ease of travel, Georgia is the most open and the closest of Turkey’s neighbors. Under a protocol signed between Ankara and Tbilisi on May 31st 2011, Turkish and Georgian citizens do not need to use passports while passing across border. The passport-free zone between Turkey and Georgia came into force on December 10th 2011 and it is the first such initiative in the region. Projects of modernization for the Sarp-Sarpi border crossing and the opening of a new border crossing at Çıldır-Kartsakhi are also important contributions to the facilitation of the free movement of people between the two countries.

After Turkey lifted visa requirements for Georgian citizens in 2005, it became one of the main destinations for Georgians. The number of Georgians entering Turkey increased from 235,143 in 2004 to 1,112,193 visitors in 2010. (6) One of the results of the abolishment of visa requirements is labour migration from Georgia to Turkey. Remittances sent by Georgian migrant workers in Turkey to Georgia reached $33 million in 2010. (7) They are generally employed by small- or medium-size enterprises in the Marmara and the eastern Black Sea regions. The workers are mainly employed in the following sectors: agriculture, walnut collection, construction, carpentry, textile, house cleaning, and dish washing. (8)

Energy Connections

The crucial factor in Turkish-Georgian energy cooperation is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. An agreement supporting construction of BTC was signed in 1998 by Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The BTC pipeline started to operate in May 10th 2005 and the first oil reached the Ceyhan terminal on May 28th 2006. The pipeline travels from the Sangachal terminal near Baku through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and then Turkey to the Ceyhan marine terminal on the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean. When oil reaches the Turkish coast, it is further shipped via tankers to European markets. The pipeline, which is buried along its entire length, is 1,768 km in total: 443 km in Azerbaijan, 249 km in Georgia, and 1,076 km in Turkey. The pipeline throughput capacity is one million barrels of oil per day. (9)

The BTC is the first direct pipeline linking the landlocked Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean. Additionally, there are projects to lengthen BTC pipeline by establishing a connection between Aktan (a port city in Kazakhstan’s Caspian coastline) and Baku. When realized Aktan-Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline will bring even more economic benefits to the regional states.

Parallel to the BTC oil pipeline runs the South Caucasus (Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum, or BTE) gas pipeline. BTE transports gas from the Shah Deniz field on the Caspian Sea into Turkey. It follows the route of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) crude oil pipeline through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey, where it is linked to the Turkish gas distribution system.
The length of this pipeline is 691 km, with 443 km in Azerbaijan and 250 km in Georgia.
The BTE pipeline is capable of carrying up to seven billion cubic metres of gas.
The first deliveries of gas to Turkey commenced on September 30th 2006. (10)

The first aim of the BTE pipeline is to supply Turkey and Georgia with gas. As a transit country, Georgia has rights to take 5% of the annual gas flow from the pipeline in lieu of paying tariff and can purchase another 0.5 billion cubic meters of gas a year at a discounted price. In a longer perspective, the South Caucasus Pipeline will supply Europe with Caspian natural gas through the planned Nabucco pipeline. (11)

Regarding the BTC and BTE pipelines, two factors need to be highlighted. Firstly, in order to fully use and benefit from the pipelines, the Caucasus region needs stability. Hence, solving existing problems between the countries of the region would significantly influence their energy security. Secondly, the two pipelines circumvent Russia. Owing to the diversification of energy sources, Russia’s monopoly of energy has been decreasing and countries in the region become less dependent on Russian energy supplies.

Regarding vulnerability of the region, the capability of immediate help in providing energy is also of great importance. Both countries have concerns about their energy security and know that mutual cooperation is critical. For example, in 2008, when an explosion on a gas line on Russian territory led to an energy crisis in Georgia, Turkey provided electricity to Georgia. In order to avoid future energy crises, the former Prime Minister of Georgia Zurab Noghaideli has proposed a joint Turkey-Georgia high voltage power line, a proposal welcomed by Turkey. (12)

Amanda Akçakoca, an European Policy Center expert on South Caucasus, believes, "Georgia and Turkey historically have close relations so it is no surprise that Turkey is working to build up even closer links as part of its new assertive foreign policy strategy in its neighborhood." (13)

Military Cooperation

Regarding the strategic dimension, Turkey considered Georgia as a key buffer zone with Russia. Any instability in Georgia would have negative impact on Turkey’s ability to get to Azerbaijan and the rest of the Central Asia. Georgia was also essential to the success of the East-West energy corridor. Due to this aspect, Turkey is eager to incorporate Georgia in its initiatives aiming at stability of the region.

Georgia is a member of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, which gathers twelve states of the Black Sea region. Although the organization itself is not very effective, there are some developments within it. For instance, a Black Sea Naval Co-operation Task Group (BLACKSEAFOR) was established on a base of the agreement signed in 2001 by Turkey, Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Ukraine. The main goal of the BLACKSEAFOR is to enhance peace and stability in the Black Sea littoral states. It has to be highlighted that BLACKSEAFOR was the first formation of naval cooperation among the Black Sea states. It is primarily focused on search and rescue missions, humanitarian assistance, and environment protection operations. (14)

Because of Turkey’s concerns stemming from the possibility of Russian interference in Georgia, Turkey has tried to strengthen the Georgian military by training and equipping it as necessary. In 2001, the two countries signed three agreements on defense cooperation. Furthermore, the Turkish army completed the modernization of Georgia’s Marneuli airbase south of Tbilisi. Together with the United States, the Turkish and Georgian militaries have formed a Caucasus Working Group seeking to improve cooperation and provide training for the Georgian military. (15)

The Turkey-Georgia-Russia Triangle

During and after the war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, Turkey pursued a balanced foreign policy towards the South Caucasus and Moscow. Together with European countries’ governments, Ankara called for the importance and respect of the territorial integrity of Georgia. Showing immediate response to Russian-Georgian conflict, Turkey offered to set up a “Caucasus Platform,” a new regional structure that was to encompass Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey. Establishing the “Caucasus Platform” aimed at rapidly resolving the territorial conflicts not only between Russia and Georgia, but also between Armenia and Turkey and between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey’s initiative was welcomed by Russia, and in mid-September 2008, the two countries launched a plan to create a "Caucasus Security & Stability Platform."

Up to now, the biggest achievement regarding the above-mentioned idea was Turkey and Russia’s declaration of cooperation in order to overcome tensions in the South Caucasus.  It is not entirely obvious that Russia would allow any other country to engage in the issues of a former republic of the Soviet Union, since they are concerned as ‘exclusive sphere of Russia’s influence.’ (16) Such a qualitative change was possible because Russia, as well as Turkey, could see benefits from reducing the level of insecurity and confrontation in the region. The “Caucasus Platform” idea has been also of great relevance to Turkey’s economic and business interests. 

However, one can hardly imagine political union within the South Caucasus. MIT’s Center for International Studies (Executive Director) John Tirman believes that while Turkey should strive to develop open economic relations in the Caucasus, a political union is not going to happen in the next decade, if ever. "Normal diplomatic relations, free trade zones, and settlement of outstanding grievances need to come first," he said. (17)

Ankara needs stability in the South Caucasus due to Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines which are supplying Turkey with oil and gas, respectively. Furthermore, only a region free from conflicts can guarantee the realization of other energy and transport projects. The venture of the greatest importance is the Nabucco project, which will connect the world’s richest gas regions – (the Caspian region, the Middle East and Egypt) to  Europe. Also of the great relevance with stability in the region is the realization of the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway project.


As the last step of introducing passport-free travel illustrates, Turkey and Georgia are interested in further developing their bilateral relations. It needs to be underlined that the two countries understand benefits they can receive by enhancing mutual cooperation. Passport free-travel will contribute not only to the increase in number of greater tourist movement but also to the further augmentation of trade volume.

In order to further develop commercial and business relations, Turkey and Georgia need to improve their transport routes. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is of great importance for the improvement of transport capabilities between the two countries. Due to the closure of border crossings between Turkey and Armenia, Georgia is the only country through which Turkish transport trucks can go to Azerbaijan and Central Asia countries.

Since both countries need undisturbed energy supplies, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines have to be safeguarded.  Considering that the best way for securing the pipelines is stability and peace in the region, both countries should solve problems with their neighbors. As Sinan Oğan, chairman of the Turkish Center for International Relations and Strategic Analysis, argues, "Turkey and Georgia can extend mini-EU type co-operation in the region, by involving the other neighboring countries, but this idea needs time. Without solving the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Caucasus Union will fail." (18)




1. A. Davutoğlu, “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Vision: An Assessment of 2007”, Insight Turkey, Vol. 10, Nr 1, 2008, p. 79-84.
2. Foreign Policy Strategy 2006-2009, http://www.mfa.gov.ge/files/35_9440_673620_11.pdf
3. Foreign Policy Strategy 2006-2009, http://www.mfa.gov.ge/files/35_9440_673620_11.pdf
4. Dış Ticaret İstatistikleri, Türkiye İstatistik Kurumu, www.tuik.gov.tr
5. Turkey and Georgia: Opening the Roads for Trade, February 7, 2006, Eurasianet, http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/business/articles/eav020806.shtml
6. Turizm İstatistikleri, Türkiye İstatistik Kurumu, www.tuik.gov.tr
7. The National Bank of Georgia, www.nbg.ge
8. In the recent years Georgian migrant have been working as a hazelnut and tea pickers, mainly as short-term seasonal workers. They have become more permanent and even indispensable members of the regional agriculture labour market. At the Black Sea region there is a saying: “If Georgian don’t come, we cannot pick tea”, Ulukan Nihan Cigerci, Ulukan Umit, Cross-Border Labour Mobility within Georgia and Turkey, Industrial Relations in Europe Conference, Oslo 2010, http://www.fafo.no/irec/papers/NihanCigerciIUlukan.pdf
9. Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline,  http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9006669&contentId=7015093
10. South Caucasus Pipeline, http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9006670&contentId=7015095
11. The Nabucco pipeline will link the Eastern border of Turkey, to Baumgarten in Austria - one of the most important gas turntables in Central Europe - via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. When completed the 3,900 km pipeline’s annual capacity will be 31 bcm. The construction of the pipeline is supported by the 2009 Intergovernmental Agreement signed in Ankara in July 2009, which harmonizes the legal framework and grants stable and equal transport conditions for all partners and customers. The main pipeline will be built in one phase. Construction will start in 2013, first gas will flow in 2017. http://www.nabucco-pipeline.com/portal/page/portal/en/Home/the_project
12.  Atli Altay, Turkey and Georgia: Opening a Road for Trade, February 7, 2006, http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/business/articles/eav020806.shtml
13.  Turkey uses establishment of relations with Georgia to strengthen its position in region: experts, August 16, 2009, http://en.trend.az/regions/met/turkey/1541510.html
14.  Baran Zeyno, Turkey and the Caucasus, in: Bal İdris (ed.), Turkish Foreign Policy in post Cold War Era, Brown Walker Press, 2004, p. 272.
15.  Baran Zeyno, Turkey and the Caucasus, in: Bal İdris (ed.), Turkish Foreign Policy in post-Cold War Era, Brown Walker Press, 2004, p. 279-280.
16.  Russia’s exclusive sphere of influence encompasses former Soviet Union’s republics described by Russia as the” Near Abroad”.
17.  Raufoglu Alakbar, Turkey, Georgia explore news strategy, March 25, 2011, http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/

18. Raufoglu Alakbar, Turkey, Georgia explore news strategy, March 25, 2011,   http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/


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