From the Process of Caucasus Cooperation and Stability Platform to the Normalization of Turkish-Armenian Relations

Muharrem EKŞİ
27 October 2009
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Introduction

A domain struggle has launched in Caucasus region following the Russia-Georgia conflict. The domain struggle over Caucasia has a global context encompassing actors such as US, Russia and EU as well as regional factors. In this framework, Turkey, one of the most important actors of the region, initiated the Caucasus Cooperation and Stability Platform and normalization process in terms of relations with Armenia has gained momentum. The normalization process between Turkey and Armenia is based on incorporation of Armenia to the axis of Turkey-Georgia and Azerbaijan.  Russian expansion poses a security threat for Turkey as well as for US and NATO. With changing conditions in Caucasia, Turkey altered the energy security policies with national security policies. Consequently, the result of the process will determine the Turkish-US, Turkish-Russian and US-Russian relations. 

 

Russia has extended its domain in Caucasia and exterminated the siege of US and NATO following the cessation of the Russian-Georgian conflict for the benefit of Russia. This condition has collapsed the policy of US over Caucasia. Georgia has been exposed to Russian pressure with the construction of military zones in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This process affected Azerbaijan and Turkey and posed a security threat for these countries while Armenia gained strategic importance in such an atmosphere. In the context of these developments, the power struggle between Russia -which rose as an enhanced and aggressive power- and US -whose position was endangered and therefore tried to restore her hegemony- has re-shaped due to current balances and policies. This situation necessitates the reformulation of Caucasian policies for US and Turkey as well. 

 

During the pre-conflict period, Caucasian policy was based on the energy security issue on the axis of Turkey-Georgia and Azerbaijan. However, following the Georgian-Russian conflict, US tried to reconstruct and reinforce the belt of security by substituting Armenia for Georgia who failed to fulfill the task.(1) Thus, saving Armenia from Russian pressure is the focal point of the Caucasian policy of the US. Therefore, the problems between the countries of the region should be solved. The normalization of the Turkish-Armenian relations and establishment of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia via solution of Nagorno Karabagh issue are the key elements for the US policy. The US tries to channel the policies of regional countries (Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia) to this point.

 

The Caucasian Policy of Turkey: “From Energy Security to National Security”

The Caucasian policy of Turkey develops in line with the new balances of the post-conflict period. Especially, Turkey launched the design of a regional policy via Caucasus Cooperation and Stability Platform and therefore Caucasia has taken priority in Turkish Foreign Policy (TFP).  Turkey conducted the Caucasian policies from a materialist perspective like US on the basis of energy security issue with BTC (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline), BTE (Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum Pipeline) and Kars-Tbilisi-Baku Railway projects. However, due to the changing balances after the Russian-Georgian conflict, Turkey faced a security threat while TFP’s paradigm faced changes as well.(2) With the Russian initiative over Abkhazia and South Ossetia and with the construction of the Russian bases, Georgia is not a buffer zone between Russia and Turkey anymore and Russia has direct domain over Black Sea. The intervention of Russia over Georgia and occupation of port of Poti enabled Russia to access to Black sea via the channels of US and NATO. The power struggle between Russia and US over Black Sea and the disregardation of the Montreux Convention posed national security threats for Turkey. Russia showed that she would use military force in spite of US and NATO. This situation created a security issue for Turkey, similar to the case in Iraq. The developments have altered the national security paradigm of the TFP. Accordingly, Turkey faced threats such as Russia’s expansion in Caucasia and US-NATO ships entering the Black Sea by disregarding the Montreux Convention.(3)

 

The Caucasian policy of Turkey is based on the Turkish-Russian and Turkish-US relations. Turkey has profound economic/energy relations with Russia but on the other hand is an ally of NATO and a strategic partner of the US. Therefore, Turkey must follow a balanced and bilateral policy. In addition to this, during the rule of AKP (Justice and Development Party) TFP tries to reflect its influence over Caucasus region based on the strategic weight of US.(4) Active foreign policies, diplomatic contacts and visits with regional countries are the indicators of this process. Turkey tries to normalize the relations with Armenia and conducts mediation for the Karabagh issue. These are apparent signs of an active foreign policy similar to the Middle Eastern approach. The active foreign policy of Turkey is a result of the domain struggle in Caucasus region following the Russia-Georgia conflict. Armenia plays a vital role in this struggle.

 

Domain Struggle over Armenia in Caucasia

In post-conflict period, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on their own initiative and Russia extended domain over Caucasia while US lost Georgia as a part of the containment policy. Thus, US had to reformulate its Caucasian policy. According to this policy; Armenia is a country with strategic significance and should become closer to the Euro-Atlantic. Therefore, key countries began to carry out their power struggle via Armenia.

 

Incorporation of Armenia to NATO axis and establishment of relations with Azerbaijan via the solution of Karabagh issue are on the agenda.(5) Furthermore, the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations is essential. In this framework, intensive diplomatic contacts have been launched. Football diplomacy(6) has started on September 6 which laid ground for a new process where mutual problems are handled. In September, the ministers of foreign affairs of Azerbaijan and Armenia met in mediation of Turkey in context of UN. Furthermore, President Aliyev paid his second visit to Turkey on November 5 after Russia (This is an indicator of Russian pressure over Azerbaijan) following his reelection on October 15 and shared his comments over normalization process with Armenia. As Baku is on the way of Yerevan, President Abdullah Gül paid a visit to Baku on November 6-8 and initiated the axis of Turkey-Azerbaijan and Armenia on the presidency level.(7)

 

However Russia could not be indifferent to the developments, President Medvedev paid a visit to Yerevan on October 20-21 in order to reinforce relations with Armenia. Furthermore Russia tried to disqualify Turkey in solution process of Karabagh with Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in October and trilateral summit (Russia-Armenia-Azerbaijan) in Moscow on November 2. Iran also intervenes in the process by proposing mediation.(8) Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian, held a visit to Ankara in order to launch the Karabagh process under the leadership of Turkey on November 24. Armenia realized that problems could not be solved by leaning on Russia in the long term and the West was the key for solution (especially the economic problems). Thus Armenia is paying effort to normalize of relations with Turkey and overcome the Karabagh issue to access for the Euro-Atlantic world. President Aliyev and Minister Nalbandian paid regular visits to Turkey; which were indicating that Turkey is the core of the domain struggle over Caucasia. The intensive diplomatic contacts prove that Armenia-oriented domain struggle on the axis of Russia-US-Turkey is continuing. However the solution process over Karabagh issue can pose critical problems for both Turkey and Azerbaijan. For example, in the event that Russia takes the initiative over Karabagh talks and the potential of security risks for Turkey and Azerbaijan will raise. This condition requires sensitive balances.

 

From the Caucasus Cooperation and Stability Platform to Normalization Process

Russian-Georgian conflict on 8-12 August 2008 changed the balances dramatically and collapsed the Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan axis. Following the conflict, Turkey initiated the Caucasus Cooperation and Stability Platform (CCSP) on her own initiative on August 12. The CCSP introduced a plan for a regional security mechanism (crisis management) however it would not be easy in such conditions. Furthermore, as in the presidency of Demirel, US did not support the initiative of CCSP. However Turkey initiated intensive diplomatic contacts for CCSP during August. In September, it was revealed that the contacts would be Armenia-oriented. Thus, the football diplomacy on September 6, initiated the process. The normalization process is a result of the CCSP process. During the short term between September 2008 and February 2009 the normalization of Turkey and Armenia relations gained ground in an unexpected way. The two countries attached great importance to normalization process on ministerial level with 45th Munich Security Conference dated 6, 8 February 2008.

 

Some important points should be emphasized in order to assess the normalization process. As stated above from a historical perspective, the process launched with CSSP initiative following the Russia-Georgia conflict. US, NATO, EU and particularly Turkey had to develop new policies for the region because Russia extended her domain over Caucasia. In this respect, Turkey launched the CCSP initiative. But the US stressing on the normalization process with Armenia and the state of Turkish-Armenian relations which caused a bottleneck to the realization of the CSSP initiative put Armenia to the heart of the regional Caucassian policies.(9) Thus the EU and US backed normalization process began. In this context, it can be argued that the CCSP initiative turned out to be a normalization process for Turkish-Armenian relations.

 

On the other hand, the normalization process has a global and regional context which cannot be degraded to the two countries. Globally, the relations of the two countries are closely related with the US and Russian attitudes. Besides, the issue may influence the Turkish-US and Turkish – Russian relations as well. Namely, the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations will strengthen the maneuver abilities of US, NATO and EU by the leadership of Turkey since this ability weakened after the Russian-Georgian conflict. However the process would not be received very well by Russia since it means the limitation of Russian domain. Turkey would participate in a domain struggle with Russia over Armenia; the trilateral meeting in Moscow in September 2008 (Russia-Armenia-Azerbaijan) is an apparent indicator of the struggle. Russia pointed out that she wants to put Turkey out of action by forming the Armenia-Azerbaijan axis.

 

Furthermore, Russia tried to take the initiative from Turkey. In other words, there is an Armenia-oriented domain struggle between Turkey and Russia. The initiatives of Turkey bear great importance for Russia. The military action of Russia in August 2008 should be taken into consideration because the action pointed out that Russia can use military force in case of territorial threats. The normalization process has critical importance for relations between Turkey-Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan-Armenia The solution of Karabagh issue plays a vital role for normalization process. The relations of Azerbaijan-Armenia should be in line with Turkey-Armenia relations. The incorporation of Azerbaijan into the Turkish-Armenian process and the trilateral process are the parts of this reality. The remarks of Minister Babacan “we cannot stay indifferent to problems between Azerbaijan and Armenia during the normalization process” prove the aforementioned assessments. The normalization process is a compensation of Georgian failure.

 


Conclusion

Russian-Georgian conflict changed the balances and constructed new geopolitics. The situation transformed Caucasia into a focal point for international domain struggle. In accordance with this new structure, Turkey and US developed new policies and re-entered a domain struggle with Russia over Armenia. In this framework, Karabagh talks and diplomatic contacts between Turkey-Armenia and Azerbaijan were launched. Recent diplomatic visits have been part of the domain struggle. However, unexpected developments in relations imply a process with radical changes. The process will determine the dominant power of the region; it will also determine national security of Turkey and the course of Turkish-US, Turkish-Russian and US-Russian relations.   

       
                            
Furthermore, the Turkish Caucasus Cooperation and Stability Platform initiative turned into Karabagh talks. The normalization process is potential to determine the new balances and construct a new geopolitical condition. The process is expected to bear positive results for Turkey, US, NATO and EU while having negative consequences for Russia. In this framework, Caucasia witnesses an Armenia-oriented domain struggle. The process between Turkey and Armenia can be interpreted as the incorporation of Armenia to Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan axis. A new security belt and energy route can be formed. Armenia can serve a very cheap channel for the transfer of Caspian sources to the Western market. On the other hand, Russian expansion in Caucasia which gained speed after the Russian-Georgian conflict poses a threat for Turkey, US and NATO. The normalization process is considered to have been developed as a measure against the Russian expansion. Armenia stuck in the region geographically and politically, developed a pragmatic approach regarding the normalization process because Turkey it is the only way to integrate with the West. In other words, the economic recession in Armenia forces Armenia to participate the normalization process in spite of Diaspora. The process may accelerate the Azerbaijan-Armenian process as well. The intensive diplomatic contacts with Armenia as of September, in line with the resolutions of Munich Security Conference 2008, have brought results. As a result, Caucasus Cooperation and Stability Platform paved the way for normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. Furthermore the normalization process which was actually a part of the CCSP superseded and dominated the initiative.  

 

Muharrem EKŞİ

PhD Candidate, International Relations, Ankara University

E-Mail: meksi@politics.ankara.edu.tr .

 

References: 

[1] “Cheney to shoot Caucasian troubles”, RIA Novosti, 03.09.2009, http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20080903/116520777.html.

[2] Ergin Yıldızoğlu, “Rusya, Kafkasya ve Türkiye’nin Yeni Jeopolitiği”, September 9, 2008, http://erginyildizoglu.blogspot.com/2008/09/rusya-kafkasya-ve-turkiyenin-yeni_09.html.

[3] Necmettin Akten, Nur Jale Ece, Nilüfer Oral, Hasan Kanbolat, “The Montreux Convention And the Black Sea Geopolitics”, EurasiaCritic, November, 2008, http://www.eurasiacritic.com/november/hk_montr_conv.html.

[4] Ahmet Davutoğlu, “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Vision: An Assesment of 2007”, Insight Turkey, Vol.10, No.1, pp.77-96, 2008, p. 88. http://www.insightturkey.com/Insight_Turkey_10_1_A_Davutoglu.pdf.

[5] “NATO’s relations with Armenia”, NATO, http://www.nato.int/issues/nato-armenia/index.html.

[6] Bülent Aras, Fatih Özbay, “Turkish-Armenian Relations: Will Football Diplomacy Work?”,  SETA PolicyBrief, Sptember 2008, http://www.setav.org/document/Policy_Brief_No_24_Bulent_Aras_Fatih_Ozbay.pdf.

 

[7] “Gül’ün Erivan Yolu Bakü’den Geçecek”, ASAM ERAREN, July 30, 2008, http://www.eraren.org/index.php?Lisan=tr&Page=Print&BultenNo=13657&Yer=Bultenler.

[8] “  İran'dan arabuluculuk teklifi”, TRKHaber, October 5, 2008, http://www.trkhaber.com/tr/content/view/1023/2/.

[9] Ruben Safrastyan, “On Turkey’s New Undertaking in South Caucasus”, Noravank, September 29, 2008, http://www.noravank.am/en/?page=theme&thid=5&nid=1382.

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