What does Turkish-Armenian rapprochement mean for Azerbaijan?
The decision of Turkey and Armenia to restore diplomatic relations that Ankara broke off in 1993 to protest Armenia’s actions in the Karabakh war and the possibility that the restoration of these ties will lead to a re-opening of the borders between the two countries have sparked intense discussions in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan in the World has surveyed a group of leading commentators about their reactions and expectations. Their answers are reproduced below.
Azerbaijan in the World: How do you evaluate what Turkey and Armenia have done?
Elkhan Polukhov [Spokesperson for Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs]: Azerbaijan has repeatedly made clear that we believe the so-called rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey should proceed in parallel with the resolution of the Azerbaijan-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We recognize that every country has the right to establish diplomatic relations with other countries. But in the current circumstances, such moves can cast a shadow on ties between Azerbaijan and Turkey that have deep historical roots. In assessing the possible signing of these protocols, we rely on the statements of Turkish officials, particularly Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly said that Turkey will not take any step within this process that might harm Azerbaijan.
Asim Mollazade [Milli Majlis deputy and chairman of the Democratic Reforms Party]: The signing of the two protocols by Turkey and Armenia have damaged the interests of Azerbaijan and created problems in the Azerbaijan-Armenian negotiation process over Nagorno-Karabakh. After securing the agreement with Turkey, Armenia has shown a particularly unconstructive approach in the talks, something that jeopardizes the peace process and raises questions as to whether the Turkish parliament will ratify the protocols. As a result, Turkey is losing politically, economically, and morally.
Vafa Guluzade [former national security advisor and now an independent analyst]:
The signing of the Turkish-Armenian protocols is the beginning of a process of geopolitical change in the region. That is, Russia will be withdrawing from the South Caucasus, and the South Caucasus will pass entirely under the control of the United States. This process will consist of two stages: the first stage will occur with the opening of the border between Turkey and Armenia, and the second stage will be the resolution of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This process could have begun and ended in a possibly more just way, that is, it could have begun with the liberation of the occupied Azerbaijani lands and the consequent transformation of Armenia from an aggressor state into a normal one, and after this, one could then expect the opening of its borders with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. However, this variant is more complicated to the extent that the process of the resolution of this conflict will be more problematic both for Armenians and for Azerbaijanis. The United States, in my view, is pushing that variant which it has already prepared but which it has not yet made public. The gradual drawing away of Armenia from Russia and its parallel integration with Turkey are guaranteed: Three million-strong Armenia will easily integrate in the 72-million strong Turkey in a purely economic way. But after a certain time, after Russia and Armenia come to terms with the new situation, the second stage will begin, and we will then see a change in geopolitics and a broadening of the sphere of influence of the US, after which will inevitably follow the expansion of NATO. What happened on October 10 is the beginning of this process.
Rasim Musabekov [an independent political analyst]: On the whole, I evaluate what has happened in a positive way. In principle, we should welcome the normalization of relations and the renewal of cooperation among all countries of the region. The signing of the protocols marks an end of Armenia’s baseless territorial pretensions against Turkey and makes Yerevan’s conduct of an anti-Turkish approach more difficult.
AIW: What do you expect will happen next?
Mollazade: Ankara is likely to manoeuvre and delay the ratification of the protocols in the parliament. This will however only last until the US president’s traditional April speech related to the 1915 events. Azerbaijan in turn who has so far been selling its gas to Turkey for the price of USD 120 per bcm will increase the price to bring it to match the international standards.
Guluzade: The next step will be the opening of the border and the beginning of economic cooperation. Turkey will take control of small and mid-sized business in Armenia, which Russia does not control now. Russia has already bought the Armenian energy system, as well as other major enterprises and firms, but even taken together, these do not form a large share of the Armenian economy. Therefore, I think that gradually, Russia will lose its positions and Moscow will have to play the role in the region of a junior partner to the United States. This has already begun. For example, Russia has promised not to veto a UN Security Council resolution on Iran’s nuclear program and – as per the agreement with the US – is working with Iran, whose government has now promised not to enrich uranium on its own territory but to do this in Russia. Iran, in turn, seeing that it no longer can count on Russia’s support, is beginning to work with the IAEA Sestet.
Musabekov: Neither Armenia nor Turkey is likely to ratify the protocols quickly. In Armenia, the dissatisfaction of many Armenian citizens and especially within the diaspora probably means that the deputies there will insist on modifications and reservations. And the Turkish parliament won’t rush. There, many parliamentarians, not only among opposition parties but even within the ruling AKP, are opposed to the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border prior to the liberation of the occupied Azerbaijani lands. One also cannot exclude provocations by extremist groups who are prepared by any means to torpedo the protocols and their implementation.
AIW: What is your assessment of the likely impact of the accords on the security dynamics of the broader region and especially on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Polukhov: Again, we rely on the promises we have received from Turkey that the ratification of the protocols in the Turkish parliament and all further steps will take place in parallel with the settlement of the Azerbaijan-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Any unilateral actions on this issue will call into question the entire security structure in the region and increase tensions across the board.
Mollazade: For Azerbaijan, the isolation of Armenia was the only non-violent way of pushing Armenia toward the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkey’s rapprochement with Armenia will thus prompt Baku to begin searching for more active measures to secure the return of the occupied territories. And Turkey’s decision may also lead some in Yerevan to try to exploit Armenian separatist views in Georgia in the Javakh region.
Guluzade: The process of the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border will not proceed in parallel with the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. First will be the opening of the borders and then as a separate question will be resolved the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. An American plan will be offered, and it is possible that it will be presented as a joint Russian-American plan in order not to offend Russia as much. In general, one should not deny that the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border can have a positive influence on the process of the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Any new cooperation will have a positive influence on the situation in the region. Indeed, the antagonism between Turkey and Armenia in fact is part of American-Russian antagonism. Armenia as such does not represent a great deal. Its interests are not a matter of serious concern for the great powers except as pawns in a larger struggle. Armenia as a state in the region will have to cooperate with Azerbaijan and with Turkey because it cannot move to California, where the diaspora is.
Musabekov: Work on the protocols allowed the Turkish leadership to put pressure on the US, Russia and France to accelerate work on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Purely at a psychological level, many in Azerbaijan felt that Ankara was distancing itself from Azerbaijan by these actions, but the Turkish leadership reaffirmed its commitment not to open the borders without progress on Karabakh, thus killing off the hopes of those in Armenia who thought they could set Baku and Ankara at odds. Whatever the Armenians say, there is an opportunity to synchronize the process of the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border with the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Joint efforts of Ankara and Baku can make this happen.