Friday, August 26, 2016


Lousy Timing Could Overshadow Turkey's Logical Caucasus Solution

Turkey's president, Abdullah GulTurkey's president, Abdullah Gul
Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul
Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul
By Liz Fuller
Within days of the start of full-scale hostilities last month between Georgia and Russia, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan floated the idea of a Caucasus stability pact modeled on a 1999 Balkan agreement.

But the diverging geopolitical and economic interests of the proposed five members and the ambiguous status of Georgia's breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia constitute seemingly insurmountable obstacles to such an alliance.

As outlined by Erdogan, the proposed Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact would bring together Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, and Turkey. His stated intention of discussing the initiative with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggests that he envisaged the UN assuming the role of "patron" in the same way as the European Union did for the 1999 Balkan Stability Pact, which came in the wake of the Kosovo conflict.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul endorsed Erdogan's proposal one day later, on August 12, saying the Caucasus pact would be "important for stability in the region" and could encompass a mechanism for addressing and resolving problems, presumably before they escalated into violence.

There are, however, several fundamental differences between the Balkans in 1999 and the South Caucasus in 2008. In 1999, the countries of Southeastern Europe, including the Yugoslav successor states, had a shared interest in integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures. Furthering such integration was one of the primary objectives of the Balkan Stability Pact, together with preventing further conflicts in the region; fostering peace, democracy, respect for human rights, and economic prosperity; and stimulating regional cooperation. In other words, membership of the Balkan Stability Pact was intended as a win-win situation for all former adversaries.

Shared Objectives?

By contrast, the five proposed members of the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact have no shared objective or vision that would serve as an incentive for setting aside their differences. On the contrary, in some cases, such as the deadlock between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, their most important policy objectives diverge or even collide, to the point that reconciling them is seen as a zero-sum game.

Even prior to the August war, Georgia considered Russia the primary threat to its stability. Now, having quit the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and severed diplomatic relations with Russia, it would almost certainly make any cooperation, whether bilateral or multilateral, contingent on Moscow retracting its formal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ruled out doing. Russia, for its part, has no obvious interest in promoting any regional cooperation that would strengthen Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia economically. Only Turkey would stand to benefit immediately from a mechanism that would, among other things, safeguard the export pipelines that bring Caspian oil and gas to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia. That traffic was temporarily halted at the height of the August hostilities between Georgia and Russia.

Two further factors cast serious doubts over the viability of the Turkish proposal. The first is the Karabakh conflict, given that Azerbaijani leaders have for years said that including Armenia in any regional cooperation projects (such as the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway that is currently under construction) is contingent on resolving that conflict on Baku's terms. In fact, it was the Karabakh conflict that then-Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev adduced as the main obstacle to a regional stability pact when then-Turkish President Suleiman Demirel and his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze first floated the idea in January 2000.

The second factor is the exclusion of Iran, which aspires to the role of a regional player. Addressing the Georgian parliament in March 2000, then-Armenian President Robert Kocharian advocated structuring the proposed pact on the formula 3+3+2, meaning that Ruusia, Turkey, and Iran as the countries bordering on the three South Caucasus states should serve as "guarantors" of the pact, and the EU and the United States as its "sponsors."

The Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies unveiled in June 2000 a detailed "consultative document" that examined in detail the optimum composition of a Caucasus Stability Pact, what issues it should address, and how it might function. The preface denies that it is modeled on the Balkan Stability Pact, but at the same time notes the similarities (and differences) that then existed between the two regions. The document postulated six chapters, three focusing on relations among the South Caucasus states, including conflict resolution and prevention and establishing a regional-security system; and three focusing on broader regional cooperation that would draw in Russia and the Black Sea and Caspian regions. It did not rule out the inclusion of Iran in a Caucasus Contact Group that would discuss implementation of that proposed agenda, and it took as a given the involvement of such international organizations as the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Window Of Opportunity

Although eminently rational and stuffed with innovative ideas (such as the introduction of South Caucasus Community passports), the working document was not unequivocally endorsed by any of the proposed beneficiaries, although Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba told the co-authors in August 2000 that Abkhazia would like to participate "on equal terms" with the other eight players. Iran for its part rejected the inclusion of the EU and the United States, arguing for the formula 3+3, meaning Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia plus Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

With hindsight, the window of opportunity for formalizing such a Caucasus Pact began to swing shut in the summer of 2004, when Georgia launched its first abortive effort to bring South Ossetia back under its control by military force. That closure could possibly have been reversed but for the confrontational policies and brinkmanship espoused by the Georgian leadership vis-a-vis Moscow, the unwillingness of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to make the concessions needed for an equitable solution to the Karabakh conflict, and the protracted standoff between the United States and Iran.

Meanwhile, the geopolitical balance has changed dramatically since Erdogan resurrected the idea of a Caucasus Stability Pact one month ago. Russia has formally recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and is moving to cement closer military ties with both entities. It could therefore insist on their inclusion in any regional forum. President Gul has paid a landmark visit to Yerevan, thereby paving the way for intensive discussions on the terms for establishing formal diplomatic relations with Armenia. In response both to that anticipated rapprochement and to the chaos unleashed by Georgia's strategic miscalculation in precipitating a war with Russia, Azerbaijan is now tilting away from the West and toward Moscow.

This growing mistrust and incipient polarization suggest that at least in the immediate future, the sole avenue for cooperation among the countries of the region will be bilateral agreements. (Armenia and Turkey signed such an agreement on energy supplies during Gul's September 6 visit to Yerevan.)

In the longer term, Dimitrios Triantophyllou of the International Center for Black Sea Studies was quoted by the "Turkish Daily News" on August 29 as suggesting the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization -- of which the three South Caucasus states, Turkey, and Russia are all members -- could conceivably "lay the groundwork, open channels of communication, and provide the infrastructure" within which diplomats from the five countries could address the political differences between them.
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Comment Sorting
by: Emin from: Azerbaijan
September 12, 2008 15:57
Liz certainly knows quite a bit about the region and the nature of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Although these ideas have a realistic potential, they are almost always easier said than done. Additionally, in order to be able to implement political changes in the region, there has to be the political will of the leaders and the broad support of the people that stand behind them. We know where Moscow stands. In fact, it is the biggest evil of them all, acting as a guarantor of the status quo, which benefits no other state but Russia. The people of Azerbaijan will not tolerate the secession of Karabakh from Azerbaijan, while Armenians don't want to let go of it. Just because they are standing on top of those lands doesn't change the fact that they are doing so illegally and their occupation is not welcome. After all, there is not a single country in the world that doesn't support Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, including Armenia's strongest ally, Russia. Turkey, overall, is on the side of Azerbaijan, and unlike Russia, is genuinely interested in resolving the regional conflict for the benefit of all, including its own EU aspirations. As a result of this diplomatic and economic isolation, Armenia's economy is losing billions of dollars, and will continue to do so unless it opens up to dialogue with it's neighbors and cede the occupied territories to back to Azerbaijan, to which they legally belong. After that we can talk about the normalization of relations, economic integration, trade, tourism, democratization, cooperation and stability. Russia had already lost its credibility in the South Caucasus, so the only other viable option is talking to each other, rather than through others. But again, here lies the dilemma. It is so much easier said than done!

by: Ara
September 12, 2008 17:01
The only land Armenia is ceding to Azerbaijan is the buffer zone. Karabakh is and will remain Armenian. Hate to break it to you Emin. Azerbaijan has to accept this loss, otherwise Karabakh will be forced to go the Kosovo route at the moment of maximum advantage.

by: Gago from: Chicago
September 13, 2008 04:43
Has Azerbaijan considered having a large ethnic minority within its borders who shares neither the mainstream culture, language or religion of the Azeri people, a minority that will require a subsidy from Baku for years to come? I am not sure they can handle Christian minorities - Georgia is not doing very well with its minorities either (Muslim or Christian)...Just because Stalin or Tito tried to submerge religion and nationalism, it doesn't translate into so-called "territorial integrity" today. Azerbaijan is not a democracy to have ethnic minorities who can rely on its great government for full freedom to be Armenian... The idea is absurd until Azeri people can guarantee the basic rights of its minorities. The same way, Serbians didn't guarantee basic security for Albanians and they ended up with Kosovo - it is, what it is, and manufactured countries of Communism are as bad as Coummunist ideology itself.

by: Ramin from: Azerbaijan
September 16, 2008 19:44
It seems like every time the issue of NK is brought up since Kosovo, all Armenians do is either talk about the so called "Kosovo precedent" (which, by the way, is not a precedent for anything, and feel free to ask the Kosovar leadership yourselves) or point fingers at issues other than the ones at stake. Whether you're Gago, or Ara, or Ashot or Armen, whether from Chicago, or Sydney or Buenos Aires, one thing is a fact: The occupation of NK is ILLEGAL, and the world community agreed, time and again. Be it in the UN, PACE or OSCE, Armenia is recognized as the aggressor and the illegal occupier of another country's land. Armenia is an occupying force and unless it stops the occupation, it will not live in peace or prosperity. Crying to Russia and your ethnic Armenian lobby in the US(which steals the money of the poor average American taxpayer) is not going to bring you righteousness. You complain about Azerbaijan's increasingly impatient rhetoric, yet you continue to sit in Azerbaijan's lands. Do you really expect us to forget that 20% of our land is in the hands of Nazi-style nationalist and separatist thugs? Or do you suggest that we shake your hands and forget about everything? In the US, when a thief comes to your home in the middle of the night and steals your property, you get shot. Call it vandalism, call it trespassing, or you may call it violation of your property. Now you tell me, if you have a God given right to take our land and our property from our hands and get away with it! Azerbaijan is not going anywhere, neither is Turkey or Georgia. Armenia started this and sooner or later, they will take responsibility for it.

by: Elnur from: Baku, Azerbaijan
September 16, 2008 19:58
Talking about human rights in Azerbaijan as if those rights are so much better in Armenia is laughable, while suggesting that somehow Azerbaijan has issues with it's ethnic minorities is absurd. At least we have the multi-ethnic, multi-religious country, unlike Armenia which is 99% Christian and 99% Armenian. The only minorities(if you could call them that, are a tiny number of Russians and yezidi Kurds). Please don't even bring uo minorities or diversity for your own sake. So next time when you decide to change the subjects and play on the populist, emotional topics, consider talking about the immorality of the aggression itself, which left hundreds of thousands without their homes, and thousands more brutally murdered. The information, videos and photos are available, and unlike the infamous technique of deception of the Armenian diaspora, those images are not altered by the Azerbaijani side. There is simply no need for it. What happened in Khojaly is very well documented and easily obtainable, including from reputable human rights organizations like the Human Rights Watch and the Helsinki commission. In case if you didn't know, Gago, but some of the wealthiest people in Azerbaijan were ethnic Armenians and they lived and in peace with each other, until the criminal gangs supported by the nationalists in Yerevan started to ignite the secessionist sentiments. Azerbaijan has the manpower and the economic muscle to re-take Karabakh, but for 17 years we wanted a peaceful way of solving this conflict and hoping Armenia would listen to the world community and give up its illegal course. Either way, Armenians are paying for it(politically and economically) and the clock is ticking in Azerbaijan's favor. It's just a matter of time.

by: Emin from: Azerbaijan
September 17, 2008 15:33
Here is the deal. Azerbaijan hasn't, and most likely will not accept the "loss" of NK. With current conditions, Armenia is not going to go very far with 2 of its 4 borders closed. Russia is the biggest obstacle to development in Armenia and Azerbaijan, by fabricating and instilling an ideology of danger and unpredictability in the heads of Armenians, who, to this day, call Russia its protector and friend. Russia now owns Armenia, its economy, its infrastructure, and its most vital industries. Russia, in fact, since the start of encouraging the Armenian people of Anatolia to revolt against the Ottoman state, has been the worst thing that had happened to Armenians. Yet Russia is a friend. I don't recall taking advantage of someone for my own benefit and being adored for it in return. It must feel good to be in the Russian leadership nowadays.

by: Ara
September 18, 2008 17:03
I agree that Russia has had a terrible track record as it comes to protecting the Armenians. But what does this have to do with Karabakh? Yes, clearly Russia manipulated, used divide and conquer strategies, inflamed tensions to maintain powers...but all that still doesn't explain to me why an overwhelmingly Armenian region should "legally" have to be a part of Azerbaijan. At this point, after all the decades of hatred and the mutual recrimination, it would just not be feasible to go back to a pre-war arrangement. What's the sense in it? Of course, all the Azeris should be allowed to come back to there homes (in the occupied territories and eventually in Karabakh itself), but at a cost, i.e. earned independence for the province. That's the only viable compromise whether you scream otherwise.

by: Anar from: Chicago
September 18, 2008 20:19
Ara,<br />Just because NK is predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians doesn't give the right for the enclave to secede from Azerbaijan. History shows, and census information of the Russian state and later USSR proves that Azeris were the original inhabitants of the region before the migration or Armenians from Anatolia, Iran and later today's Armenia proper. In case if the educational system in Armenia doesn't provide these facts, it helps to research and find things out in person. The State of New Mexico is predominantly Hispanic with the majority of them being ethnic Mexicans. Should the US cede the State of New Mexico to Mexico? You don't annex the land of another because the majority of people inhabiting it are your ethnic relatives. Your argument is biased and quite frankly, doesn't fly internationally as no nation has accepted NK's right to self-determination, not even Armenia! Azeris have far more reasons to be afraid of living in Karabakh with Armenians than vice versa. After all, it were the Armenians who massacred Azeris in Khojaly, most of whom were innocent women, children and elderly men. Your argument is flawed, which explains why Armenia is isolated for its illegal position.