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Turkey and the South Caucasus Geopolitics in 2015

Turkey- Azerbaijan

turkey azerbaijan
Photo credit: Wikipedia
  • Azerbaijan and Armenia
azerbaijan armenia nagorno karabakh conflict
Azerbaijan & Armenia: Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Azerbaijan maintains friendly and partner relations with Turkey, Georgia, Russia and Iran. It has problems only with Armenia, which occupied 20% of Azerbaijani lands and holds them under occupation for over 20 years.

In 1988, the Armenians of Karabakh voted to secede and join Armenia. This, along with mutual massacres in Azerbaijan and Armenia resulted in the conflict that became known as the Nagorno-Karabakh War. The violence resulted in de facto Armenian control of former NKAO and seven surrounding Azerbaijani regions which was effectively halted when both sides agreed to observe a cease-fire which has been in effect since May 1994. In late 1995, both also agreed to mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group. The Minsk Group is currently co-chaired by the US, France, and Russia and comprises Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and several Western European nations. Despite the cease fire, up to 40 clashes are reported along the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict lines of control each year.

On June 24, 2011, the two sides met in Kazan, Russia, to negotiate an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue but the talks ended in failure. Following the breakdown of talks, the Azeri President Ilham Aliyev used the June 26 Salvation Day military parade to warn Armenia that Azerbaijan may retake Nagorno-Karabakh by force. On 5 October 2011, border clashes around Nagorno Karabakh left one Armenian soldier and two Azeris dead. Two Armenians were also wounded by sniper fire the same day. Another a violent incident occurred on 5 June 2012 when, according to the Azerbaijani side, Armenian troops crossed the border and shot dead five Azerbaijani soldiers before withdrawing. Armenia denied the claim and accused Azerbaijan of crossing the border first.

The minister of national defense of Turkey Vecdi Gonul recently quoted that Azerbaijan is the most important strategic partner for Turkey in the region and there are close relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey which produces military defense systems. Turkey attaching great importance to Azerbaijani defense industry’s development and the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Turkey is closely watching the processes related to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and supports the efforts to resolve it within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. At the multilateral platforms and during the dialogue with third countries, Turkey, as a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, always raises the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which is considered our problem as well.

But there is a fact that the OSCE Minsk Group hasn’t been able to achieve serious progress throughout 20 years in the conflict’s settlement. Turkey fully supports Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, since the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is one of the most important and priority issues in Ankara’s foreign policy. Turkey will continue to support the righteous fight of Azerbaijan and will always keep this issue on the agenda.

Is there a possibility for a new war between Azerbaijan and Armenia?

Trends in military spending also point toward a preparation for war. Azerbaijan spent 4.64% of their GDP in 2010 on military, 4.7% in 2013, and has reportedly increased by 27% in 2015, to $3.6 billion USD. Armenian military spending has increased from 3.92% of GDP in 2010 to 4.1% in 2013. In 2014, the Armenian government increased their spending to 4.2%.

In July 2015, Azerbaijan began military exercises, with officials informing hospitals that they should “take the necessary measures to prepare for possible military action that can take place at any moment.” These exercises have also seemingly involved increased cooperation and collaboration with Turkish and Georgian militaries.

As a result of these trends, private business interests in the Caspian Sea may also be under substantial risk if the conflict were to escalate. Petroleum pipelines attempting to diversify Europe’s energy profile as well as wean it off of Russia will be threatened by a conflict in the region.

Significant regional risk for energy companies

The regional risks described above will have major ramifications for businesses, and may increase political risk in the months to come. British Petroleum (BP) began a relationship with the government of Azerbaijan in 1994, to develop the Azeri-Chirag-Deepwater Gunashli (ACG), which was further developed with a group of 11 other oil companies.

According to BP, Q1 2015 saw production reach 661,000 barrels of oil per day. Moreover, the company’s total investment as of 2014 was $30 billion, making BP the largest stakeholder of this project at 35.8%. The State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) is the second largest stakeholder at 11.6%, followed by Chevron Corporation, INPEX Corporation, Statoil ASA, Exxon Mobil, the Turkish Petroleum Company, Itochu Corporation, and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation.

Petroleum produced through ACG is exported through the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline which goes north to Russia, as well as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Main Export Oil Pipeline, which passes through Georgia and ends in Ceyhan, Turkey on the Mediterranean coast. There is also the Western Export Pipeline, which carries oil to the Georgian Black Sea coastal city of Supsa. The intricate system of pipelines also involves natural gas exports to Erzurum, Turkey, as well as a series of proposed future gas pipelines.

turkey's pipeline map

Turkey and Georgia

(Another article on Wikipedia.com here)

After dissolution of Georgia from Soviet Union, Turkey immediately recognized independence of Georgia. Besides energy, security and economic affairs these two neighboring countries promoted cooperation in military field. The significant aids and supports of Turkish Armed Forces to this neighboring country have served public diplomacy power of Turkey in Georgia.

Turkey highly values the regional cooperation projects realized so far. Strategic projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Crude Oil Pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE) Natural Gas Pipeline are of utmost importance for the two countries. Additionally, the timely finalization of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway Project will provide a new impetus to regional cooperation.
Baku- Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline

Read: Blast hits Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipeline

Two military agreements between these two countries for “Scientific and Technological Cooperation” were signed in 1996 and 1997. In addition to that a military protocol was signed between Gendarmerie General Command of Turkey and Internal Forces Command of Georgia on Education and Logistical Support in 2001. With these agreements and protocols Turkey gave high level support to the military personnel of Georgia. Also Georgian military personnel participated to the courses in NATO School of “Partnership for Peace Center” in Ankara.

Turkey also opened her military schools to the Georgian Cadets. Under the Protocol of Military Students Exchange Program Georgian Cadets are coming to Kuleli Military High School then going to the Military Academy or directly to the Military Academies of Turkey for four years of academic education. Upon graduation they are joining to their national Army/Navy/Air Forces as a rank of Lieutenant. There are also some Georgian students educating on behalf of Georgian Armed Forces at the Gulhane Military Medical Academy to be a medical doctor.

Beyond supports in the academic field Turkey supply Georgian Army personnel NATO experience in NATO missions. Despite non-NATO membership of Georgia, Georgian troops are working under the command of Turkish troops in these missions. NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) is a good example to this case of military partnership. One Georgian Platoon is serving under the command of Turkish Battalion deployed in Prizren. Working side by side is increasing mutual understanding and bilateral relations between two different groups of people.

Turkish Special Forces also gave field training to Georgia’s Commando and Special Forces personnel. The aim of these trainings was to increase the fighting capabilities of troops under difficult terrain conditions. Another objective of these trainings was to reach the Georgian Army to NATO standards. Turkey also donated very special equipments to the Georgian Armed Forces for using in these kinds of operations.

Maybe one of the significant supports of Turkey to the Georgia was Marneuli Air Base modernization project. This was an old Base built in 1940s by Soviet Union. Electronic systems were old and installations were neglected of this military airport. Turkish Air Force Maintenance Group reconstructed the runway and infrastructure of the base in accordance with the NATO standards.

There are also some field exercises taking place between the armies in Caucasus. These exercises increase practices and mutual understanding among military personnel. The latest one with the name of “Eagle of Caucasus” Special Forces exercises executed between the dates May 31- June 10, 2015 in Turkey. Selected Special Forces personnel participated to this activity from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The main objective of this exercise was to increase knowledge and experience sharing, improve friendship, collaboration, coordination, and ability to act together.

All these activities took place between the armed forces of two neighboring counties are serving to promote solidarity between the three countries. And here are some positive feedbacks supporting this argument.

Turkey and Armenia

Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia after they are frozen due to the dispute over the massacres from 1915 of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, which Yerevan regards as genocide, a term Ankara vehemently rejects.

Today, Armenians, as well as most historians around the world, claim that 1.5 million of their ancestors were deliberately and systematically killed in the modern world’s first genocide. There are no exact, indisputable figures for the number of lives lost, but the magnitude of the catastrophe is incontestable.

The official Turkish position, however, has softened over the course of the last decade.

In April 2014, the former Prime Minister and current President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, made a statement recognizing the significance of April 24th for Armenians around the world. He described the historic events as “inhumane” and offered condolences to the grandchildren of those who lost their lives. Erdoğan’s declaration fell short of issuing an apology or acknowledging genocide as such, but nonetheless marked a fundamental change in the nation’s approach to comprehending and addressing the events of 1915.

This year, however, the Turkish government resolved to push the observance back to April 24-25, coinciding with the Armenian commemorations and the centennial of the ANZAC landings on 25 April 1915. Both President Erdoğan and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan have issued competing invitations for their respective events, although Erdoğan’s letter to his Armenian counterpart came months later, and has been denounced by many as a crude distraction.

Regardless of Erdoğan’s manipulation of the Armenian issue for political purposes, there are other manifestations of a new openness within Turkey. Some Armenian churches that survived outright destruction and decades of neglect are being restored and a few have reopened for services. There are plans to construct a new Christian church in Istanbul, which would be the first built since 1923. Of the hundreds of Armenian properties confiscated by the Turkish state, some are now being returned to their rightful owners, or alternative compensation is being provided.

The idea of establishing diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey and opening the border as a step toward reconciliation is not new. In fact, this proposal originally emerged in Armenia itself, immediately after its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 under the government of Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Diplomatic relations with Turkey and the establishment of a new international border, on what had previously been the USSR’s frontier, were seen in Yerevan as a means of mitigating the dire economic consequences of the Soviet Union’s collapse and the ongoing humanitarian crisis resulting from the devastating earthquake of 1988.

Turkey and Armenia Beyond 2015

Moving beyond the anniversary of 2015, however, will be a significant challenge. Armenian distrust in Turkey’s intentions was exacerbated by the April 24th Gallipoli commemoration rescheduling and invitation.
This will inhibit progress in the near future. Once April 24th has passed, the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will continue to plague Turkish-Armenian relations. As analysts in both Ankara and Yerevan admitted in the authors’ meetings, underestimating Azerbaijan’s fierce objections to the 2009 Protocols was a “strategic mistake” for both sides. Azerbaijan’s reactions will now have to be factored into any future steps toward diplomatic normalization.
Similarly, Russia’s relations with both Turkey and Armenia will remain a complicating factor, with analysts stressing that Ankara and Yerevan will have to make a strong case to Moscow that opening the border would benefit Russia economically and politically. Many diplomats and regional experts suggested, as a result, that both countries should focus on small, “under the radar” projects and informal contacts to pave the way for returning to the basic tenets of the 2009 Protocols. Turkey and Armenia should avoid large, conspicuous initiatives that might provoke adverse reactions from either Azerbaijan or Russia.

Read More and Sources:

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests
Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War
A Pivotal Moment for the Eastern Partnership: Outlook for Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan
Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus (Caucasus World)
Russia vs Turkey: The Geopolitics of the South & the Turk Stream Pipelines
Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds
Export Pipelines from the CIS Region: Geopolitics, Securitization, and Political Decision-Making (Changing Europe)
Global Energy Dilemmas
Energy and Security: Strategies for a World in Transition

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