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Two Roads Diverge in the South Caucasus

Two Roads Diverge in the South Caucasus

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Originally published in December 2008, this brief describes the two roads that diverge in the South Caucasus, and that the newly elected U.S. administration can take either one. On the one hand it can support steps for cooperation and can mark the very first example of the new world order by permanently ignoring the signals of domestic politics; or on the other hand it can prioritize domestic political pressures, thus contributing to fragility and instability in the region.
Originally published in December 2008, this brief describes the two roads that diverge in the South Caucasus, and that the newly elected U.S. administration can take either one. On the one hand it can support steps for cooperation and can mark the very first example of the new world order by permanently ignoring the signals of domestic politics; or on the other hand it can prioritize domestic political pressures, thus contributing to fragility and instability in the region.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 23, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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ISTANBUL — Two roads diverge in theSouth Caucasus and the newly electedAmerican administration can takeeither one. On the one hand it can sup-port steps or cooperation and can markthe very irst example o the new worldorder by permanently ignoring the sig-nals o domestic politics; or on the otherhand it can prioritize domestic politicalpressures, thus contributing to ragility and instability in the region.The election o Barack Obama as the44
president o the United Statescreated an optimistic global climate,particularly or those seeking multi-lateral settlements o internationaldisputes. The 2008 release o 
Transatlantic Trends
(www.transatlan-tictrends.org) reports that the strongleadership and unilateral approachdeining U.S. oreign policy duringthe Bush administration has receivedvery little support, especially rom theEuropean public. The survey showsthe leadership style o President-electObama is perceived as a new era orenhanced cooperation between theUnited States and the European Union.The “Armenian” issue—with reer-ence to the international pressure torecognize the Armenian GenocideResolution—is an early opportunity orObama to deine his approach o U.S.oreign policy.Amid the hopeul atmosphere in thechanging global environment, Turkey remains in a diicult position. Thecurrent government hopes to improverelations with Armenia and diuse theenduring security concerns o the Turk-ish electorate toward this ignored neigh-bor; however, these ambitions mightbe hindered by the potential passageo the Armenian Genocide Resolution(HR106) in the U.S. Congress. Turkishrelations with Armenia and Armenianshave always been a crutch or Turkey in-ternationally, providing strong evidenceor those Turks claiming that Turkey has no riends. Debate, internationally,over the Armenian genocide issue is adominant actor inluencing Turkey’sskeptical approach toward its historicalallies—e.g. France, the United States—as well as some o its new neighbors.Ordinary Turkish citizens, presumably having little inormation about andlimited interest in international prob-lems, and tend to see the “Armenian”issue as an instrument o internationalpowers. A key actor in that group o international powers is the well orga-nized Armenian Diaspora, which enjoysconsiderable inluence in Washington.However, Turkish public opinion onthe Armenian issue cannot be under-stood solely rom an internationalperspective. It must be contextualizedwithin Turkey’s domestic ramework.Historical and contemporary actors,such as inherited ears about “external
Two Roads Diverge in the South Caucasus
by Dr. Emre Erdoğan
Emre Erdo
an teaches social statistics at Istanbul Bilgi University, Department o Political Sciences and International Relations.
views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GMF.
, DC
Summary: Two roads diverge in the South Caucasus and the newlyelected U.S. administration can takeeither one. On the one hand it cansupport steps for cooperation andcan mark the very first example of  the new world order by permanentlyignoring the signals of domesticpolitics; or on the other hand it canprioritize domestic political pres
sures, thus contributing to fragilityand instability in the region.The election of Barack Obamain the United States created anoptimistic global climate, particu
larly with those seeking multilat
eral settlements of internationaldisputes. However, Turkey faces animportant dilemma under a chang 
ing global environment. The currentgovernment hopes to improve rela
 tions with Armenia and diffuse theenduring security concerns of theTurkish electorate; however, theseambitions might be hindered by thepotential passage of the ArmenianGenocide Resolution (HR106) in the U.S. Congress.
orces,” terrorist activities o the Armenian Secret Army orthe Liberation o Armenia (ASALA) during the 1970s thattargeted diplomats and civilians, and the benign nationalismo the media, have strongly inluenced the way ordinary Turkseel about their relationship toward Armenia. Adding to thisnegative perception is the lack o understanding on both sideso the border. A 2005 survey showed that rom geographicacts to political lie, both the publics o Turkey and Armeniaknew little about each other. For example, the survey reportedthat 44 percent o Turkish citizens had no idea who governsArmenia and 63 percent o Armenians thought that Turkey was a presidential democracy.
 Adding to the complexities o Turkish public opinion is theact that public discourse tends to conlate the two separateissues, on the one hand, relations with Armenia and on theother, the “Armenian” issue. This has occurred in part becauseTurkey’s new neighbor never excluded itsel rom discussionsabout the Armenian genocide and became an advocate o theissue in the international scene.Under these constraints, public opinion orms one o themost challenging obstacles or Turkey to establish peaceuland productive relations with Armenia. Together, acting asstrategic anchors and negotiators, Turkey and Armenia couldbe a stabilizing actor in the turbulent Caucasus region, whichis characterized by enduring military conlicts between in-numerable proto-nations. The short military conlict betweenGeorgia and Russia underlined the urgency o setting up aninternational platorm o peace-oriented countries in theregion. In order to achieve long-term stability, urther coop-erative steps must take place. Surprisingly, in spite o somenationwide stereotypes and reciprocal dislike between thesetwo societies, the survey shows that both publics are open tourther economic and diplomatic cooperation.Recent exchanges demonstrate that the current political envi-ronment is ertile or creating peace in the region. The soccergame on September 6, 2008 between Armenia and Turkey inYerevan created a very good starting point or establishing ahealthy dialogue between these two neighboring countries.This opportunity was highlighted by the bold visit rom Turk-ish President Abdullah Gül in support o the Turkish nationalteam. This gesture and the recent visit o the Foreign Ministero Armenia are considered visible steps toward improved rela-tions on a diplomatic level.These developments seem compatible with the expectedshit in U.S. oreign policy under the Obama administration.During his last European tour, Obama signaled that a newDemocratic administration would likely push or improvingcooperation by using civil and public diplomatic tactics intheir international transactions between countries. Thanks tothe supervision o the United States, the relationship betweenTurkey and Armenia could become a textbook example orthe new era in international relations.Unortunately, another dimension to President-elect Obama’soreign policy style may cancel out this opportunity. Obamahas emphasized a willingness to prioritize domestic demandsin international issues rather than using the neorealist strate-gic policies. This preerence suggests Obama will support thepassage o HR106 airming that “the Ottoman Empire perpe-trated ‘genocide’ on its Armenian subjects, killing at least 1.5million o them between 1915 and 1923.In 2007, the HouseForeign Aairs Committee narrowly passed the resolution.Almost immediately, U.S. oicials attempted to repair any damage this resolution may have done to Turkish-Americanrelations.Previous attempts to pass the resolution were preventedby emphasizing the vulnerability o U.S.-Turkish relations.Certain incidents, such as the Turkish Parliament’s rejectiono the March 1, 2003 Bill that would have allowed the U.S.troops into Turkish territory to open a second ront in Iraq, aswell as the increased terrorist activities by the Kurdistan Work-ers Party (PKK)—as a result o increased Kurdish autonomy in Northern Iraq, underline the ragility o that relationship.Furthermore, multiple public opinion surveys show that theUnited States is perceived as the greatest threat to Turkey. Thisanti-American sentiment regularly corresponds to terroristactivities in the region. Unsurprisingly, passing HR106 willhave a negative aect on the already sensitive Turkish-U.S.relationship, and endanger the ragile partnership between thetwo allies. A survey conducted by the Istanbul-basedAri movement in 2007 presented speciic data regarding
Ferhat Kentel and Gevorg Poghosyan, “Armenian-Turkish Citizens’ Mutual Perceptions and DialogueProject,” available at: http://www.american.edu/cgp/track2/data/ArmeniaTurkeyFinaReportTESEV.doc.

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