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Analysis

Summary: As the only NATO


Crisis in the South Caucasus:
member to border the Caucasus. Turkey’s Big Moment?
Turkey control the Bosporus
and Dardanelles, through which by Amberin Zaman*
Russia and other Black Sea
countries conduct most of their
ANKARA — Turkey is the sole NATO a statesman and hog the international
member that borders the Caucasus. It stage. The plan (which also talks about
trade. The conflict between control the Bosporus and Dardanelles, cooperation in tourism and trade) is
Georgia and Russia offers Turkey through which Russia and other Black vague and lacking in substance. No won-
a unique opportunity to bolster Sea countries conduct most of their der Erdoğan’s respective hosts embraced
its regional clout, to check Rus- trade. The recent crisis between it so effortlessly, the cynics add.
Georgia and Russia, offers Turkey a
sian and Iranian influence, and to
unique chance to bolster its regional Not everyone agrees. Many believe that
help secure the flow of Western- clout, to check Russian and Iranian the “Platform” could serve as a useful
bound oil and natural gas from influence, and to help secure the flow cover for mending fences with Armenia,
former Soviet Central Asia and of Western-bound oil and natural gas a step that is clearly in Turkey’s interests
from former Soviet Central Asia and but which faces formidable diplomatic
Azerbaijan. Will Turkey’s leaders
Azerbaijan. Will Turkey’s leaders rise obstacles. In 1993, Turkey sealed its
rise to the occasion? to the occasion? Turkey’s proposal to border (though not its air links) with its
create a “Caucasus Stability and Coop- eastern neighbor after Armenia occu-
eration Platform,” a scheme calling for pied a chunk of Azerbaijan following a
new methods of crisis management and nasty war over the Nagnorno-Karabakh
conflict resolution, is a step in the right enclave.
direction. Yet, there’s one glaring hitch.
Turkey does not have formal ties with OSCE-sponsored talks to broker a peace
one proposed member: Armenia. And have failed so far. Keeping the Turkish
without Armenia, Turkey’s hopes of border shut has hurt exports to Central
becoming a regional bigwig aren’t likely Asia and limited Ankara’s regional influ-
to go far. ence, yet it has not humbled Armenia
into returning occupied Azerbaijani
Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip land. Instead, it has spawned a flourish-
Erdoğan, floated the idea of a Caucasus ing black market trade in Turkish goods
Stability and Cooperation Platform carried via Georgia by a handful of
during a string of meetings with oligarchs who have propped up succes-
Russian, Georgian, and Azerbaijani sive Armenian strongmen and pushed
leaders over the past week. Critics have Armenia further into the arms of Russia
Offices
dismissd the initiative as an empty and Iran. Meanwhile, flush from its
Washington, DC • Berlin • Bratislava • Paris
gesture that will allow Prime Minister recent oil earnings, an increasingly bel-
Erdoğan to burnish his credentials as licose Azerbaijan has been muttering
Brussels • Belgrade • Ankara • Bucharest
*
Amberin Zaman has been the Turkey correspondent for The Economist since 1999. She has also been a regular contributor to the
www.gmfus.org
Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Daily Telegraph of London. The views expressed here are those of the author and
do not necessarily represent the views of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF).
Analysis

about retaking Nagorno-Karabakh by force if need be. America) Turkish and Armenian diplomats have been holding
secret talks in Switzerland over the past few months that could
All of this creates the regional backdrop for the current conflict lay the ground for reestablishing diplomatic ties.
in Georgia, which has starkly illuminated the need for all sides
to rethink the status quo. The need for new strategic thinking Turkey has several key demands. The first is that Armenia
was never more clear than last week, when Russia blew up a declare that it has no territorial claims on Turkey. The second is
rail bridge near Tbilisi, thereby disrupting Georgia’s main rail that Armenia shelve its backing for its diaspora’s campaign for
network that runs to Armenia and Azerbaijan. This disrupted international genocide recognition and allow a commission of
Azerbaijan’s oil exports, which had already been hit by an historians from both countries investigate the events of 1915
explosion earlier this month in the Turkish section of its main instead. Armenia’s pragmatic president, Serzh Sarkisian, has
export pipeline running from Baku to the Mediterranean port responded positively to both. And upping the ante, Sarkisian
of Ceyhan. Yet a proposed extension of the pipeline looping invited his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gül to a football
through Armenia might have saved the day. World Cup qualifier between Turkey and Armenia to be played
in Yerevan on September 6.
Landlocked and poor, Armenia is looking even more vulner-
able. Most of its fuel and much of its grain comes through Azerbaijan is deeply unhappy, and President Gül has yet to re-
Georgia’s Black Sea ports, which are virtually paralysed. The spond. As ever, all eyes are turned to Turkey’s influential army,
capital city of Yerevan is already experiencing a serious fuel which trained and armed Azeri officers during the Nagorno-
shortage, where many filling stations have halted sales of gaso- Karabakh war. In a hopeful sign, pro-establishment newspa-
line and supplies of key commodities such as jet fuel and wheat pers that tend to reflect the generals’ views have commented
are dwindling. Armenia is reportedly trying to secure addi- favorably on the secret talks after they were leaked. More
tional fuel supplies through Iran, its only remaining neighbor significantly perhaps, the habitually meddlesome top brass has
whose border remains open. not uttered a word. Gül may well decide to travel to Yerevan.
The question may then become whether the Turkish leader will
This is the moment for Turkey to step forward. By re-opening take the train from Kars or fly.
the rail line linking the eastern province of Kars to Armenia,
which then hooks up with both the Georgian and Azeri grids, Amberin Zaman, Correspondent, The Economist
Turkey could both expedite the delivery of humanitarian aid to
Amberin Zaman has been the Turkey correspondent for The Economist
Georgia’s war-ravaged north and help avert the looming crisis
since 1999. She has also been a regular contributor to the Washington
in Armenia. Azerbaijan would benefit too. But its leaders, who
Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Daily Telegraph of London.
oppose the slightest contact between Turkey and Armenia, are
sure to disagree.
About GMF
Turkey’s ethnic and religious ties with its Azeri cousins have
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a nonpartisan
long held sway over Ankara’s regional policy. But there seems
American public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated to
to be growing recognition in official circles that isolating
promoting greater cooperation and understanding between North
Armenia is hurting Turkey without necessarily helping Azer-
America and Europe. GMF does this by supporting individuals and
baijan. For one, there are renewed worries that a congressional
institutions working on transatlantic issues, by convening leaders to
resolution calling the mass slaughter of the Armenians by the
discuss the most pressing transatlantic themes, and by examining ways
Ottoman Turks in 1915 genocide may be passed should the
in which transatlantic cooperation can address a variety of global
Democrats win this November’s presidential election. Relations
policy challenges. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to
between Turkey and the United States, already bruised by Iraq,
strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany,
would sink to new lows. Whereas if Turkey and Armenia were
on the 25th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, as a permanent memo-
to make peace beforehand, the resolution might be buried for
rial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on
good. Besides, relations with Armenia would make it easier for
both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington,
Turkey to push for a deal on Nagorno-Karabakh.
DC, GMF has seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Bratislava, Paris, Brussels,
Belgrade, Ankara, and Bucharest.
Mindful of such rewards (and with plenty of nudging from
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