New Road in the Caucasus

Armenia and Turkey have agreed on “a comprehensive framework for normalisation of their bilateral relations,” according to a joint communique from the two governments. “Within this framework, a roadmap has been determined,” they said. Details and initial reactions here, here, here and here.

The timing is significant, as April 24 is the traditional date for commemorating the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Coming on the eve of the most sensitive date in the two countries’ relations, the announcement is surely meant to signal that normal relations, probably including an opening of the border, are very close. The governments have been in high-level talks since last year, and a very interesting sign of progress was noted at AFOE last month.

Quick two cents’ worth: Normalization is clearly a big win for Armenia. Open borders to the west would substantially improve its links with the world, while also making it less dependent on Russia as its main great-power ally. Also a win at the margins for Georgia, as a larger regional role for Turkey means a relatively lesser role for Russia. Normal Turkish-Armenian relations also means clearer paths for European institutions, if only because it means one obstacle less. For Turkey, this will help to lessen an irritant in its relations with the rest of Europe. If the current Turkish position on the massacres (whatever that turns out to be when relations are resumed) is good enough for Armenia, Turkish emissaries will surely contend, it ought to be good enough for France and the rest of the EU.

There’s also an element of domestic Turkish politics. I am on rather shakier ground here, but I think that the most rigid Kemalists have also been the ones most supportive of Azerbaijan’s position over Nagorno Karabakh. By marginalizing that view through better ties with Armenia, the current government is also putting its domestic opponents in their place. Further, the AK is stronger than the opposition in the parts of eastern Turkey that stand to gain from increased trade within the region; opening the border will also help the government’s friends who hold local power. Azerbaijan come out the main loser here. Turkish support of Azeri views on Karabakh has been a major element of the country’s foreign policy. But sixteen years of solidarity changed the situation in Karabakh, and clearly enough people in Ankara felt that the blockade had passed its sell-by date to risk Baku’s irritation.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Political issues by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

5 thoughts on “New Road in the Caucasus

  1. A protocol had been in place for some time but negative reaction from Azerbaijan caused Erdogan to state in recent days that there would be no diplomatic relations prior to a resolution of the Nagorno Karabagh isssue.

    It seems likely that Obama threatened to use the ‘G’ word in his April 24 statement to get some movement from the Turks.

    The devil is always in the details. A ‘road map’ is far from a final agreement.

  2. Agree that Turkey and Armenia is a win-win for those countries, less of one for Russia. I’ve heard that it may also actually diminish Georgia’s position, which has long been the “stable” force in the Caucasus vis-a-vis Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Georgia will lose its prized status of the region’s neutral country (I know, I know, this is funny).

    Economically, it will be interesting to see how the Armenian markets respond to cheaper goods coming from Turkey. I know that in the Armenian parts of Georgia, profits from selling local produce have decline (if profits ever even existed) because of cheaper goods coming in from Armenia and Turkey. So this is a short-term wrinkle.

  3. “Normalization is clearly a big win for Armenia.”

    “Also a win at the margins for Georgia, as a larger regional role for Turkey means a relatively lesser role for Russia.”

    Fairly dire, and shall I say, baseless comments. Particularly, the second one. As far as I know Russia is second Turkey’s trading partner by dollar amount. Turkey is dependent of Russian’s gas. Turkey President visited Moscow in February with large group of businessmen. Unofficial visit become the red carpet one. Turkey depend on Russian gas. If anyone think that Turkey leadership will trade it’s interest for “smaller” countries than he/she is not serious. Turkey weighting it’s interests between US and Russia, not Armenia or Azerbaijan.

    I always wonder what would be political motivation for the country size of Turkey, and Russia for that matter, to enter into imperial project called EU. Given animosity and hostility which they have toward Muslims, perhaps, they are better off with Russians. It appears they are far more reliable than EU.

    http://www.turkishweekly.net/op-ed/2499/why-should-turkey-normalize-her-relations-with-armenia-.html

  4. Pingback: Turkey, Armenia agree on road map to normalize ties | Politics News

  5. Yes, the EU has much more “animosity and hostility… toward Muslims” than Russia. Absolutely.

    Normalizing relations and opening the border is a huge plus for Armenia, a much smaller one for Turkey, slightly helpful for Georgia, and, yes, probably a small net minus for Russia. There are Russian troops in Armenia right now, guarding that border.

    Turkey gets about 20% of its total energy from Russian natural gas, BTW — important, but not “dependent”.

    Meanwhile: watch for internal opposition to this deal in Armenia. It will be couched in nationalistic terms, and some of it really will be, but much will be coming from the “import barons” — oligarchs who’ve grown very rich on the current situation.

    Doug M.

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