Unwelcome Guest in Armenia

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

During a recent trip to Armenia, President Vladimir Putin of Russia was met with hostile demonstrations by some groups who genuinely believe in Armenia’s adherence to Europe and by other groups acting as surrogates to the forces interested in undercutting Russia’s influence in the Caucasus region.

Now another political guest is on his way to Yerevan — the highly-controversial Foreign Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu. The latter is the author of two foreign policy theories much debated in the international circles: Turkey’s zero problem with its neighbors and its plans to counter Armenian efforts to bring worldwide recognition of the Armenian Genocide on its centennial. The commemoration or celebration of the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 seems to be the most potent weapon against the Armenian onslaught, per the foreign minister.

Mr. Davutoglu will be arriving in Yerevan on December 12 to participate in the Conference of Black Sea Economic Cooperation. His decision to visit Yerevan comes after much dilly-dallying.

At first Turkish news media close to the Erdogan administration floated some trial balloons stating that Mr. Davutoglu would refuse Armenia’s invitation to visit, unless the Armenian side transfers to Azerbaijan at least two districts outside Karabagh, currently under Armenian control. In return, Turkey may open borders with Armenia, they said.

To begin with, territorial concessions could not be bought against the arbitrary decision of lifting or instituting a blockade, because opening the border is an administrative decision which can be reversed under any pretext. By contrast, to reverse Artsakh’s territorial concessions, Armenians need to wage another costly war to recover them.

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However, such decisions are not left only to Armenia to implement because Karabagh has become a strategic factor for all the powers having an interest in the region, besides Armenia and Azerbajan — the US, Iran, Europe and Russia.

The importance of the Karabagh issue was highlighted recently when Victoria Nuland, the State Department representative, revisited it at the Vilnius meeting.

It has been reported that Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Mammadyarov will also accompany his elder brother.

If a decision has been arrived at regarding territorial transfer, that cannot be done unilaterally by Yerevan; the transfer would mean that consensus has been arrived between the conflicting parties. Erdogan’s recent visit to Moscow may have something to do with it.

Now it seems that not only Karabagh but Armenia as well has become an asset after agreeing to join the Russian-led Customs Union, which seems to be more than an economic structure; parties dealing with Russia have to consider Armenia in their strategic games in the region.

Mr. Davutoglu would not have come to Armenia, had Turkey’s foreign policy been flying high, like it did during the last several years; although Turkey maintains its sway in the Balkans, especially through Kosovo, but in general its “zero-problem” policy has failed miserably.

Turkey’s active participation in the campaign against Syria has backfired, domestically and regionally. As Turkey was overreaching its neighbors, trampling the interest of its benefactors (a case in point was its $20 billion energy deal with Iran, while the US was reinforcing sanctions against that country,) similarly those countries, especially the US, have been cutting deals with Turkey’s neighbors, over Ankara’s head. The US-Russia brokered deal over Iran’s nuclear program and especially the Geneva Conference next January on Syria, have left Turkey out of the game.

Turkey’s protocols with Armenia remain unsigned, despite strenuous efforts by the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Even after Netanyahu’s apology, relations with Israel remain strained.

Davutoglu’s Egyptian policy blew up in his face when Turkey continued its support of the deposed President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party. Indeed Erdogan and Davutoglu were dreaming of a Sunni hegemony over the Middle East in cooperation with Egypt’s Islamists. In Turkey’s continued support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Ankara also confronted Saudi Arabia, whose leaders decided to back the military regime fighting the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the sidelines Turkey had been successful in making inroads in the Egyptian scholarly and media circles against the claims of the Armenian Genocide — But when Cairo expelled the Turkish Ambassador, that effort sustained a setback and today Egyptian media is debating the Armenian Genocide freely and there is even talk of recognizing the Genocide.

Turkey had been a conduit for arms and mercenaries fighting in Syria, in cooperation with the tiny Emirate of Qatar, which in a reversal of policy, has been reaching out to the Assad regime, not to be marginalized at the forthcoming Geneva Conference.

Qatar’s policy on Syria is at odds now with that of Saudi Arabia, whose chief of intelligence and master of international intrigue Prince Bandar Sultan has publicly ridiculed Qatar as a country of “300 people and [a] TV station,” meaning Al-Jazeera.

Iraq is another aspect of Turkey’s “zero-problem policy.” Turkey was conducting bombing raids with impunity in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, whose rising clout has forced Ankara to change course. In an effort to win over the Iraqi Kurds before they inspire their brethren in Turkey, Ankara recently struck oil deals with the regional Kurdish government, in violation of the Iraqi constitution, angering the central government in Baghdad.

Therefore, Mr. Davutoglu is heading to Yerevan after his “zero-problem” policy yielded zero results. The only positive card remains Russia’s goodwill. Indeed during President Putin’s visit to Armenia, the Russian Ministry of Defense refuted the statement by Russian Military Chief in Armenia Col. Andrey Ruzinski that Russian forces will intervene if Karabagh is attacked by the Azeris. That seems to be in deference to Mr. Erdogan who is negotiating a deal with Russia to build $20-billion nuclear power plant in Turkey.

A Turkish expert sheds some background light on Davutoglu’s visit to Yerevan. The head of the Turkish Center for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus, Dr. Hasan Oktay, gave an interview to the Azerbaijani news outlet, haqqin.az. He stated that Turkish foreign policy has become a hostage to Baku when it comes to dealing with Armenia. “I think this is the wrong approach, as Turkey is a large country and it should take initiative in all matters, and not to look back at Baku,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, Armenia is an integral part of the South Caucasus, and we are forced to reckon with its existence.”

According to Oktay, who is believed to be close to Erdogan’s circle, Turkey will not open its border with Armenia on the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. He added, however, “But my personal opinion is that Turkey should open the borders.”

There is much anticipation and speculation about Mr. Davutoglu’s visit, similar to the eve of President Gul’s visit to attend a football game between Armenia and Turkey in Yerevan.

We hope that this visit will not prove to be another game of football diplomacy with a 0-0 outcome.