Russia and Turkey Squeeze Armenia

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

For the last two centuries, relations between Turkey and Russia have directly impacted Armenia’s destiny. Ironically, improved relations between the two powers have worked to the detriment of Armenia’s interests.

The Ottoman Empire waged three major wars against Russia: the Crimean War of 1853-1856, which ended with the defeat of Russia at the hands of Turkey and its allies; the War of 1877-78 which resulted in the advance of Russian forces all the way to San Stefano (Adrianopolis), close to the Ottoman capital, and of course, World War I, when although the Ottoman Turkish alliance with Germany was defeated, the ensuing collapse of the Russian Empire did not help Armenia’s plight.

At the conclusion of the second war between the two powers, Armenia’s fate was featured in two consecutive congresses, San Stefano and Berlin.

The vague clauses of the Berlin Treaty eventually came to fruition in 1914, with the appointment of two European governors in Armenian villayets, a move which was frustrated because of the war and the Genocide. However, during the war, the Russian presence helped Armenians to wage a self-defense war in Van, thereby saving the lives of 200,000 Armenians.

During the Cold War, Turkey joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the West, however, Moscow has tried to win over Ankara through some political gestures at the expense of the Armenians. Nikita Khrushchev announced at one point that the Soviet Union did not have territorial claims from Turkey, indirectly validating the Treaties of Moscow and Kars, which have sealed the present border between Armenia and Turkey.

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Also, in deference to Turkey, the issue of the Genocide was muted in the USSR and the remains of the national hero General Andranik were stranded in Paris until Armenia gained independence.

Currently, Turkey has adopted an imperial posture. Just a few days ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey is on its way to becoming a major regional and international power.

Turkey is a NATO member; it is cognizant that it cannot abandon the NATO umbrella. By the same token, NATO cannot allow Turkey to stray away, given its strategic location. But a certain dichotomy allows Turkey to play one camp against the other — Russia versus the West.

Erdogan is getting on the nerves of many leaders these days, especially those in Europe, but they have to put up with his arrogance. Normally cool-headed German leaders are outraged with Erdogan’s conduct and bombastic statements.

Russia has long taken Armenia’s allegiance for granted and in pursuing its international policies, Armenia’s interests do not figure in its plans.

Although Russian-Turkish relations suffered a severe blow in 2015, after Turkey shot down a Russian war plane, their mutual economic interests have drawn the two powers together. And the West’s continued sanctions against Russia are drawing the two even closer.

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An article by Murad Sezer in Reuters outlines why Russia needs Turkey. The article quotes another Russian source, Rotislave Ishchenko, that closer relations between the two countries will facilitate the Russian navy’s easy access to the Straits of Bosporus, which in turn may contribute to the stability of the Black Sea region. Although Ankara voted against the annexation of Crimea to Russia and even defended the rights of the Crimean Tatars, this closer relationship will solidify Russia’s grip on Crimea.

Both Russia and Turkey entered the Syrian war theater on opposite fronts, now they have become partners in resolving the conflict.

But the major fact which draws the two sides together is the economy.

As the West tries to frustrate Russian efforts to supply its gas to Europe, Moscow has found a way to achieve its goal through Turkey, which has become a willing partner of Russia. Russian supply of natural gas to Turkey has increased 22 percent since the beginning of the current year. Russia’s Gazprom has begun to build a second section of the Turkish Stream pipeline, intended mainly to reach Europe.

Incidentally, Ankara also has tense relations with Israel, but it will bite the bullet to attract Israeli pipelines directed toward Europe. Thus, although Turkey is deprived of hydrocarbons, it is becoming an energy hub through politics and strategic location.

Russia is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant at Akkuyu, whose first tower will be operational on the centennial of the Turkish Republic in 2023. But the most crucial cooperation between the two countries is in the defense sphere. The two parties are on the final stages of the delivery of advance Russian-made S-400 missile defense system, which will be a boost to Russian arms industry, in addition to marking a strategic shift in the NATO structure. Both sides of the issue are irritants for the west.

The closest issue which affects Armenia directly is Ankara’s intent to enter the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev has been instrumental in drawing Turkey and Azerbaijan closer to the EEU. Russian President Vladimir Putin is thankful to the latter and has ignored his contemptuous attitude toward Armenia.

Ankara’s cooperation with or participation in the EEU brings up a very thorny issue, that of closed borders between Armenia and Turkey. In addressing the issue, the Minister of Economy Nihat Zeybekçi reiterated his country’s position, that the border will remain closed until the Nagorno Karabakh issue is resolved. Baku continues to hold sway over Ankara with its continued investments in Turkey.

Mr. Erdogan is on his way to Astana, which has become the main forum dealing with the war in Syria. But beyond that, its EEU participation will be on the agenda. It seems that Turkey will have its cake and eat it too, by joining the EEU and refusing to open the border with Armenia, with the blessings of Vladimir Putin.

Following Astana, Erdogan will stop in Baku to further guarantee the flow of Azerbaijani investments, spiced with some incendiary statements against Armenia.

Armenia is being squeezed by Russia and Turkey. Yet, any independent move by Yerevan is frowned upon by Moscow. The recent participation of Armenian armed forces in a NATO military drill in Georgia has raised eyebrows in Moscow. A commentator sniped, “Go and ask NATO to resolve your problems with Turkey and Azerbaijan.”

Armenia is caught in an untenable position. To wield any power in an international forum requires commensurate clout, which Armenia lacks.

And this situation defines Armenia’s foreign policy.