Tuesday, April 7

The course of the last few days in the world

Over the last two days US President Barack Obama visited Turkey as his last stop on his first European trip (though before leaving Istanbul he decided to make a stop in Iraq as well). His visit coincided with alleged claims that Turkey will open up its borders with Armenia during the visit, which caused some damage to relations between the "sibling" states (or as Turks call it- kardes ulke)- Turkey and Azerbaijan. The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev went as far as to declare a possibility of cutting of gas to Turkey and to further portray his unhappiness refused to attend the summit of Alliance of Civilization in Istanbul despite President Gul's, PM Erdogan's and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's phone calls to persuade the president.

However, already on Friday, during G20 summit in London, Erdogan cleared the air while stating that Turkey will not open the border with Armenia unless the preconditions regarding the NK war are fulfilled by Armenia. Erdogan further added: 

"Then there is a need to lift the occupation first so that we can take our steps comfortably. Otherwise we would do wrong to our brothers in Azerbaijan". 

It was following this statement that Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian made statement on Sunday during which he raised his concerns regarding Erdogan's heated words. He also stressed the fact that the relations between the two countries- Turkey and Armenia- cannot be normalized with such "preconditions". "The establishment of relations is not related to the resolution of the Karabakh issue" said the Foreign Minister and with these words cancelled his flight to Istanbul for the Alliance summit. 

What happened at the end?

Well, Azerbaijan hasn't cut off gas to Turkey and the Armenian Foreign Minister did come to Istanbul, except a day later than the scheduled time. And President Obama's visit to Turkey went well- the president praised Turkey's steps taken towards a dialogue between Turkey and Armenia. He also hailed Turkey as an ally saying that these two countries have kept its strategic partnership over 150 years.  

"Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid sent a marble plaque that helped to build the Washington Monument. Inscribed in the plaque was a poem that began with a few simple words, and I quote: ’So as to strengthen the friendship between the two countries.’ Over 150 years have passed since those words were carved into marble. Our nations have changed in many ways. But our friendship is strong, and our alliance endures," 

Obama said in his speech at the Turkish Parliament.

And time will only show what happens after this. Right now everyone is set for April 24, a commemoration day by Armenians for 1915 killings. Depending on what happens things might take a different turn in the Caucasus...


Onnik Krikorian said...

Let's hope, although Aliyev of course also didn't show up. On the other hand, it's also reported that Obama rang Aliyev to push the point for relations between all three countries -- Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey -- and again raised the need for a resolution of the Karabakh conflict just as he did in the Turkish parliament.

Interestingly, if Hurriyet is to believed, a draft protocol to be signed by Armenia and Turkey exists already. The bone of contention with Aliyev is that it mentions the need for some progress towards resolution before opening the Armenia-Turkey border whereas he wants full resolution.

If such a protocol is ready we're expecting it this month -- most likely on 16 April. I'm not expecting a border opening this month, however, but let's see. It will be interesting to discover what "some progress" means. The return of some territory around Karabakh or an open and official document?

Let's see, but Obama seems serious in all of this, and it would be quite an important step for the South Caucasus. Many have long since argued that Armenia and Azerbaijan have needed the DIRECT attention of the U.S. president or the EU to resolve their differences. Same goes with Turkey.

Has Obama just signaled that intention? Well, let's hope so.

Arzu Geybulla said...

True, he didn't show up, and I wasn't surprised as Azeris are known for stubbornness but this is something different. Its not a play ground but actual politics that need action. Aliyev's refusal to attend the summit (I consider at least) was a childish move. Azerbaijan must understand one thing: Turkey is an independent country with its own course set for foreign policy. It is also a country trying to get into the EU (its another thing whether it happens anytime soon). And the argument of these two countries being sister or brother or whatever states is kind of wearing out.

But Turkey does consider NK conflict as a serious obstacle and unless there is a sound solution (I only hope not by the MINSK Group as they continuously been failing) I don't think borders will be opening. Though, you never know.

I wouldn't be surprised if a protocol as such indeed exists- I remember when Armenia and Azerbaijan presidents had talks several years ago, there was also some speculation of some sort of secret agreement reached between the presidents, the only problem was to "sell" it to the people in both countries.

So all we can do at this moment is hope and see.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Well, agreed. Nothing might come of it all whatsoever, although Obama's involvement makes me a little optimistic.

Still, we'll see, but I think that we should all push to make sure that this happens and everyone can move on...

Time for peace and stability, I think. The dynamics and possibilities for this region would change dramatically if so.

Onnik Krikorian said...

And actually, I think a lot is dependent on Obama and his image in all the countries involved. Bush couldn't have pulled this off, but perhaps Obama?

Change indeed, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. :-)

Arzu Geybulla said...

I absolutely agree with you Onnik! It is indeed time for peace and stability. I was 5 years old when the conflict broke out, 10 when the ceasefire was reached. I was taught at school about NK and the consequences, then studied it in University, wrote my Master thesis on the conflict, started working and still its right there where it was back in the early 90s.

And you are right, having Obama involved in this process is def an asset. I hope it fights for this till the end and doesn't give up :) I join you in keeping my fingers crossed!

Jackal said...

If the border opens, Baku loses a major bargaining chip in discussions with Yerevan, providing Armenia even less incentive to discuss deploying from currently occupied territory.
Azerbaijan has yet to diversify its economy and cutting off the gas would significantly lower funds. But Baku sees its national interest endangered to the point where such a sacrifice is necessary. Since the natural gas also goes to Europe, and Europe is protecting all non-Russian energy sources, Azerbaijan hopes that Europe will put pressure on Turkey to reconsider in the name of energy stability.
Turkey stands to gain much if relations with Armenia are restored. Such a large gesture could postpone the proposed Genocide Recognition bill in the US. It would also prove to the West that Turkey continues to be serious in its attempt to join the EU. Relations with Armenia ensure increased trade with Iran and a road to Central Asia. This doesn’t even mention trade between the two countries. Meanwhile, Armenia is eager to open the border to strengthen its own sick economy and lessen its heavy dependence on Russia. The Armenians are not blind to the enormous oil income of its enemy Azerbaijan, or to Baku’s large military buildup.
If seems the necessities of Realpolitik have left Baku behind. Yerevan realizes it’s economically smart to open the border with Turkey. Turkey sees the value not only in economic terms, but in forwarding its rise to regional prominence and international prestige. Ankara knows not to anger Russia and is fine with Moscow setting it terms for the reconciliations. The US can count Turkey as a local ally in issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East while showing that Turkey is serious about its role. The only loser in the deal is Azerbaijan who sees its chances of regaining any occupied territory becoming less and less realistic.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Jackal, in the draft protocol text (if Hurriyet reports are true) it refers to the need for "some progress" towards Karabakh resolution being necessary for the border to be opened. Sabah (again, if the report is correct) said this means the return of 5 regions around Karabakh in the short-term.

Of course, nationalists in Armenia and the Diaspora will oppose this if true, and we don't know if it is, but bear in mind normalization of relations with Ankara will be gradual and Obama already made it clear that Turkey would play a role in Karabakh resolution.

Anyway, I personally think that without the normalizing of ties between Armenia and Turkey there can be no resolution of the Karabakh conflict. We've waited 15 years now and nothing. Instead, I hope that Obama and Turkey can prove to be the catalysts necessary.

However, it's still not certain anything will happen if Azerbaijan and the Armenian Diaspora have anything to do with it. Strange bedfellows, if you ask me, but anyway...

Onnik Krikorian said...

Or then again, maybe not. This just in...

The almost year-long negotiations between Armenia and Turkey, which have brought the two neighbors close to normalizing their strained relations, could end in failure because of renewed Turkish preconditions, President Serzh Sarkisian said on Friday.


Like his foreign minister, Eduard Nalbandian, Sarkisian insisted that the Karabakh dispute has not been on the agenda of the Turkish-Armenian talks and that Armenia continues to stand for only an unconditional deal with its historic foe. Speaking at a news conference, he said he still hopes that the Turkish-Armenian border will be reopened by the time he attends a football match in Turkey between the two countries in October. “But my optimism may not prove right,” the Armenian leader cautioned, adding that the Turks could “walk away from our agreements.”


Oh well, basically, we'll know by 24 April either way. While I'm not expecting the border to be open, I do expect a clearer idea of what's going on or if it has all failed.

Jackal said...

Onnik, I again agree. Turkey and Armenia must normalize relations for any movement on Karabakh. After this many years of deadlock, something new must be tried. But the onus of creativity is on Baku, Armenia benfits from the deadlock.
The border re-opening is just the first step for Turkey and Armenia. But it's a giant loss for Baku, which has failed to come up with an alternative. Without a plan, Baku could only cling to the status quo and play the victim.
This is huge for Turkey, which is already a growing international player (look at how their stalling of Rasmussen at the NATO conference improved their position) and Obama seems to support that (though not Europe). I would be surprised, no, shocked, if the protocol said anything about NK beside vague banalities. Attaching the border re-opening to resolving a 15 year deadlock is a fast way to sink it. Azerbaijan has lost this round and has been surpised by an ally going its own way. Time for something creative.

Arzu Geybulla said...


Don't you think Azerbaijan (Baku) has been playing the victim for far too long. Plus what kid of a victim it is if while its wining about the conflict it also threatens its neighbor with a war and constantly talks about its military budget spending?