Confusion reigns over Turkish-Armenian process

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent address to the parliament in Azerbaijan seems to have set the record straight as far as the Azeri side is concerned. The dark clouds that were gathering over Turkish-Azerbaijani ties have disappeared for now.

Baku is apparently satisfied after Erdoğan’s remarks that Ankara will not take any steps to normalize ties with Yerevan until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been resolved (to Azerbaijan’s advantage, one assumes).

This, however, raises a couple of serious questions. What then is to become of the so-called "road map" announced by Turkey and Armenia, which was ostensibly designed to lead both countries to normalized relations? Especially now that there is a "Karabakh condition" attached by Turkey? Also, why did the Erdoğan government bother to get involved in this matter of trying to normalize ties with Armenia in the first place, if it was not going to see it through to the end?

The first answer that comes to mind to the latter question is that Ankara either underestimated the reaction that would come from Azerbaijan, or it overestimated its own capacity to keep Baku in line with a "big brother" approach. The bottom line, however, is that it has now been revealed for all to see that Azerbaijan has more of a hold over Turkey than was assumed in some quarters.

Put another way, Baku holds in its hands a great ability to play the "Turkish nationalist card" within Turkey, against Armenia and against those trying to achieve a rapprochement between the two countries.

One only has to note the way the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, jumped instantly on this bandwagon, using the opening Baku provided to hit at the government.

Put even more bluntly, Turkey is not as independent in determining its policies for the southern Caucasus as it may have assumed it was in the past.

Azerbaijan, however, has shown that it has a freer hand with respect to pursuing its own national interests, as exemplified by the fact that it has refused so far to establish official relations with northern Cyprus, despite its kinship ties with Turkish Cypriots.

This situation is bound to have consequences as far as Ankara’s foreign-policy administration is concerned, not just in terms of the region, but also in terms of Turkey’s ties with the West, where there is a great desire to see a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. Western diplomats are already saying that while they may be parallel processes, there is no link between the Turkey-Armenia negotiations and the efforts to solve the Karabakh conflict.

The link with the ’g’ word

The cynical view is that Ankara announced the road map with Armenia to ensure that U.S. President Barack Obama did not use the "g" word (genocide) in his April 24 message commemorating the tragedy that befell the Armenians in Anatolia in 1915.

What reinforces this view is the fact that Prime Minister Erdoğan had already said, prior to the announcement of the road map Ğ and in response to the anger from Baku, that there would be no normalization with Armenia before the Karabakh problem was resolved.

But it seemed at the time that he said that simply to appease the Azerbaijanis, while really eyeing Washington and Obama’s statement. This is the way it was also apparently interpreted in Baku, where Erdoğan’s words were not sufficient to quiet the unrest, requiring him to visit in person.

President Obama did not, of course, utter the "g" word, but went on to describe the historical events as no U.S. president had done before, angering Ankara and providing opponents of rapprochement with Armenia the ammunition they needed.

The road map, according to the cynical interpretation, in this way turned out to be a kind of one-off shot in the dark, which under these circumstances will not be followed through Ğ not, that is, unless there is a breakthrough on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

No such breakthrough appears to be in the making, as the sides are firmly entrenched in their positions. Neither is the secret rivalry between Russia and the U.S. vis-?-vis the region helping much, especially given Moscow’s proven ability Ğ demonstrated by the events in Georgia last summer Ğ to use such problems to divide and conquer. This, then, indicates that there will be no early rapprochement between Ankara and Yerevan given the Karabakh condition placed by Prime Minister Erdoğan.

The Karabakh condition

Even Bernard Fassier, France’s envoy to the Minsk Group, which is trying to solve the Karabakh problem, had to admit while talking to journalists in Ankara this week that while there is light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel nevertheless appears to be a long one.

Diplomatic sources on the Turkish side are now trying to save the day by highlighting various nuances of the "Karabakh condition" set by Prime Minister Erdoğan. They say that when Armenian forces start evacuating some of the seven occupied regions outside of Karabakh, and inside Azerbaijan proper, the road map will be viable again.

They also suggest that such an evacuation plan is currently being worked on within the Minsk Group.

But this appears to be speculative, to say the least, judging by the statements from Armenia and Azerbaijan.

It is also not clear whether this is what Prime Minister Erdoğan meant when he established the Karabakh condition. Many in Azerbaijan, for example, have interpreted his words as meaning a full evacuation by the Armenians of the Karabakh enclave itself. It is clear that the public in Turkey also believes this to be the case.

Given this overall picture, it looks more and more as if this attempt at normalization with Armenia is fated to be stillborn.
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