'International community would guarantee peace building processes'

Wed 22 Feb 2012 07:22 GMT | 11:22 Local Time

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News.Az interviews Dr Marat Terterov, Director and Founder, European Geopolitical Forum, Brussels.

Turkey recently started to play a role of a peacekeeper in all neighbor conflict regions. Do you think the country will cope with the new role of a more active regional player? How successful is the foreign policy of Turkey, based on the new slogan of zero problems with neighbors?

I would re-phrase the question a little and not really start off suggesting that Turkey is primarily seeking to play the role of a “mediator and peacekeeper” in the majority of conflicts in its wider Black Sea-Caucasian and inter-connected Middle Eastern neighbourhoods. It is clear that since the inception of the AK Party to power in Ankara in 2002, Turkey has aimed to “re-brand” its foreign policy with greater mobilisation of its political resources towards neighbouring states. This is in contrast to the decades of the “go West young man” (for those with memories of Hollywood from last century) approach to foreign policy which Ankara had entertained.

Turkish academic-come-ideologue-come foreign minister, Ahmet Davitoglu, is now having the chance to put his “zero problems with the neighbours” international relations theory into foreign policy practice. This has, in essence, meant that the AKP has sought to re-balance Turkey’s foreign policy, by strengthening its regional role with a view to opening up new markets for Turkish business, rather than purely looking to the West as the source of modernisation and economic development.

Prior to the eruption of last year’s mass demonstrations on the Arab streets, and the turbulence that followed, Davitoglu’s foreign policy was, I would argue, largely successful. Ankara was hailed in the most laudable terms by former foes Iran and Syria, cultivated numerous business openings for Turkish capital in Iraq and in the Gulf, while the Brussels-EU started to appreciate that securing European energy interests at Ankara’s expense would be “no walk in the park”. At the same time Ankara maintained close ties with Washington, developed mutually respectful relations with Moscow, and kept an influential hand in numerous power institutions such as NATO, the OECD and even small, yet important organisations such as the Brussels-based Energy Charter process (which Turkey chaired).

However, Turkey’s foreign policy and efforts to engage its neighours changed fundamentally during last year’s Arab Spring, when Ankara sought to mediate in the Libyan and, in particular, Syrian crisis. Trying to show leadership in both crises, Turkey found itself let down badly by Damascus, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad failed to keep his promise to Turkish leaders about ending repression against segments of the Syrian populace and of introducing political reform.

Turkey now finds itself as part of a rather divided international community, seeking to apply various forms of pressure on the Assad regime, but succumbing to the fact that its instruments of leverage over Damascus are in fact limited. While the saga in Syria is still to play itself out, I have yet to see any fresh ideas coming out of Ankara enabling Turkey to provide the necessary leadership facilitating a breakthrough on its Syrian flank. Turkey is now likely to follow cues from Washington and London on Syria, rather than to brand its own style of leadership as was the case during the mainstream “zero problems” years. In essence, “zero problems with its neighbours” is now being tested by its first major crisis (ie, mediating in the Arab Spring context) and there is little sign that Ankara will pass the exam with flying colours.

What are the prospects of Armenian-Turkish reconciliation in conditions when Armenia continues international campaign for recognition of 1915 events in the Ottoman empire as genocide?

It is a little difficult for me to answer this question in any profound sense as I do not really have a good feel for what present day public opinion inside Armenia is like in relation to the genocide of 1915. I know from personal experience that this is, for good reason, a highly emotional issue for persons either from, or associating with the Armenian Diaspora in the countries of Europe and North America. However I am not sure, to be honest, to what degree it was an issue for Armenians in the Soviet Union. My family is originally from Odessa, Soviet Union, and we have substantial Armenian ethnicity (within the family). I then lived in Australia and mixed with Soviet Armenians who migrated to that country from the USSR.

I cannot say that for us the Armenian genocide of 1915 was ever an issue that aroused emotions. Nor did we feel any animosity towards the Turks. It may be the way I was raised, but I am not sure that one could say that there was any major animosity towards Turks from Soviet Armenians applicable in any systematic manner as a result of events taking place in 1915. If there was animosity, or rather suspicion (towards Turkey), it was probably more due to issues related to Turkey’s alliance to the US in the Cold War context, rather than to events taking place in 1915.

If one can assume that there was no collective ill feeling towards Turks felt by Soviet Armenians (and off course, I may be wrong in my assumptions), then you have to ask the question of why the situation changed so much during the last 20 years. Is it because post-Soviet Armenians gained access to all forms of new information and were able to re-discover the “tragedy of their past” ? Or is it because the Armenian Diaspora came to the Republic of Armenia after the end of the USSR to help Soviet Armenians rediscover their history ? I would be interested to know who exactly in Armenia is promoting the campaign you mention above, whether they were doing this in Soviet times and what the fundamental objectives of this campaign may be.

Any form of genocide, in my opinion, is a crime against humanity which deserves to be condemned and punished in the most punitive terms. But I also know that we cannot continue living our lives in the past and at some point we are going to have to make a decision about how the past should affect the future. We are all well aware of the horror committed against Soviet citizens by Nazi Germany during its invasion of the Soviet Union in the “Great Patriotic War”. We are also aware that today Germany is arguably Russia’s top economic partner. I still feel a little chill down my spine when I see executives from the top German energy companies at conferences on the Russian gas industry in Moscow on June 22. Russia and Germany have largely reconciled their past, however.

I have personally heard Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davitoglu, call for a “historical reconciliation” with Armenia in a public forum, in advance of the Centenary year of 2015 . I would now like to see his Armenian counterparts engage Ankara closely in order for him to elaborate upon his vision and tell them what exactly such a reconciliation process means, and how it could be employed to serve as a platform for normalisation of relations between Turkey and Armenia. It is time for Ankara and Yerevan to elevate themselves from the lessons of yesterday and turn these into mutually beneficial opportunities of tomorrow.

What is the peacekeeping potential of Turkey in the resolution of the Karabakh conflict considering the well-known objections of Armenia?

My previous comment, above, bears relevance for this question. All of these issues are interconnected. If Turkey can reconcile with Armenia (and I believe it can, and should), than Turkey can also contribute to the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. In an ideal world Turkey and Azerbaijan would invite Armenia to participate in regional energy infrastructure projects which they are jointly developing, such as cross border gas pipelines, if Armenia would withdraw from the territories it took from Azerbaijan during the Karabakh war of the 90s. The international community, particularly Russia, would assist and guarantee, these peace building processes. However, we are still some time away before the logic of economic incentives (which drove Europe towards integration after WWII) can be applied to the unresolved conflicts of the Caucasus. The levels of trust needed to underscore the emergence of economic integration between Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan simply does not exist, despite the fact that even the most foolish observer understand the benefits to be had for all parties involved.

All the same, the appeals to remove France of the list of mediators in the resolution of the Karabakh conflict have been more insistent in Ankara and already in Baku after the Senate criminalized the denial of the ‘Armenian genocide’. Can France be considered an unbiased player in Karabakh settlement considering such decisions?

I think France’s actions in the Minsk Group of the OSCE are more likely to be influenced by matters of France’s national security and its strategic interests in the Caucasus region, rather than emotional historical (yet highly politicised) issues such as the recent vote on the Armenian genocide in the French legislature. People much wiser than myself, have suggested that “in international relations, there are no friends, there are only interests”. I tend to support this view in that I would suggest that French diplomats engaged in the OSCE Minsk Process are more likely to think “with their feet on the ground” (in relation to the manner in which events are unfolding in the Caucasus) rather than let their decision making be dominated by these tragic events of over a hundred years ago.

It would be myopic to assume that any French diplomatic step in the Minsk Group process will be influenced by the Armenian Diaspora back in France.  Although one could make a counter argument by citing the power of the American Jewish lobby with respect to US government decision making on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I would not totally compare the strength of the Armenians in France to the Jewish lobby in the US. The problem is that a range of expert opinions endorse the view, as your next question suggests, that Russia is “the top dog” in the Minsk Process and is putting itself into a “veto power” position over any (group) decisions on Karabakh which do not fall in line with Moscow’s national interests. 

EU representatives have stated an intention to play a more active role in the Karabakh problem beginning from 2012. How great are the EU capacities in solving the issue where Russia and, to a lesser degree, the United States, play the main role?

I have already commented widely in a range of Caucasus press outlets that I do not see the EU taking on a leading role in the Karabakh unresolved conflict. Of course, as is standard in EU external policy engagements, EU agents (such as the EU Special Representative for the Caucasus) tend to hold high level meetings with senior government officials from the region and other relevant stakeholders, and make various (sometimes brazen) statements about the conflict in the international media. However, although there is an appetite from numerous stakeholdings to see the EU “lift its game” on the Karabakh conflict in particular and the Caucasus in general, the EU has been little more than a “paper tiger” in Karabakh. Many experts from your region with whom I communicate, tend to say that the EU is hardly visible in the region.

This is a shame. The EU has substantial instruments – economic, diplomatic, legal – with which it could exert pressure on the conflicting parties. Brussels’ resource base is not small and we have seen the EU apply pressure (dangling various incentives) with some effect on conflicting parties in the former-Yugoslavia. There is currently a small window of hope with a new EU Special Rep for the Caucasus taking over the reign from a largely legacy-less predecessor, an experienced European diplomat who knows the Caucasus well and is already trying to engage all stakeholders proactively. However there are few capable specialists dealing with the Caucasus in Brussels, whilst the highly complicated, bureaucratic and slow manner of decision making in EU circles compels me to take a very melancholic view of Brussels’ active engagement in this area in the near future.





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