Armeno-Turkish platform

Viewpoints from Turkey, Armenia and the Diaspora
Full translations into Turkish, Armenian, English and French


The never ending tension between Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaïdjan


Standpoint of Turkey

The never ending tension between Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaïdjan

Arzu Geybullayeva


Arzu Geybullayeva

Azerbaijani freelance journalist living in Istanbul, writes, among other, for the weekly newspaper Agos.

Turkey - Armenia - Azerbaijan relationship triangle can be described as many things- neighbors, long time enemies, siblings, but there is one thing they certainly cannot be called and that is partners. Armenia is at war with Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan threatens Turkey at every remote possibility of dialogue between Turkey and Armenia, Armenia considers Turkey a friend of Azerbaijan therefore an enemy to Armenia and so on and so forth. It is a complicated relationship at best, an unresolved one at worst. Every little and promising breakthrough on the horizon gets lost and sucked into the vicious disagreement between the three states and its leaders. The unreconciled differences of their shared history continue to negatively impact the lives of Turks, Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the present. The future is bleak for as long as a major shift pushes the three countries to move forward and change their perceptions not only of each other but also of political settings around them.


The roots of friendship vs. the roots of conflict

When it comes to Turkey, in Azerbaijan, it has always been considered a brother country. Both of the countries share the same religion and similar languages, Azerbaijani people enjoy Turkish music and its TV series. Not surprisingly the two always give full 12 points during annual Eurovision contests. Ankara was the first capital to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence.

It was the end of the 80s when Azerbaijan and Armenia engaged in a conflict that expanded over the span of two decades and counting. Though, the bitter conflict ended with a ceasefire signed in 1994 between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the war never really did end. To this day shootings continue on the front lines, reports of soldiers wounded, killed, taken hostage in combat make it to the news headlines, ceasefire violations are a popular topic of discussion in local media. There is no sign of an actual peaceful agreement that would sooth the wounds of the two sides.

Turkey closed its borders (sealing Dogu Kapi/Akhourian and Igdir border gates) and halted direct land communications with Armenia in 1993 as a sign of solidarity in view of the escalating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijani but more precisely when Armenia occupied Kelbajar, one of the seven adjacent territories to the Karabakh region. The relations between Turkey and Armenia have grown sour with only few attempts for change, which too were futile mostly as a result of Azerbaijan’s intervention. Today, there are flights between the two countries but relations overall remain bitter. Commercial contact includes mostly “suitcase trade” with goods transported to Armenia via Georgia.

Turkey and Armenia growing further apart from each other was evident during the past few annual commemoration events dedicated to Khojaly tragedy. With the approach of the 100th anniversary of the 1915 events building of such tension in the relations is no doubt casting a greater shadow on any possibility of improvement in the relations between Turkey and Armenia. While Turkey is being the supportive “brother” it is missing the bigger picture- it is giving in to the “brotherly pressure”. Not only Turkey is letting one country influence its foreign policy but also this attitude sets the tone for more of such “brotherly intervention” to come. Looking at the current status quo, it is no doubt, Azerbaijan will continue to press Turkey’s buttons whenever Turkey and Armenia get even remotely close and push the two further apart.

From “football diplomacy” to “no gas diplomacy”

In February of 2009, following the Munich Security Conference the trio came up with a partial agreement on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. It was a joint effort- the three foreign ministers talked it all out and came up with a tentative plan that consisted of four steps: Armenia was to return some of the towns surrounding the Nagorno- Karabakh territory with repatriation of Azerbaijanis who once lived on these occupied territories according to a specific time frame; the Nagorno- Karabakh enclave was to be handed to a provisional body; Kelbajar returned to Azerbaijan once the Nagorno- Karabkah status was determined. And lastly the railroad and highway between Armenia and Azerbaijan was to re-open with international peace troops guarding the border region between Armenia and the Nagorno- Karabakh.

A year earlier, there was the well known “football diplomacy” attempt. The qualifying rounds of the World Football Cup put Turkey and Armenia in the same group. The president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, for the first time traveled to Yerevan to watch the game. During his visit, Armenia’s President Serge Sarkissian, organized a reception- the two Presidents met, the foundations for warmer relations were laid. Or so it was thought.

Shortly after Sarkissian’s visit to Turkey for the next Turkey- Armenia game, a protocol was signed between the two Foreign Ministers. It was October 11, 2009, in Zurich. The re-opening of the Turkish- Armenian border became a possibility. But President Gul’s efforts were soon disdained.

Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, traveled to Azerbaijan to sooth the rising tension in the neighboring country. “Borders remain closed until the occupation is over”, stated the Turkish Prime Minister as he addressed the Azerbaijani parliament convincing his Azerbaijani counterparts that no partnership between Turkey and Armenia was going to be made possible unless there is progress made on the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “All the countries in this region know that unless the occupation of Azerbaijani territories is resolved, the desired normalization of relations won’t be possible. If there is no progress on the Nagorno-Karabakah problem, it is not possible to have peace in the Southern Caucasus”. Turkey- Armenia road map was pretty much put on hold indefinitely. There was too much to lose in the long term in Turkey’s case. As Cengiz Candar rightly notes in his recent piece, “no Turkish politician in the right mind can be expected to take any steps of rapprochement with Armenia at the cost of upsetting Azerbaijan”.

And upset Azerbaijan was during that time. When in early April, Turkey openly announced its plans to open its border with its eastern neighbor, Azerbaijan was furious- condemnation, disappointment, and critical statements. At some point, one of the local radio stations announced its decision to stop broadcasting Turkish songs if the border was opened. But above all it was the feeling of betrayal that was the most common reaction. Official Azerbaijan claimed that the normalization of the relations between Turkey and Armenia (especially opening of the borders) should only move in parallel with the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, any decisions made otherwise were an unfair reward for Armenia. The Zurich protocols reached a stalemate. Turkey’s solidarity with its Azerbaijani brethren created political tension no doubt on the Armenian side of the relations. Turkey clearly gave in to the pressure.

The strange power leverage

Surely it wasn’t just Turkey’s rapprochement with Armenia that pushed Azerbaijan to reconsider the balance of regional politics and speak up. The August 2008 war in Georgia proved yet again Russia’s grip over the Caucasus or how it likes to see it- its playground. Further more, Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia sent an alarming message to Azerbaijan vis-à-vis the Nagorno- Karabakh. But even so, looking at the Turkey- Azerbaijan power play, there is a clear pattern of an asymmetrical inter- state relationship. Usually it is the bigger and more powerful state, which holds leverage over a weaker one. But when it comes to Turkey and Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan holds greater leverage over Turkey. And most of this leverage is Azerbaijan’s growing economic influence in Turkey. It is estimated that by the end of 2017, SOCAR- Azebaijan’s state gas company’s total investment in Turkey will reach 17 billion dollars. These investments also include the PETKIM acquisition and TANAP- the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline Project, which is set to carry Azerbaijani gas through Turkey to Europe. The pipeline is expected to carry 16billion cubic meters (cbm) of gas annually and an estimated 24bcm once the pipeline is fully operational.

Lingering disappointment

Despite “stabilization” in the relationship, to this day, Azerbaijan views Turkey’s 2009 attempt at normalizing relations with Armenia as a “mistake”. Earlier in September of this year, Azerbaijan’s chief of foreign relations department of the Azerbaijani Presidential Apparatus Novruz Mammadov warned Turkey of not repeating the same mistakes for the sake of revitalization of Ankara- Yerevan relations. While failing to note what these attempts were, Mammadov made it clear that there were such possibilities even though the Turkish diplomatic sources refuted any of such actions.

Warning (or threatening) isn’t something new in the relations between the two countries. During the 2009 deterioration in relations, Azerbaijan even threatened to cut off supplies of natural gas to Turkey. Surely resorting to threats to cut existing economic ties is something common in the region- with a leading example of such actions being Russia. But at the end of the day Azerbaijani leadership must understand that Turkey, while being Azerbaijan’s “brother” nation and a strategic ally, is also an independent country with its own foreign policy to pursue. The economic benefits of the partnership between Turkey and Azerbaijan should not stand in the way of Turkey pursuing its foreign policy. This is no longer the 90s. The political settings are changing and while Turkey provided much supported when the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out it is time for Turkey to move on and for Azerbaijan to stop meddling in the policies of another country.