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Turkish-Armenian Soccer Diplomacy: A Direct Hit at Azerbaijan’s Foreign Policy Architecture

Azerbaijan is not happy with the two protocols signed between Armenia and Turkey on the 10th of October in Zurich, Switzerland. The most common explanation has been that despite all the verbal promises by its strategic ally, Baku is not sure that the opening of the borders will be tied to the partial withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the territories in and (especially) around Nagorno-Karabakh. But the level of disappointment in Azerbaijan cannot be fully explained away by an unfavorable behavior of the brotherly government. For Azerbaijan, the Turkish border initiative amounts to more than that. Namely, it is poised to destroy the foreign policy architecture Azerbaijan has been meticulously building since the mid-1990s around Karabakh issue, leaving behind uncertainty and confusion. This is what makes the repercussions of the Turkish-Armenian conciliation so unbearable for Azerbaijan.

After military defeats in and around Nagorno-Karabakh between 1992 and 1994 and the concomitant cease-fire freezing the situation lopsidedly in Armenia’s favor, in the spring of 1994, Azerbaijan started to pursue a new foreign policy strategy. It may have begun by default, yet by the mid-2000s it has evolved into a clearly, if unofficially, defined foreign policy doctrine. The nature of the strategy was simple, invoking the memories of the Cold War. It was to be built on Armenia’s economic isolation and strategic marginalization. The situation was Armenia’s choice to an extent, but Azerbaijan was intent on fully capitalizing on the trend.

Armenia was to be left out of the regional energy and transport projects and deprived of the benefits of the burgeoning Turkish economy. This also meant closer relations with Russia and Iran, outsiders in the Western-dominated global politics. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, revitalizing its economy, becoming a significant link in the Western energy security, and increasing the power of its military, was to eventually make Armenia more willing to concede on the negotiating table its enormous gains obtained in the battlefield. The vision and the resources (which, essentially, were hydrocarbons) behind the project were coming from Azerbaijan, which also had a significant degree of control over it.

Until recently, the strategy was paying off to the apprehension of the Armenian and the satisfaction of the Azerbaijani side. The enormously expensive and rewarding Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline have already been successfully completed by 2006. The third main transport link, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad was slated to be finished by 2011/2012. When Armenians helped to freeze the international investment flow into the latest project pointing to the intentional isolation of Armenia, Azerbaijan, in one of the best indications of its willingness to spearhead and finance the strategic trend, opened up its treasury generously offering $220 million to Georgia to be paid back in 25 years with a symbolic interest rate of 1 percent. The dynamism that the pipelines and hydrocarbon revenues have been generating has had an economic and geopolitical multiplier effect along the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey axis, of which Armenia was not a part.

Armenian economy was definitely lagging behind with an associated demographic downturn. According to CIA Country Report, Azerbaijan’s economy grew twice as fast as the Armenian economy between 2006 and 2008. Its GDP per capita, almost even with that of Armenia a couple of years ago, was 30 percent more than Armenia’s $6,300 by 2008. Azerbaijan’s arms purchases, steadily increasing since the early 2000s was starting to offset Armenian military arsenal, seasonally flooded by Russia’s huge military transfers. In fact, the military budget of Azerbaijan could be effectively catching up with the entire state budget of the Republic of Armenia for 2009. Partly as a result of continuing economic difficulties and overall insecurities, Armenia’s population size has been stuck around 3 million, while Azerbaijan has grown by a million since 1994 to over 8 million. According to the International Monetary Fund’s forecasts these trends are to continue for at least the next five years. The hard economic blows of the Russian-Georgian war and the global economic downturn of 2008 were the latest indications of how fragile Armenia’s situation was compared to that of Azerbaijan.

It is difficult to say how much longer it would have taken for Armenia (if ever) to be more willing to make concessions. The pace was slow but the strategy and vision of the Azerbaijani political establishment was clearly defined and things were, it seemed, moving in the right direction. It is here that the deep disappointment on the part of the Azerbaijani government lies. The Turkish move, and there are many reasons to believe that the initiative came from Turkey, removed the most fundamental pillar out of the Azerbaijan’s foreign policy architecture. True, the architecture was being designed by Azerbaijani vision and built by Azerbaijan’s relatively rich energy resources. But the fundamental pillar necessary for the success of the isolation project was Turkey’s willingness to cooperate in keeping Armenia at bay.

For Azerbaijan the timing of the Turkish initiative makes it especially worrisome. It began after Azerbaijan’s resource-led projects and investments have already been made. One does not change the direction of the multibillion pipelines and railroads overnight. In the same context, it is only with the completion of the pipelines in 2006 that a true economic gap started to emerge between Azerbaijan and Armenia with real security implications. As soon as Azerbaijan’s foreign policy architecture started to show real signs of success Turkey defected.

Of course, there could be positive implications to the Turkish-Armenian conciliation for Azerbaijan, yet it is undefined, unofficial and is as possible as the opposite result. Despite the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government’s verbal promises, Karabakh is not built into the border initiative which has been internationalized and already slipping off of Turkey’s control. What could be gone are not only the clarity of the tools and the purpose of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy strategy around Karabakh, but also the relative control Baku had over the overall process targeting the resolution of the conflict. With the signatures in Zurich, the future of the occupied lands of Azerbaijan is a function of the overly internationalized Turkish-Armenian relations. Azerbaijan has lost the initiative.

From the Azerbaijani perspective, its clear, controllable, working and priority strategy has been replaced by an unclear, uncontrollable and an untested alternative. The status quo around Karabakh, which is unfavorable to Azerbaijan, is no longer the driving force of the regional political configurations; it has become an appendix to the internationalized Turkish-Armenian relations. And Turkey, the international community and Armenia, in dwindling the order down to zero, are less concerned about Azerbaijani preferences in the zone of conflict.

One cannot help but remember that Turkey felt betrayed when the United States decided to withdraw its Jupiter medium-range nuclear missiles from Turkish soil to resolve its differences with the Soviet Union after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The current situation between Azerbaijan and Turkey is not exactly analogous to the aforementioned. The latter is only a worse case from the Azerbaijani viewpoint. In the Jupiter crisis the strategy and resources belonged to a more powerful ally and Turkey was only trying to beef up its overall strategic position bandwagoning with the overwhelming global American initiative. But in the case of Turkey and Azerbaijan, a unilateral move by a more powerful ally is perceived as wasting Azerbaijan’s resources, Azerbaijan’s strategy and Azerbaijan’s initiative. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this strategy was shaping the very identity of the Azeri foreign policy. One of the biggest and overlooked challenges of the Turkish-Armenian protocols will be dealing with the destruction of this foreign policy architecture and identity, and the uncertainty, confusion and the lack of direction it leaves behind.

* Mr. Elnur Soltanov is an assistant professor at Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, Baku.

Source: Hurriyet by Mr. Elnur Soltanov
URL: www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=turkish-armenian-soccer-diplomacy-a-direct-hit-at-azerbaijan8217s-foreign-policy-architecture-2009-10-30

Posted by admin November 2009

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