Sunday, May 16, 2010
by C. Cem Oğuz
The Western world, the U.S. in particular, has been keen to express criticism of Turkey concerning the current deadlock in the normalization of relations between Ankara and Yerevan. Last Monday, for instance, American expert David Phillips was reported to have admonished Turkey, saying the country should not have signed the protocols based on “wishful thinking.” Supposedly, “there was no linkage between the protocols and the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.”
Obviously, this line of thinking is particularly prevalent among members of the U.S. administration. American authorities, as a very close aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told me, on nearly every occasion raise what they describe as the “disappointment” felt by President Barrack Obama regarding the current state of affairs on the normalization talks. Given that U.S. promises made prior to the protocols on the resolution of the Karabakh problem have not been held either, it is surprising that these figures have failed to understand that Erdoğan is equally disappointed. This raises the question of whose “wishful thinking” is responsible for the current deadlock.
The reasons that Turkey cannot ratify the protocols without a solution to the Karabakh problem being found are very simple: First, for the sake of regional stability, the Karabakh issue should, without hesitation be bound to the normalization of relations between Yerevan and Ankara. If Turkey were to open its border with Armenia unilaterally the Azeri authorities, as they keep reminding their Turkish counterparts, would have no option left other than resorting to force. Secondly, the protocols, under current circumstances, cannot pass ratification in the Turkish Parliament. This is a bitter reality which has been underlined by Erdoğan on a couple occasions in the recent past as well.
Since the Armenian Constitutional Court’s decision of last January, voices expressing skepticism among members of the Turkish Parliament have grown louder than ever. Everyone questions whether the Armenian side is indeed sincere in keeping its obligations with regard to the commission of historians envisaged in the protocols. Last, but not least, those who criticize Turkey’s “love affair” with Azerbaijan seem to have underestimated key factors in the relationship between these two countries. An enlightening comparison can be made between Turkish ties with Azerbaijan and those of the U.S. and Israel. I have encountered many U.S. authorities who lamented their country’s unquestioned attachment to Israel which sometimes, in their words, acquires an “irrational or self-detrimental” character. Given the complex nature of their relations with Israel (and also the Jewish people), I wonder if they might envisage it being easy to change this state of affairs. Thus, they must understand that the same is valid for Turks as far as Azerbaijan is concerned.
Despite this, however, Ankara is still determined to keep on track. What Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has suggested in referring to the conduct of a “parallel diplomacy” in the following days is an unambiguous sign of Turkey’s goodwill and sincerity in that regard. More importantly, Ankara has exercised great effort to persuade Baku to accept a step-by-step solution, which first and foremost requires Armenian forces’ immediate withdrawal from five of seven Azerbaijani rayons still under occupation. What Ankara in turn expects from the Minsk Group, its co-chair the U.S. in particular, is to exercise a similar effort to persuade Yerevan and the diaspora to seek a compromise, which would be beneficial for all the parties concerned.
It is in this milieu that Erdoğan goes to Baku. Particularly since Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Turkey last week, there are things to share and new standpoints to be discussed between the two allies. Energy issues will be another subject of the meetings. But I must remind our Azeri friends that Erdoğan has a serious expectation which he is rightly very keen to see realized: the abolishment of the visa regime between the two countries. At a time when great achievements have even been accomplished between Turkey and Greece, arch adversaries of the recent past, neither Erdoğan nor the average Turk on the street can understand why a visa is needed to set foot on Azeri soil, a land for which they have made so many sacrifices throughout history.