Monday, October 19, 2009

Win-win protocol (II)   

    Ilhan Tanir/Oguzhan Guler


Russia's unexpected return to international power strongly displayed itself once more during the latest protocol discussions. Russia's unwavering role in urging the Armenian side to ink the protocols in Zurich, which is being widely reported in the Armenian and Russian press at present, confirmed its heavyweight status in the region and reaffirmed the Kremlin's decisive support for the restoration of relations between Armenia and Turkey.

For those who follow the international affairs of the region closely, it is unusual to see the unequivocal support all powers, the United States, Russia and the European Union, have given to the matter. However, this is the situation we presently face and this full support must be taken as great news in terms of a more stable and peaceful future for the southern Caucasus. One could point to many reasons as to why Russia has both been enjoying better relations with Turkey and supported the protocols; we, however, would like to emphasize one argument that failed to garner much attention – Turkey's position during the war last August between Georgia and Russia. During the war, Turkey utilized a balanced policy and showed a clear unwillingness to take an anti-Russian position along with the Western alliance. This was a turning point that brought Russia and Turkey closer than ever before.
During the conflict, Turkey denied passage to two U.S. ships through the Turkish Straits into the Black Sea, arguing that the ships violated the Montreux Convention which governs the traffic of military ships to the Black Sea. According to the convention, the tonnages of both of the two US ships well exceeded the limits allowed; as such, they were ineligible for passage.

Turkey, showing a full commitment to the Montreux Convention, received a warm response from the Kremlin. In our opinion, in addition to the increasingly strong trade relationship between the two countries that has made Russia Turkey’s biggest trade partner, a strategic, eye-to-eye understanding has been further solidified. This new partnership was consistently lauded during the Russian and Turkish leaders' numerous meetings both at the Kremlin and Ankara.

Still, even in the energy context, Russia sees the protocol results as a win-win situation, since such a multi-billion dollar and strategically important project like Nabucco will now have a bigger chance of passing through Armenia rather than Georgia, a country which the Russians still think should be punished further. And for that to happen, Armenia’s only chance to be part of the project is to have improved relations with Turkey.

It must be noted that Russia is not only popular in Yerevan, but also in Baku (it struck an important gas deal recently) and even in Kiev, where elections are scheduled for Jan. 17, 2010. The two main candidates, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Victor Yanukovych, are both campaigning on a platform of building better relations with Russia in stark contrast to the last elections in 2004. The Ukrainian media have already ruled out the possibility of a second term for President Victor Yushchenko, the leader of the Orange Revolution. According to a poll conducted by the Ukraine Public Opinion Foundation, 26.8 percent of voters are ready to cast their votes in favor of Viktor Yanukovych, who was considered Russia's candidate during the last elections, against the current President Yushchenko's mere 2.2 percent poll rating.

From the American perspective, the protocol also promises a sunny future. According to Morton Abromowitz, the former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, restored relations between Armenia and Turkey was one of the two most important items on U.S. President Barack Obama's agenda when he visited Turkey in April. As such, the current developments should be seen as a great victory for America as well. America now sees benefits from a more stabilized region and Armenia, freed from the status of solely being Russia’s pawn, becomes a viable candidate to be part of an alternative energy route for the allies in Europe.

Obama will also have a great excuse to defuse the demands of the Armenian diaspora who want the American Congress to pass a resolution on the 1915 events in the coming year by highlighting the progressing relations between Armenia and Turkey. While the 2010 mid-term elections already loom for America, Obama does not wish to see another uproar by the strong and boisterous Armenian constituency in addition to many domestic problems.

On the other hand, in Azerbaijan, it seems that it all depends on the possible progress of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. For now, Azerbaijan’s leader İlham Aliyev does not see any reason to hide his skepticism; he is currently getting cozy with Russia by emphasizing the favorable transit prices Gazprom pays to Azerbaijan in contrast to the thriftiness of the Turkish brothers. This is the most worrisome piece of the equation, but for this very reason, it becomes a great incentive for Westerners to work harder to solve the dispute; otherwise, the only official gas source for the Nabucco line even becomes doubtful.

The biggest obstacle to the normalization of the relationship between Turkey and Armenia comes from the opposition parties in Armenia and from the diaspora. Two of Armenia’s leading opposition parties, the Dashnaktsutyun, or the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and the Heritage Party, opposed the signing of the protocols and campaigned against it fiercely. President Serge Sarkisian visited Armenian diaspora communities throughout the world to gain their support, but was nevertheless greeted with protests. For the Armenian diaspora, it seems that the Armenians do not gain much by opening the borders, but lose a lot by opening a debate over the tragic events of 1915, which is an unforgivable betrayal. We feel it is inappropriate to take a stance against theirs because of the sensible nature of the subject alongside the arguments we have presented that would point to Armenia's future generations living a better life in a more prosperous country.

And the Turkish opposition? The National Movement Party, or MHP, and the Republican People's Party, or CHP, have opposed the protocols. It is very hard to understand and argue for or against their stance: It seems they have, unsurprisingly, not been able to elaborate their position eloquently as to why they would be against the protocols other than by showing their usual chauvinistic drama. And this is a sad fact for Turkey's opposition.

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