Europe Should Thank Turkey

By Levan Gelovani

Ankara tries to play a new role as an energy nod.

Kazakhstan Presidency in OSCE that started on the 1st of January 2010, still remains the core attention of analysts, oriented on the problems of this international organization and regional security.

The suggested agenda was expectable. The approaches to “frozen” conflicts of new Chairman are moderate and careful.

Meanwhile, analysts note that as practice shows these matters from time to time can reach the sharp phases of development and still remain to be the centers of instability, the point of junction and competition of various regional and global players. Many people, in this respect, underline the special role, special weight of Turkey as an influential regional state. The events of last years, connected with Near East regulation, stabilization in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran nuclear program, conflicts within South Caucasus and in Nagorny Karabakh, are pretty tightly knit by experts with this special role of the biggest secular Islamic state.
Ankara-Yerevan: unacceptable co-chairman

It seems during this year within the framework of OSCE Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and the status of Nagorny Karabakh can once again appear in the center of international attention. And Turkey is going to play here. It’s known that Ankara has suggested itself and tries to promote itself on the post of a co-chairman in the Minsk OSCE Group on Nagorny Karabakh regulation. In the last days of the past year during a traditional briefing the official representative of Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs dwelling on the OSCE Minsk Group functioning noted that nothing had been heard of this group for a long time, they came and went away, but no one saw any actions in the sphere of regulation.

 > Nagorno-Karabakh Map
“Only when Turkey started negotiations with Armenia, this group held the summits of Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders for 6 times. Thus, our diplomacy has made correct steps”.

Together with the suggestion on co-chairmanship Turkey also intensifies the improvement of relations with Armenia, although, it has set a number of preconditions, in particular, the abolishment by Armenia the policy of international recognition of genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Empire and the acknowledgement of Turkish borders by Armenia.

The attempt to improve the relations was appreciated, but it’s obvious that Yerevan won’t be able to adopt the set conditions. Armenia showed that it will never agree on co-chairmanship of Turkey within OSCE MG. All significant political forces expressed their views on this issue. The Secretary of Republican Party of Armenia E.Sharmazanov claimed that the kind of comments are “the results of abnormal imagination and simply a stupidity of their authors. Armenian authorities will never approve the co-presidency of Turkey in the OSCE Minsk Group on Nagorny Karabakh conflict regulation. This is our line and we won’t change it”.

This line is also supported by a Chairman of Neoconservative movement E. Abramyan: “Despite the fact, that Baku desires to see its “big brother” as a co-chairman of OSCE Minsk Group, the accomplishment if the kind of scenario is unreal” and reminded that the change of Minsk Group format depends not only on Azerbaijani but also on Armenian Party.

Some experts think that it’s obvious that Turkey consciously ties its initiatives and conditions with the ratification of signed protocols on Armenian-Turkish bilateral relations regulation. Obvious is the fact that the kind of steps won’t solve the problem. Ankara is considered to attract the attention to its role within the solution of the long-standing problem, the attempt to build a counterbalance of the influence of Armenian Diaspora in western countries.

In response on Turkish conditions the Head of Armenian delegation in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, A. Safaryan noticed that National Assembly of Armenia will ratify the protocols only following Turkish Parliament. If Turkish parliament ratifies the protocols on normalization of Armenian-Turkish relation without preconditions, then Armenian Parliament will do the same. But if Ankara tries to set preconditions on Nagorny Karabakh to ratify these documents and will prolong the process of ratification, then Armenian Parliament will follow this step.

By this Armenian deputies have a serious support of the overall majority of western parliaments, as well as of antiparliamentary institutions. Turkey agrees to try to overstep its past by recognizing the fact of genocide of Armenians in 1915 – this has been recently sounded by a special envoy of the Chairman of OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on Nagorny Karabakh G. Lenmarker, which fully corresponds with the line of Armenian delegation.

Turkish experts and commentators think that in reality the protocols signed by Turkey and Armenia will hardly be completely accomplished till the moment, when Turkey leaves at least several regions, surrounding Karabakh. Only afterwards some progress will be possible.

The new role of Turkey within Nagorny Karabakh is also sometimes connected with the refusal of the USA of active play within post-soviet area, especially after August 2008. However, we shouldn’t exaggerate the role of August events in the formation of the USA line on Nagorny Karabakh settlement. The USA realized that Russia intends to take a leading role in this region. But this doesn’t really mean that Washington has crossed out of agenda the issue of preserving and enhancement of its influence within South Caucasus. And first of all, due to the strategic significance of the region for political and economic interests of the USA, especially as a tool of energy influence and energy security assurance. The reduction of American activity within Karabakh regulation doesn’t relate with the fact that America has acknowledged the dominating role of Russia. The USA simply don’t see such an urgency to interfere with the regulation and to promote it, as Washington is busy with more serious problems of American security at the moment. These are naturally Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

That is to say, American policy has a lot of problems, absorbing very big resources, and that is why the United States simply can’t be involved into Karabakh regulation actively. But it doesn’t really mean, the USA won’t follow it and won’t participate with it.

The representatives of diplomatic circles think that the current foreign policy environment, naturally, allow Turkey to restart its own regional policy. Turkey tries to play the role of a regional leader, including those regions, that directly lie along its borders. That is why Ankara will continue the dialogue with Baku and relations with Yerevan, it will strive to play more active part, as this objectively enhances its positions in the region as well as within the relations with Europe, as it shows the role of Turkey as a civilized, active state able to orient not only on East, but also on OSCE countries such as Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The kind of activity helps Turkey to promote its role in the eyes of the EU and the USA at the same time.
Ankara and Washington: in search of new policy

Flag-Pins-USA-Turkey American President has repeatedly underlined that the strengthening of America within Near East is one of the main elements of global strategy of the USA and American Government observes Turkey as a key center able to contribute into the achievement of the US objectives. Internal political and geostrategic peculiarities of Turkey allow Washington to observe it as a “bridge” between West and Islamic world.

Visiting Turkey and addressing the parliament, B. Obama stated that from now on American relations with Muslim world will not develop only on the basis of joint struggle against terrorism, but also on the basis of extended cooperation considering mutual interests and mutual respect. Obviously, Turkey will participate within the accomplishment of this cooperation as a “significant element of West and Islamic world approach”.

The visit of Turkish Prime Minister T.Erdogan to the USA in the beginning of December 2009 allowed Turkish government to sound the updated foreign policy concept of Turkey. First of all, prime minister declared that the suggestions on the change of foreign policy course of Turkish Republic are groundless. At the same time, Turkish foreign policy shouldn’t be one-sided, cooperating with West closely, Ankara can’t ignore East and vice versa.

Turkey possesses resources, urgent to lead active foreign policy in both directions. Turkey is the country, that is a foreign policy agenda itself and it doesn’t let anyone else to do it for it.

Realizing its own significance and considering definite failures of the USA relations with Islamic world, Turkey, as some diplomats think, tries to gain its dividends, strengthen its status of a regional player and to make it more sound and integral. The results of such position can include the circle of disagreements gradually developing  between the USA and Turkey on a number of problems.

iran Thus, between the USA and Turkey there are serious disagreements on Iran. The USA thinks that Ankara underestimates the concernment of West about the nuclear program of Iran. The US State Department always points that at the moment Turkey should extend its cooperation with Iran. The USA consider that Islamic state should be overwhelmingly pressed to force it to cooperate with international community and to show, that otherwise Iranian government will have to carry a punishment. However Turkey proceeding acting within its interests, has made a number of energy agreements with Iran, having demonstrated its independence and intention to strengthen its authority among Muslim states. The reaction of Washington on these actions is yet moderate: current policy of Turkey towards neighboring states is not a surprise. But Washington expects that Turkey will share the concern of West about the Iranian nuclear problem.

> Map of Iran
During the talks in Washington T. Erdogan said that Turkey is the country that is able to establish a contact with all political forces in Iran, similarly as it happened in Iraq. By this Turkish Prime Minister supported the withdrawal of sanctions introduced to Iran, resumption of a full-scale international trade with Teheran and once again claimed that we can’t wait for any affect from the calling Iran to refuse of the nuclear program development, when Israel has nuclear weapon. Turkey doesn’t wish for nuclear weapon in the region to exist, and international rules should be equal for all the states. He reminded about the significance of Turkish-Iranian relations for Ankara. Iran is one of the most important trade partners of Turkey, which counts to enhance the trade turnover with Teheran from 10 up to 30 billion dollars within the following 3-5 years.

The position of the USA and Turkey on internal political processes in Iraq always has disagreements. If during the Persian Gulf War in the beginning of 90-s of XXth century Iraqi factor played a significant part within the strengthening of cooperation between the USA and Turkey, then during the Iraqi crisis of 2003 it was vice versa. It had an extremely negative effect in American-Turkish relations in general, bringing into challenge the necessity of further development of strategic partnership. The disagreements still remain within the lines of the USA and Turkey towards Iraqi Kurds, and towards the approaches to the situation in Northern Iraq.

 > Map of Iraq

Near East

As for the line on the Near East conflict, then the administration of B. Obama as known recognizes the full right of Israel on assurance of its security, although with the consideration of “legitimate political and economic hopes of Palestine people”. Washington expresses a deep concern about the wish of Israel to secure itself from Hamas’s missiles and calls this grouping to refuse of violence and to acknowledge Israel. The line of Ankara is a bit different.

During the talks in Washington, T. Erdogan declared that Turkey is still ready to do its best to settle the Syrian-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli relations. At the same time he underlined that the Israeli operation in Gaza can’t be observed as a mean of struggle against terrorism. Turkey criticizes Israeli actions, which resulted into a huge number of victims among civilians and the destruction of Palestinian cities infrastructure.

Latest events that turned into Turkish-Israeli diplomatic conflict and demonstrated a new worsening of relations between Turkey and Israel disturbs the USA a lot.

The State Department immediately noted that American government monitors the situation in the region thoroughly and hopes that Turkish government policy of “no problems with neighbors” will also spread on Israeli state.

But, judging on the Turkish press comments, Ankara doesn’t hurry to make concessions and reduce the conflict, connected with humiliation of its ambassador in Israel.

These two countries will unlikely break the relations completely, but they will hardly become that friendly as they used to be, at least while Israeli power is concentrated in the hands of the politicians supporting rigid line as the Minister of Foreign Affairs A. Lieberman.

The example of positive and strategic partnership is demonstrated by Turkish-American cooperation in Afghanistan. This is a global arena, where the USA and Turkey show a pretty close cooperation, according to the majority of politicians and experts. Although here there are some differences within the perception of the situation as well.

During the talks in Washington American President underlined that the USA is extremely interested in a more active participation of Turkey within NATO operation in Afghanistan. In his turn, Erdogan noted that it was the third time when Turkey undertook the command over NATO forces in Afghanistan and sent additional troops there. Turkish military men actively train Afghan police, and as for the sending of combat units to Afghanistan, then Turkish soldiers can’t participate in military actions against Muslims. The kind of decision can ruin the trust of Afghan people towards Turkish military men, who participated only in humanitarian operations in Afghanistan.

> Map of Afganistan
The talks in Washington, a new diplomatic activity of Ankara allowed to state that Turkish foreign policy gains new features almost in all directions.

American commentators saw new long-term disagreements and even cooling in it.

The kind of conclusion is drawn from the article of G.Rechman, published in Financial Times. The author writes that since 1945 Ankara had considered to be one of the most devoted allies of Washington, but the “unexpected difficulties”, with which Obama’s administration had to face became the reason of further splitting of courses of the USA from one side, and four big countries of the world: Turkey, Brazil, India and the Republic of South Africa.

And they all, allegedly, become more involved into the circle of China influence.

Concerning Turkey, Rechman focuses on the unexpectedly negative attitude of public opinion of this country towards American policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the government stood on the way of confrontation with Israel and freely contacts with Hamas and Hezbollah.

The reason of distancing from the USA the author sees in the fact that their “self-identification as developing countries prevails under the self-identification as states, following democratic principles”.

Patrick Seale (the author of “Struggle for Syria”, “Asad Syria: Struggle for Near East” and “Abu Nidal: Weapon for Rent”) echoes this idea from the pages of New York Times, stating that Turkey is gaining force as a regional state.

The failure of America in Iraq – and equally its inability to manage the behavior of Israel – incited Turkey to jump out of its “pro-American straight jacket and to image itself as an influential independent player in the heart of a big region, lying from Near East to Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia”.

With a vivid sympathy to this line of Ankara he notes, that revived Turkey rewrites the rules of force game within Near East in a positive and non-confrontational manner. This is one of few bright moments within unstable and extremely explosive Near East.

To the above stated we should add the new role, that Ankara tries to play as an energy node, connecting oil and gas producers in Russia and Central Asia with markets in Europe that extremely lack of energy carriers. Within this direction they not just act to please western partners, but to enhance its own significance.
Ankara - Brussels: landing on four platforms

The relations of Turkey with other global actor - the EU, also seems to gain new lines. In December 2009 the strategic parameters of Turkish line were announced, and Turkey will be suggested in 2010 during the talks with the European Union. State Minister and the Head of Turkish delegation E. Bagysh declared during the talks, that starting from 2010 the talks on inclusion of Turkey into the European Union will proceed on the basis of a new strategy, which will consist of four platforms - “Continuation of negotiations on official basis”, “Determination of the calendar on the basis of National program and the program on adaptation to the legislation in 2010-2013”, “Continuation of political criteria and reforms” and “Close connections strategy”.

The first platform covers the accomplishment of criteria of sections to be opened during the following period, and the accomplishment of the conditions of the already opened sections. The second one contains its own calendar and priorities of Turkey. The third one aims at proceeding to accomplish political criteria and reforms. And the fourth platform is called to support the first three platforms, to enhance the support of the talks with the EU among Turkish people.

Except for that, E. Bagysh underlined that they will intensify the opening procedures to discuss new 6 sections in the oncoming period - “food security”, “veterinary and health of plants”, “state purchases”, “competition”, “social policy and employment”, “legal proceedings and basic rights”, “justice, freedom and security”.

The situation seems like Turkey refused of the policy of insults and calls and starts discussions and development of definite subjects, enriching its negotiation potential and thus promoting its own negotiation line.

We’ll note that in comparison with the USA, Europeans are more enthusiastic and grateful about the new diplomacy of Ankara.

The Head of the EU Commission on Turkey, Martti Ahtisaari declared, that the efforts of Turkey to become a regional power are positive for the EU. The EU values not only the role of Turkey within Palestine-Israel problem, but also its relations with Iran, Iraq, Syria and other states of Near East. And that is why the EU should thank Turkey.

Spain, chairing the EU currently, claimed that the majority of the Union member-states support the membership of Turkey, making efforts to include this country into its structure.

Experts think that also economic indexes of Turkey are able to contribute into the improvement of relations. Turkish Minister of Industry and Trade N. Ergün has recently stated that currently Turkish economy holds the 17th place in the world and the 6th place in Europe: “We are leaders among bus manufacturers in Europe, and take the third place in the production of metal, steel and concrete”.

All this gives basis for a real improvement of relations between Turkey and the EU, which only disappointed Turkish Government in past years.

Commenting on the current situation with the elections of new authorities in the EU, Prime Minister Erdogan noted critically, that the EU needs stuff without prejudice and their appointment will be beneficial for Europe and Turkey as well. But if they will choose prejudiced politicians, then it will cast a shadow on the whole EU, i.e. Europeans will suffer more, and Turkey will always have a possibility to become a successful big and extremely significant country.
Translated by EuroDialogueXXI