Washington. Zaur Hasanov – APA. APA’s interview with Research Director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Svante E. Cornell
– In your most recent article published by the Silk Road Studies, you touched upon a proposal which was offered back in 2002 in the Sadarak meeting of the presidents of Heydar Aliyev and Robert Kocharyan. Could you elaborate on the subject and what this had to do with the occupied territories of Azerbaijan bordering Iran?
– Of course, there were negotiations that are not entirely public. But what appears is that there was a proposal by the late president Heydar Aliyev that he would be willing to agree to opening of the rail road line to Armenia between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the case if Armenia vacated, liberated the 4 southern occupied territories that are between Karabakh and the Iranian border. The rational of cause is being that these are 4 provinces though which the Soviet time the rail roads used to go and which is to extend to Armenia and all the way to Nakchivan.
This was very novel approach on the president’s part. Because it was for a first time Azerbaijan removed the linkage between the discussion of the status of Karabakh and the restoration some type of economic relationships between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In that sense, you even can find that many Armenian observers such as Gerard Libaridian who criticized the Armenian government for refusing without any discussion this opening. Because the argument that Libaridian and others make is that this was a positive force for the Armenia side giving to the fact that it would effectively have been able Armenia to come out of its regional isolation and still hang on to its control over Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast as well Lachin, Kalbacar and even perhaps Aghdam. I think it was unclear how Aghdam would be affected by this deal. Still it would be able to improve its economic situation.
Of course, there was an understanding at that point and I think that Turkish government was making it clear that it would at the same time, if should this happen, open its border with Armenia. Because, if Azerbaijan opens its border with Armenia then there will be no rational reason for Turkey to continue to have border be closed. In that sense there was a will to solve the problem in the package deal.
Recently, there have been a sign that the Turkish government is considering de-linking completely the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution issue with its border with Armenia. That seems to be the premise under which the normalization process is going on for the several months between Turkey and Armenia. However, in the last couple of days, we have had pretty clear statements to the fact that Turkey is backed to the position that it has held for decade.
– None of the previous governments in Turkey de-linked the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from the border reopening with Armenia but AKP did it. What has changed since the time when border was closed down and what has changed in the Turkish political establishment that they had an intention to do that?
– I think that there are several things. First, there is a relationship with Turkish policy and the Armenian genocide issue in the Congress of the USA. And I think very much at the beginning the “football diplomacy” in the summer time, there was a feeling that Turkey should do something in dealing with geopolitical changes in the region because of the Georgia war. Another reality is the way how Turkey was looking at the Obama victory was the presidential election and if you remember how genocide resolution was close to pass last year, I think that general assumption was that this year it would pass very easily. Therefore, in the order to prevent that what you could do. If you have the Congress which is going to pass the resolution, if you have the president which has a clear position then a rapprochement with Armenia was correctly understood to be one of ways in which Turkey could prevent the genocide resolution. I think, in that sense, they succeeded. After Obama’s speech in the Turkish parliament it will be very difficult for him this year say “G” word.
Second, you have to understand that even in the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs most people are Atlantics, if you want. They are people who are specialists in Europe, EU issue, the USA and so on, but not are people specializing in the Eastern issues like the Caucasus and Central Asia issues. It is still the secondary issue for Turkey. And also in the AK party government there are no people who have a close relationship with the Caucasus. Partly it is because they understand themselves from the Islamic identity rather than Turkic identity, and you also have to see a lot of people were saying in Turkey that: “Look, for the 15 years this policy brought nothing. Let’s bring something new”
– How it can be that the country which has three neighbors in its eastern border doesn’t have enough specialists dealing with the Caucasus?
– One of the explanations is the political one. AKP is a kind of strange alliance of Islamists and liberals. Islamists mainly interested in the ties with the Islamic Middle East, not post Soviet Muslims and where liberals are more focused entirely on the European relationship of Turkey. Plus, you have a political reality too. If you look back last five years, EU, US and Cyprus issues where top issues in the Turkish foreign policy. These are such big issues that it can take up so much Turkey time and because so less energy left for other issues.
– As I understood from your article is that Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a key element of the security and cooperation in the region. Your other point is that president Obama should appoint a special envoy dealing with the conflict.
– It is right. What this latest few weeks have shown us that people are trying to put aside NK conflict because it is such difficult issue and say that “let do something else”. For example, let start economic relations. But the realities of the region proved that NK conflict is the biggest problem for the region. Without solving this problem you can’t solve the broader problems in the Caucasus. Therefore, when Turks are realizing now implicitly that they can’t go forward in the normalization with Armenia in the way intended to do, a logical conclusion shouldn’t be “let forget about it” but should be “if the Karabakh issue is really is the central issue let then see if there way how to utilize the positive momentum in Turkish Armenian relations”. Take into account that Obama administration interested in this issue, and getting Obama administration much more actively interested in resolving the Karabakh conflict are the right path to walk.