Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Turkey's Stance towards the Main Developments in the South Caucasus

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Turkey's Stance towards the Main Developments in the South Caucasus

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the wake of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the Caucasus and Central Asia have emerged as some of the world's most unstable regions. The countries in the region have not been particularly successful in building strong, developed political and economic systems, nor in establishing stable national sovereignty. In addition, the countries face major security risks.

In the South Caucasus, the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, and the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, both reflect the lack of security in the region. Domestic ethnic conflicts, transnational crime, and political and economic instability also characterize the region. (1) In the midst of this instability, the South Caucasus has become a major arena of competition between international powers such as the United States, the EU and Russia, as well as adjacent countries including Turkey and Iran.

The heightened importance of the South Caucasus for Turkey was initiated by several factors. Turkey's initial bid for permanent membership in the EU, initiated in the late 1980s, marked the beginning of a slow negotiation process between Turkey and the European Council which, after thirty years, has still not culminated in EU membership. Turkey's policy makers, frustrated by the endless stalling of this process, eventually redirected the country's foreign policy to rethink the country's strategic position in world politics. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s marked major fallout for Turkey, namely the loss of its role as a regional buffer for the West against the Soviet threat. (2) These two factors could have led to the marginalization of Turkey among its Western allies. However, there were some factors that made Turkey an interesting partner for its Western partners both in the South Caucasus and Middle East regions. First, then President Ozal's pro-Western stance and legacy, combined with Turkey's support of the US-led operation during the First Gulf War, in which Turkey played a profound pro-Western role, squarely positioned Turkey as a loyal strategic partner for the West. (3) Further, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the newly emerging independent states in the Caucasus and Central Asia provided another source of opportunity for Turkey to increase its strategic ties with the West. Moreover, in the early 1990s, many in the West viewed Turkey's pro-Western and secular political system as an ideal model for the newly emerging Caucasian and Central Asian countries, in contrast to Communism, and the type of Islamism initiated by Iran. (4) Well aware of this perception, Turkey attempted to take advantage of these opportunities and carve out a central role for itself in the region.

In addition to its importance in the political context, the South Caucasus is rich in oil and gas, which is paramount for its economic ties with Turkey. For instance, Azerbaijan has frequently been Turkey's strongest Caucasian economic partner especially since mid-2000s. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline (active since 2006), and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE) natural gas pipeline (active since 2007) are cornerstones of Turkey-Azerbaijan economic relations. Already in 2008, Turkey was Azerbaijan's second largest trade partner, with 18.2 percent of its imports coming from Turkey. (5) The same held for 2010, with overall trade volume amounting to $2.416 bn; by 2013, trade volume had reached $3.3 bn. (6) Turkey is presently the first country for Azerbaijan's imports and eleventh for its exports; the trade volume between the two countries surpassed $5 bn. (7) Ali Babacan, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, stated that "We now aim for $15 billion in trade by 2023". (8) Georgia has also been a key partner for Turkey in the South Caucasus. In 2008, Turkey was Georgia's largest trading partner both in imports ($15.1bn) and exports ($19.3bn). (9) Turkey presently ranks first as Georgia's largest trading partner for imports and sixth in its exports. …

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