WILL TURKEY TAKE PART IN THE WAR ON THE SIDE OF GEORGIA?
by Vadim Novikov
Translated by Pavel Pushkin

Source: Severny Kavkaz (Nalchik), No. 33, August 22-28, 2006, p. EV
Agency WPS
DEFENSE and SECURITY (Russia)
August 30, 2006 Wednesday

Can The Turkish-Georgian Military Cooperation Lead To Participation
Of Turkey In The Abkhaz-Ossetian Or Ossetian-Georgian Conflict?

As a rule, when these or those authors touch on the topic of
Turkish-Georgian military cooperation they very seldom cover the
aspect of "involvement" of Turkey into the Abkhaz-Georgian and
Ossetian-Georgian conflicts. The explanation is very simple. This
is practical absence of information that can through light at this
aspect of Turkish-Georgian relations at least indirectly. Meanwhile,
Turkey is broadly represented in Georgia, to a big extent in the
military field. Practically everyone who have visited Tbilisi in the
last four to five years say that there are many Turkish military and
various Turkish citizens in general in the Georgian capital.

As a rule, when these or those authors touch on the topic of
Turkish-Georgian military cooperation they very seldom cover the
aspect of "involvement" of Turkey into the Abkhaz-Georgian and
Ossetian-Georgian conflicts. The explanation is very simple. This
is practical absence of information that can through light at this
aspect of Turkish-Georgian relations at least indirectly. Meanwhile,
Turkey is broadly represented in Georgia, to a big extent in the
military field. Practically everyone who have visited Tbilisi in the
last four to five years say that there are many Turkish military and
various Turkish citizens in general in the Georgian capital.

Turkey is represented in Abkhazia too and this has begun a long time
ago. We need to say a few words explaining why the Turkish party
cannot ignore the Abkhaz problem. This circumstance is connected with
history of the 19th century and results of the Caucasian War won by
Russia. There was exodus of Moslem Abkhaz people, so-called muhadzhirs,
from Abkhazia after that. Now there are from 500,000 to 800,000 people
considering themselves descendants of Abkhaz mukhadzhirs living in
Turkey, whereas about 100,000 Abkhaz people being mostly Orthodox
Christians live in Abkhazia. The Abkhaz Diaspora in Turkey is very
active. The Committee of Solidarity Caucasus-Abkhazia was established
immediately after beginning of the war in August of 1992. The center
is located in Istanbul and the committee is accredited by official
Ankara and lobbies Abkhaz interests. During the war the committee
provided humanitarian, human and financial aid to Abkhazia.

In various years the Abkhaz community of Turkey also tried to organize
repatriation of Turkish Abkhaz people to their native land.

Thus, according to Turkish information, up to 2,000 repatriates
already moved to Abkhazia and established Turkish college Basharan
in Gagra. The Abkhaz community of Turkey enjoys support on the part
of the emigrants from the North Caucasus living there, of which there
are about 6-7 million people.

Turkish businessmen are also very active in Abkhazia. The major part
of Turkish businessmen works in coal production. Turkey is one of the
main trading partners of Abkhazia. The sea is the main trading route.

Georgia has always tried to hinder this trade. Thus, Georgian border
guards frequently arrested Turkish ships near the coasts of Abkhazia
according to accusations of trespassing of territorial waters.

In the period of combat operations in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhaz
conflict the Turkish Abkhaz people provide a certain support to the
Abkhaz party. For instance, approximately 200 volunteers from Turkey
fought on the side of Abkhazia. Former President of Abkhazia V.

Ardzinba even visited Turkey and called on Ankara to develop relations
with Abkhazia. Such loyal stance of Turkey towards the authorities
of Abkhazia was conditioned by pressure on the part of the Abkhaz
Diaspora of this country and representatives of other Caucasian ethnic
groups living in Turkey, namely Circassian and Adyg people. However,
starting from the second half of the 1990s geopolitical aspect started
prevailing in the stance of Turkey. Due to the closed border with
Armenia Georgia became the only way for Turkey for communication with
Azerbaijan and Central Asian republics.

Interests of Turkey were also connected with Georgia because of the oil
pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, gas pipeline project Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum
and railway Baku-Tbilisi-Kars. According to Turkish analysts, the axis
Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan also contributes to breaking of strategically
opposite axis Russia-Armenia-Iran.

Georgia is also the shortest way for Turkey to the North Caucasus, for
instance, to Chechnya. It was known that the "corridor" Turkey-Georgia
was very often used by members of illegal armed forces that fought
against Russian federal troops in the North Caucasus and by the
bandit formations of international terrorists that helped them. That
is why in official statements Turkey started supporting territorial
integrity of Georgia and emphasizing importance for resolving of the
Abkhaz-Georgian conflict by a peaceful way in the framework of this
territorial integrity.

Along with this, military cooperation of Turkey with Georgia began
between 1992 and 1993. It grew more intensive and closer starting
from 1995-1996 when Georgian authorities started speaking about their
orientation at entrance into NATO for the first time. Since then
Turkey has been actually a "curator" of Georgia in the framework of
its integration with NATO. Hence, Turkey is the most active in this
field. Thus, a part of commanders of the Georgian armed forces have
passed and still pass training in Turkey and Turkish officers train
some divisions of the Georgian army including special forces units.

In February of 2005, Georgian Defense Minister I. Okruashvili was
on a three-day official visit to Turkey dedicated to discussion of
prospects of closer military cooperation.

Turkey also participates in projects for modernization of Georgian
armed forces. Thus, on December 25 of 2005, the military airfield
in Marneuli refurbished by Turkish armed forces was handed over to
the Defense Ministry of Georgia. Approximately $3 million was spent
on construction of the airfield. At the end of 2005, Turkey also
allocated $2.1 million for needs of the Georgian army and the major
part of this sum was spent on purchase of equipment necessary for the
Defense Ministry of Georgia by the Turkish party. A long time before
2005, some Turkish analysts expressed their assurance that some time
after withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia their place
would be occupied by Turkish military contingents.

Actually, if we bear in mind that almost immediately after "reception"
the Georgian party "leased" the Marneuli military airfield to Turkish
military pilots and this airfield was located not very far from the
former Russian military base in Vaziani where presence of Turkish
military was also noticed despite that Georgian authorities promised
Russia and Armenia that bases of any foreign countries would not
be deployed on the site of Russian bases and that these bases would
be used only for Georgian army, it is possible to say that Turkish
military have stayed in Georgia for two or three years. That is
why when quite recently it was announced that Georgian authorities
decided to provide the military airfield in Senaki to Turkish military
pilots allegedly for participation of Turkish military aviation in
extinguishing of forest fires in the territory of Georgia this caused
strong suspicions that official Tbilisi simply granted the second
air base in its territory to Turkey under a good pretext.

Besides, there is also information that in the framework of the
American program of military aid to Georgia "Train and equip" Georgian
special forces have been trained not only by Americans but also by
their Turkish colleagues for a long time. Is it necessary to recall
where the Georgian special forces have been found afterwards?

These were not they who tried to surround and storm Tskhinvali,
the capital of South Ossetia, last summer, were they? Authorities
of Abkhazia speak not about their deployment in the Kodori Gorge,
do they? Along with this, Abkhaz authorities do not rule out and even
expect that Georgia may try to restart the war.

The airfield in Senaki, for example, is located very close to
the borders of Abkhazia and Georgia and the flight time from it to
Abkhazia is very short. Nobody controls actions of Turkish military on
this airfield. This means that nobody can know for sure if only the
"fire extinguishing" airplanes of the Turkish Air Force are based
there or purely combat aviation joins them soon and will be able to
participate in "unnoticed" bomb dropping in Abkhazia later.

Along with this, Turkey keeps playing the role of a kind of caring
"curator" Abkhazia. Observers remembered that after each shout from
Tbilisi that Georgian party would soon achieve withdrawal of the
peacekeepers from the CIS from the zone of the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict
various officials from Ankara arrived to Sukhumi immediately. They
tried to persuade both the previous and the incumbent presidents
of Abkhazia that after withdrawal of Russian soldiers forming the
backbone of the peacekeepers of the CIS Turkish military should occupy
their place. To maintain confidence of Abkhaz authorities in Turkey
Ankara sometimes spoke about very serious forms of cooperation. Thus,
on April 19 President of Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh commented on the
situation related to the project of restoration of a through railway
communication through Abkhazia and said that Azerbaijan, Turkey
and Iran manifested their interest in it lately. Reacting to this
statement of Bagapsh on April 28 the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry,
which probably worried about the future of the Georgian-Azerbaijani
relations, announced that Baku never expressed its interest in
restoration of railway communication through Abkhazia in verbal or
written form because it considered this to be an internal affair of
friendly Georgia and that "Azerbaijan does not have any contacts with
the self-proclaimed republic." It is necessary to say that there has
been official denial of the words of Bagapsh on the part of Turkey
and Iran then.

Of course, it is possible that there will be no open participation of
Turkey in possible combat operations of Georgia against Abkhazia and
South Ossetia. Ankara definitely will not wish to receive internal
instability because various organizations of Caucasian mountain
ethnic groups may achieve a situation when Turkish authorities feel
their discontent. At any rate, it is impossible to rule out that
some Turkish military instructors may appear in this or that conflict
zone. We can recall how many times Russian special services have had
to arrest and even physically destroy "retired" officers of Turkish
armed forces in Chechnya. Naturally, they came to the North Caucasus
through Georgia. Moreover, in Tbilisi there is a kind of headquarters
of special services that does frank espionage against Armenia and
Russia under coverage of some British generals. It is impossible to
rule out that "if necessary" these will be Turkish pilots who take off
from the airfields of Marneuli and Senaki and bomb Abkhazia and South
Ossetia. Mercenaries represent a familiar factor in regional (local)
inter-ethnic conflicts. Turks have already got used to fulfillment
of the role of mercenaries in the Caucasus.