Adil Baguirov

Hurriyet Daily News
Nov 30 2009

Towards the end of this year, several important developments are taking
place that should clarify the likelihood of the peaceful resolution
of the problem of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan on terms
consistent with U.N. Security Council resolutions, OSCE statements
and the wishes of the majority of people in the South Caucasus,
namely cessation of Karabakh's occupation by Armenia and withdrawal
of its military from there in exchange for a number of significant
concessions by Azerbaijan ranging from economic and trade, to the
political status of a high-level autonomy for the region.

One is the upcoming Dec. 7 visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan to the United States on the invitation of President
Obama. While a whole range of issues will be discussed, as U.S. needs
Turkey on the issues of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Muslim world
in general, but Caucasus, especially the Turkey-Armenia land border
opening vis-a-vis the Karabakh peace process, would be a very large
part of the agenda as well. The wish of the Obama administration
and the architect of the Turkey-Armenia protocols David L. Phillips
was to decouple the Turkey-Armenia land border opening from the
Armenia-Azerbaijan Karabakh peace resolution, so that these processes
are not dependent on each other, as was clearly stated by numerous
U.S. officials, including Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch.

However, due to vociferous objections from Baku, the diaspora and
the Turkish public's loud indignation over such an approach, the
governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, stressed to the Obama
administration that decoupling of the two was not possible, and the
Turkish Parliament would need to see real progress in Karabakh peace
settlement in order to ratify the Turkey-Armenia protocols. This was
admitted by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon after
his meetings in Ankara on Nov. 13.

Another important development is the final meeting for this year
between President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and President Serge
Sarkisian of Armenia in Munich on Nov. 22, under the auspices of the
OSCE Minsk Group co-chair nations (France, Russia and the United
States), that discussed some of the outstanding details of the
peace proposal currently negotiated by the two presidents. Before
departing Baku, President Aliyev made some of the strongest remarks
to date, that if this meeting also brings no results like the dozen
of preceding meetings he held with his Armenian counterpart since
last year to find a peaceful resolution to the Karabakh conflict,
then a military liberation campaign by Azerbaijan to force Armenian
withdrawal becomes inevitable, as negotiations cannot be endless,
hinting that they have been going on since 1992. This stern message
was clearly intended not so much for domestic or European audience,
as it was for American and Turkish ears. Although the Minsk Group
co-chairs declared that "progress was made" in some areas, it is clear
that Azerbaijan is increasingly restive, and feels confident that it
can take the initiative into its own hands at a near time to restore
its territorial integrity.

Additional tectonic shifts are seen in the energy geopolitics,
with Azerbaijan signing an agreement to send its ever-expanding
gas production north to Russia, as well as expressing interest
in supplying gas to China via a reverse Trans-Caspian pipeline via
Turkmenistan. Needless to say, this would undermine the problem-plagued
Nabucco pipeline, since gas to fill it from Iraq is not reliable,
Iranian option is opposed by the United States, while supplies from
Egypt are still far-fetched. Similar moves have been seen in oil
exports, with Azerbaijan preparing to ship more of its crude oil via
Baku-Supsa and Baku-Novorossiysk pipelines. While these moves do not
jeopardize the Baku-Ceyhan (BTC) and Baku-Erzurum (BTE) pipelines,
they would cost Turkey not only billions of dollars in potential
revenues lost, but also its nascent "energy hub" status and deny
Ceyhan terminal the status of becoming larger than Rotterdam.

These prospects of multibillion-dollar losses to Turkey are because
of unsound politics and flawed strategy by the AKP. Consider the
following hollow "gains" Turkey will get - according to U.S.

Ambassador Yovanovitch, only 1 percent to 3 percent per year increase
in trade with Armenia would ensue from the open land border (currently
turnover stands at only $200 million at most). Also, the supposed
abandoning of the Armenian claims internationally and particularly
in the U.S. Congress, which the Armenian diaspora, which is fully
independent from the Republic of Armenia, has already sternly stated
they would not, and cannot, abandon their raison d'être (and U.S.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid along with dozens of Congressmen,
unequivocally stating they will continue introducing and supporting
anti-Turkish resolutions). The same was actually stated by Armenia's
Ambassador-at-large Arkady Ghukasyan, a close confidante of
President Sarkisian, in mid-November. Moreover, in a striking move,
Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Arman Kirakosyan during a recent
trip to the United States has extensively talked about 19th century
Ottoman-Armenian history, such as the territorial-political demands of
the Berlin Congress of 1878 - thus expanding the timeframe from the
1915-1923 period. This shows that neither the leadership of Armenia,
nor the diaspora, nor members of the Armenian Caucus in the U.S.

Congress, have even planned to abandon their claims and anti-Turkish

What is the only realistic way out of this conundrum that can and
should be done by Turkey in the current geopolitical climate. The two
principal parties of the conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan, have shown
different valuations, the extent to which they can make concessions
and be expected to negotiate on. Whilst for Azerbaijan the Karabakh
problem is by far the most important - a USAID-funded poll found that
93 percent Azerbaijanis consider it their #1 problem - while for a
similar USAID poll in Armenia the problem of NK was ranked only third,
being most important for just 24 percent of Armenians. Whereas late
President Heydar Aliyev found it impossible to accept the Key West
peace proposals in 2001 because of the tremendous opposition by the
Azerbaijani public and Parliament, in Armenia the public opinion places
lesser importance and the opposition dismissed by the government,
as can be determined not only from U.S. polls, but the March 2008
post-election violence, in which President Sarkisian did not shy away
from leaving at least 10 protesters dead (according to unofficial
sources, over 40 protesters died). In 2009, many Armenian protesters
opposing President Sarkisian's readiness to sign the Turkey-Armenia
protocols, were either beaten (France), or detained (Los Angeles and
Beirut), and in conversations with the diaspora leaders the Armenian
president mocked the 10,000 protestors crowd, saying he too can amass
as many counter-protesters if needed.

This shows that the Azerbaijani government and public have offered
their maximum level of concessions - that is high-degree autonomy for
the Armenian community of Karabakh within Azerbaijan, along with full
restoration of relations with Armenia - from which the Azerbaijani
side cannot fall back even more. Meanwhile, the Armenian side, which
has proven it can silence opposition by any means necessary while
strengthening its regime, and was ready to compromise (or betray,
as some ultranationalists in the Armenian diaspora allege) in some
ways on their seemingly most important issue, that of claims against
Turkey, can most definitely come to an agreement with Azerbaijan
on these terms. After the border protocols and the handling of the
March 2008 protests, the Armenian side simply cannot hide behind the
supposed stronger-than-government domestic opposition and pretend that
it has its hands tied on the issue of Karabakh. As evidence shows,
Armenian government and President Sarkisian are ready, willing and
able to come to an agreement on important issues. If "genocide"
can be part of concessions, then so can "Attach."

Turkey, as the regional powerhouse, can play a very important role
in this mediation, since it knows first-hand how Armenia negotiates,
and makes concessions, on its most important issue, and since Turkey
has now permanently inserted itself into the geopolitics of Caucasus
by specifically engaging and "locking-in" Armenia. The year 2010
can become the year of peace and prosperity for the entire region,
the year when all regional countries will win from open borders
and peacefully resolved conflicts. Concerted efforts by Turkey,
the United States and Russia, along with EU/France, can finally help
resolve the oldest post-Soviet conflict if more constructive pressure
on Armenia is made, and President Sarkisian realizes the benefits
of not stonewalling the peace talks with talks about "independence"
and "self-determination" for Karabakh as the "maximum concession"
possible, but commits to complying with the U.N. Security Council
resolutions and the new geo-economics realities in the region.

* Mr. Adil Baguirov, Ph.D., is the founding member of the Azerbaijan
Turkey Historical Research Foundation (ATAF), co-founder of the U.S.

Turkic Network (USTN), and post-doctoral fellow at the Moscow State
Institute for International Relations (MGIMO).