TENSION ON ARMENIAN-TURKISH BORDER
by Nikol Pashinyan

Haykakan Zhamanak, (Armenian Times)
March 17 2009
Armenia

One of the most important issues of Armenian foreign policy,
Armenian-Turkish relations, is now topical in the context of
US-Turkish, Turkish-Azerbaijani, Azerbaijani-Russian, Russian-Georgian,
Georgian-US, and US-Russian relations. No matter how paradoxical
it may seem, but Armenia is the most passive participant of these
relations that have become worse over time. Armenia has been left
out of the process, and our Ministry of Foreign affairs, in essence,
is waiting for a phone call to learn how the issue was solved. The
issue will be solved or not solved as a result of the conflict of
motivations and interests of the big players in the big game.

No, we can't

US President Barack Obama faces a difficult choice. On one hand,
he must carry out his obvious pre-election promise on recognizing
the Armenian genocide. On the other hand, he cannot spoil relations
with Turkey, especially against the backdrop of the problems that
have emerged in Central Asia. Turkey is of great importance as a
strategic partner and becomes much more important for the USA. Under
these conditions, the best solution for Obama would be the warming
of Armenian-Turkish relations. However, it is not excluded that
Obama would like to see a stronger reason - in the form of reopening
of the Armenian-Turkish border. That is, he might try to use the
formula of "reopening of the border in exchange for not recognizing
the genocide". According to this scenario, the reopening of the
Armenian-Turkish border does not seem improbable before 24 April [the
day of commemoration of the genocide], especially that Russia, which
has been the number one obstacle in the process, is also interested in
reopening of the Turkish border in the existing situation. However,
this time as well Russia's interest may become a serious obstacle in
reopening the border.

Russian roulette

The motives of the Russian interest in warming of Armenian-Turkish
relations became clear in the summer of 2008 [during the
Russian-Georgian war], and these motives have not practically changed
so far. The axis of this interest is anti-Georgian. It seems that
Russia has not given up its plan of break Georgia into parts in the
future, and it would be difficult to carry out this task without the
activation of the Armenian factor. Playing on the Armenian factor in
the existing situation is not very easy, because Georgia, anyway, is
a lifeline route for Armenia, and inciting centrifugal forces in the
neighbouring country can be crucial for Armenia as well. However,
if Armenia gets a railway and other road access through Turkey,
Russia will no longer accept Armenia's arguments against starting
a movement in Javakheti [Georgian region mainly populated by ethnic
Armenians], and it will be freer in actions carried out in regard to
Georgia. This transparent plan is read not only in Georgia, but also in
the USA and Turkey. In this regard, they will consider the reopening
of the Armenian-Turkish border also in the sense of a risk. That is -
besides other issues - one needs to find out whether the reopening
of the border creates very serious problems for the region, and
specifically for Georgia. US leaders will try to get answers to these
questions during their contacts with the Russian leadership.

Turks are thinking

Reopening of the Armenian-Turkish border can provide a hundred per
cent guarantee for Turkey that US President Barack Obama will not
recognize the Armenian genocide this year. And what will happen next
year, what will happen afterwards? Will the issue of recognition of
the Armenian genocide not become worse in one, two, three years after
the reopening of the Armenian-Turkish border? No-one can answer this
question; no-one can give such guarantees to Turkey. This means that
Turkey will do its best to raise big noise around reopening of the
border and settlement of Armenian-Turkish relations, trying not to
make any specific steps instead.

Opening of the border is a problem for Turkey also from the point of
view of the fate of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Supsa
gas pipeline that pass through its territory. These pipelines end
in Turkey, that is, they are very important for it. On the other
hand, these pipelines start in Azerbaijan, which, naturally, should
be against reopening the Armenian-Turkish border. Thus, the issue
comprises a certain threat for Turkey in the context of its relations
with Azerbaijan. If Turkey reopens the border with Armenia without the
settlement of the Karabakh issue, Azerbaijan will consider it to be
a betrayal. Also, this will have specific geopolitical consequences:
Azerbaijan will feel itself more unprotected in front of Russia,
and will have to make concessions to it in the issue of gas. This
means that Turkey might lose the prospect of obtaining gas levers
over Europe.

Of course, Turkey can argue that the reopening of the border would
help resolve the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict. These arguments will
not be groundless, but Azerbaijan will consider them to be very
complicated. So, signing any document on the Karabakh issue before
24 April can essentially change the state of affairs around this
issue. Therefore, Turkey can change its behaviour both in the positive
and negative senses at the last moment, and make its position stricter,
as it happened in relations with Israel. Ankara can set a strict
condition before the USA on this issue - either this or that. It is
difficult to say what decision the USA will take in that case. It
is very probable that that the USA will not view recognition of the
genocide as very important under such circumstances.

Azerbaijan-Georgia

In the existing situation, our two neighbouring states have maybe
the same interest - not to let Russia's influence in the region
grow. This means that these countries should be interested in not
letting developments favourable for Armenia (Russia's representative
in the region) to happen. Opening of Armenian-Turkish border
is definitely positive for Armenia; this means that Georgia and
Azerbaijan will use measures of influencing Turkey and the USA in
this issue. The whole difficulty is that the perception of the new US
administration, especially regarding its relations with Georgia, are
still unclear. Russia will try to convince Azerbaijan that Azerbaijanis
of Georgia also have the right to separate from Georgia after Abkhazia
and Ossetia. Of course, [Azerbaijani President] Ilham Aliyev does not
look like he will be inspired with this idea; and his major aim will
be continuing the strategy of isolating Armenia - a process that has
been going on in the past ten years. Time will show how successful
this will be.

Armenia

Reopening of the Armenian-Turkish border would be a great success for
Armenia and would become a breakthrough in the existing stagnated
situation. However, such development of events can unveil an
interesting fact. In particular, it will turn out that most of lands
adjacent to the road that leads to Margara checkpoint [on the border
between Armenian and Turkey] have belonged to well-known Armenian
oligarchs since a long time ago.