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TURKEY IN A NEW TUG OF WAR

Many pundits predicted – and certainly all Armenians hoped – that with the demise of the Cold War Turkey’s strategic importance would become irrelevant and that a meeker and more conciliatory Turkey would emerge in the Middle East.

But as the dust settles after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new Cold War is shaping up and Turkey is back to its balancing act.

Turkey’s accession to the European Union always presented a double-edge sword for the European powers, especially for Armenia. Armenia’s foreign policy thinking envisions a Turkey as a bully in a cage, no longer in a position to threaten Armenia. The European Union has its own conditions and terms for its members, enforcing civilized conduct. That inspires Armenian policy makers to believe that economic and military blockades may become things of the past.

But the reverse side of the coin is that Turkey, as a EU member, will have more clout in the Union by the sheer weight of its population to be able to block any decision favoring Armenia or its ethnic Kurds. On top of that potential, Turkey has demonstrated that it can have its cake and eat it too. A case in point is its adamant position on Cyprus. Indeed, Ankara insists on keeping its occupation forces on Cypriot soil, closing its port to Cypriot shipping, refusing to recognize the Armenian genocide, and still continue accession talks with the European Union. And this is tolerated by the European powers and encouraged by the U.S.

Of course, the Bush administration has its own agenda for Turkey; by supporting Ankara’s membership in the EU, Washington intends to use Turkey as a spoiler in the EU, blocking its march towards an independent political and military pole, in the meantime, distancing Turkey from a possible coalition with a Moslem block, or especially with Russia.

A disturbing scenario is emerging in this world power play. Indeed, a recent article in London’s The Guardian (July 30, 2006) focused on that scenario, quoting a speech by Joschka Fischer, former German Foreign Minister. That evolving scenario has the following components; as EU countries, and especially France and Germany, spurn Turkey’s ambitions to joining the EU, Turkish nationalist forces are gaining momentum in their strive to steer the country towards East, towards the Islamic world, and especially towards Russia and Iran.

Russia and Turkey have been developing their political and economic relations. Their two-way annual trade is estimated to reach the $20 billion mark, while two million Russian tourists visit Turkey every year to dump their petrodollars in the latter’s tourist industry.

After the collapse of the empire, Russia is shaping up in a more assertive posture. During the first few post-Soviet years, Republican commentators ridiculed President Clinton’s policy of kowtowing to Yeltsin, but from Washington’s perspective it was a most realistic policy to keep Yeltsin – who failed all sobriety tests – in power and Russia in turmoil.

Russia, with its huge oil windfall and Putin’s stern hand, gradually is charting its own political course to challenge the West, especially the U.S. Just recently, President Bush’s push to embolden and arm Georgia against Russia, was countered by Chavez’s visit to Moscow to acquire Sokhoy military aircraft and other hardware.

Russian policy to continue catering Iran’s development of civilian nuclear capability has also been irritating Washington.

Should Ankara’s dreams of joining the EU collapse, Russia is ready and willing to form an axis to counter the West. Iran has already cultivated good neighborly relations with both, and could join the axis, despite its historic animosity with the two former empires.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan met with President Putin four times last year, in a sign of improving relations between the two countries.

Where do all these developments leave Armenia? Certainly, these developments will push Yerevan to a more tenuous situation. Iran and Russia had been catering Armenia in their bid to steer Yerevan away from the West and from Turkey. As these centers of power drive closer, Armenia will gradually become a marginal entity. The Russian military base, which was considered a safeguard against any potential Turkish aggression, will become an academic presence. Any potential hostile act by Turkey will fail to compromise Russo-Turkish rapprochement and friendship.

Armenia is in a bind: If Turkey joins the EU, except for some minor benefits, the latter’s overpowering presence will always pose a problem. On the other hand, if the pendulum swings the other way and an axis is formed between Turkey, Russia and Iran, more ominous and unpredictable prospects may arise.

Thus far Armenian foreign policy has charted its own wise course to remain afloat. We do hope wisdom will continue to prevail to observe this delicate balance and to refrain from rocking the boat in these perilous times.

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