Azerbaijan is not a country Turkey knows well. It is one of the lands of the Turkic world “stretching from the Balkans to China” that we discovered with amazement at the end of the Cold War. I remember well the incredulity surrounding the Christian Gagauz Turks who emerged in Moldova. I also recall the disappointment when the only way to talk with these brothers was using Russian! It soon became clear that ethnic roots were not going to be sufficient for Turkey to shape meaningful partnerships with the brothers to the east.
To wit, a gene mapping project completed recently revealed that we actually don’t have much in common with our ethnic kin. The study has also shown genetic kinship with non-Turks living in Anatolia. No surprise indeed! But the geographical distance from them was not compensated for with knowledge about them, either. Today, with a few exceptions, there is no unbiased academic research into the “Turkic World.”
Russia, on the other hand, has been working hard to rebuild some of the power it lost in these regions since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Through a series of economic, political and military maneuvers, it has retaken control in the region, with the exception of Georgia and, of course, the Baltic countries. It has riveted its power into place by all means possible, whether blackmail, division or invasion. Let us not forget that the one place in which there was no commemoration of the Khojaly massacre was Moscow.
Russian assertiveness is very much valid for the Caucasus, which, as a region, lies right under our nose. Turkey has never been a regional actor with regards to the Caucasus; neither now, under the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, nor under any previous government. The Turkish influence in the Arab world has no match in the Caucasus. Quite to the contrary, it is now a Caucasian country which is asserting its influence over Turkey: Azerbaijan.
In 2009, the signing of the Zurich Protocols between Armenia and Turkey was a brave initiative aimed at normalizing relations. It meant that for the first time in some 90 years the Turkish state was trying to follow a different path from the one based on the denial of the Great Catastrophe that befell not only the Armenians, but all of Anatolia. In the final tally, however, Turkey’s more pressing energy needs forced it to choose Azerbaijan over normalizing relations with Armenia. In the meantime, however, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue has sneaked in. So much so that, in order to satisfy an unhappy Azerbaijan with the idea of normal relations between Armenia and Turkey, during his 2009 visit to Baku the Turkish prime minister made it clear to Ilham Aliyev, his Azerbaijani counterpart, that he would stand up for Nagorno-Karabakh. So came to a grinding halt Turkey’s first Armenia policy before it had even begun.
Standing up for, or taking ownership of, the Nagorno-Karabakh problem gained pace following this Azerbaijani “victory,” with the matter receiving Turkish public support despite the fact that most people could not even spot Azerbaijan, let alone Karabakh, on a map. The Feb. 26 rally was certainly the peak of these endeavors. Notwithstanding the demonstrators who were there to commemorate Khojaly in a dignified manner, the overall tone of the gathering was an obvious reversion to good old denialism, but this time via the Karabakh issue. With the prime minister endorsing the rally, it now looks like Turkey’s traditional Armenian policy is stronger than ever. In conclusion, Turkey appears as though it has subcontracted its policies regarding Armenia, as well as the Armenians, wholly to Azerbaijan.
We have been writing about this for months now. Thanks to its recent relative economic and diplomatic successes Turkey appears more and more to be an over-confident country. The reason behind the inability to develop policies is the blindness triggered by that overconfidence. But the direction things are taking does not augur well. Look at the events: The murder of private Sevag Balıkçı on last year’s April 24 Day; the outrageous verdict in the Hrant Dink case; a sudden increase in provocations against non-Muslims; the air of “victory” following the recent French Constitutional Court’s decision, and now Feb. 26.
And look at the attacks hurled from Baku at Turkish columnists who point out the ruinous road Turkey has begun to take. Writing on www.1news.az, apparently a mouthpiece of Aliyev, in his piece “No one should dare to blacken the rally against the Khojaly Genocide in Taksim” Erestun Habibbeyli said: “People who found those who betrayed the Turkish state 100 years ago to be justified do not shirk away from bending the truth when it comes to a massacre which took place just 20 years ago right before their eyes. … The Turkish Parliament should not stop at the declaration of its speaker; it should give its opinion on the massacre of civilians in Khojaly and recognize the genocide. … It is important to keep the Khojaly events alive, to let the world know of Armenian murders, the crimes they have committed, and just how hypocritical they are.”
A roadmap for Turkey?