The end of hostilities marks a potentially historic moment in the decades-old conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. If the peace agreement holds, the major players in the region will all, to one degree or another, have achieved their goals, and what appears to be a loss suffered by the Armenians may translate into a win in the medium- to longterm. What can we expect next, and where do Turkey’s interests stand now that the fighting has come to an end?
Adnan R. Khan: Is there a winner in this cessation of hostilities?
Ilter Turan: When we talk about winners and losers, we must take into consideration different domains and different timeframes: The benefits in security, in politics, and in the economic domain might vary. It’s also important to specify whether a so-called win brings short, medium or long-term benefits.
Looking at the short-term, the Russians have made a very significant comeback as the exclusive security provider in the Caucasus. In the process, they have managed to make sure that Armenia’s security is tied up with Russia as is regional peace. Meanwhile, other actors like the U.S. and France have been kept out.
If we look at Turkey, it is has achieved one of its main goals, which is to ensure that Azerbaijan recovers its lost territories. It has also demonstrated itself to be a capable provider of military training and military equipment, a factor that will have longterm implications for the Caucasus as well as other neighboring regions. It is also not unlikely that Turkey will be involved in the reconstruction of the areas that have been recovered and possibly including the construction of a highway between the Nakhchivan Autonomous region and Azerbaijan.
The main loser, in addition to Armenia itself, seems to be the Armenian diaspora, concentrated in the U.S. and France that has been encouraging Armenia to pursue irredentist policies to achieve the dream of a Greater Armenia, in return for which it has been willing to extend material support to the Armenian government. Armenia, as a poor and landlocked nation, is in dire need of such support such that it has so far felt obliged to accommodate the expectations of the diaspora.
Adnan R. Khan: So, does this loss mean that Armenia will be able to extricate itself from the influence of its diaspora?
Ilter Turan: Not immediately. But if Armenia chooses to pursue a prudent policy, it has an opportunity to reset how it relates to the region. In the past, a major obstacle in the way of expanding relations between Turkey and Armenia were the latter’s occupation of Azeri territories. Now Azerbaijan has achieved its goal of recovering its lost territories and Armenia has seen that the policies supported by the diaspora are not workable. Not right away but in the medium term, this situation may provide an opportunity for Armenian politicians to reconsider the entire question of how Armenia fits into the Caucasus and what its relations will be with its neighbors.
Adnan R. Khan: Turning to the Turkey-Russia relationship, both consider the Caucasus to be within their own spheres of influence. How does this change the dynamic between them?
Ilter Turan: Considering the challenges they face in other regions – Syria and Libya, for instance – I think both countries are making an effort to ensure that this particular development does not create another thorn in their relations. The Russian government is going to ensure the security of Nagorno-Karabakh but there will be Turkish officers in the headquarters of the peacekeeping operation. Turkey is also militarily active in Azerbaijan. So, Turkey’s posture in the area has been enhanced.
One must also remember that Turkey, in terms of providing goods and services, is the neighborhood giant. The other countries neighboring the Caucasus – Iran and Russia – are certainly no important providers of major consumer goods, foodstuffs or other services led by construction. Turkey is likely to advance its regional role as a major provider of essential goods and services.
Adnan R. Khan: As you suggested above, one of Turkey’s concerns is the degree to which Russia has inserted itself in Middle Eastern affairs. How will Turkey’s rising stature in the Caucasus as a result of its role in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict affect the bigger geopolitical picture?
Ilter Turan: To argue that the developments are currently producing a major geopolitical shift would be an exaggeration, but they do confirm Turkey’s role as a contender for greater influence in the Middle East as well. Both Turkey and Russia are sizing each other up as to how much they can establish power positions without undermining their cooperation. While it is clear that Russia would rather not have any Turkish presence in the Caucasus, Turkey’s expanding presence there is now an undeniable reality. And there is no reason to think that this will diminish in the future.