ArmInfo.Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, academician Ruben Safrastyan in an interview with ArmInfo discusses Turkey's regional role. He shares his vision of the Russian factor and geopolitics in the Armenian-Turkish relations, as well as the factor of Armenia in shaping the Caucasian policy of Ankara. He comments on Turkish interests in the Artsakh issue, as well as the Erdogan factor in Turkish foreign policy.
Today's Turkey remains a rather unpredictable country. On the one hand, it is a rouge state; on the other, the USA and Russia are actively competing for the development of relations with Ankara. At the same time, Turkey is conducting military operations in Syria, in Iraq against the Kurds on their own territory. Does such Turkey pose a real threat to Armenia’s security today?
I think that it does, and I mean military threat as well. Keeping the borders with Armenia closed, Turkey, using Armenia’s complex geographical and geopolitical position, thereby exerts pressure to achieve a change in the political course of Yerevan. Such a policy is not common in the modern world. And such a policy of pressure over time may well become more aggressive and include a military component. For several years now, the Turkish General Staff has been studying the Armenian language, and this fact means that the Turkish military considers Armenia as a military adversary. Let us not forget the direct threats of the use of military force against Armenia by Turkey’s highest political leadership, primarily President Turgut Ozal in 1992-1993. All this was accompanied by the relocation of the Turkish Armed Forces closer to the borders of Armenia. Thus, recent history is forcing us to keep our eye on the ball, in particular in relation to a country that has a large army and pursues, especially in recent years, an adventurous foreign policy. The unpredictability of the Turkish leader Erdogan has already overstepped the mark. And, of course, large-scale military operations by Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan cannot be ruled out. In this case, we should expect that Turkey will try to intervene in these actions.
- What is the significance of Nakhijevan for Turkey today, and to what extent are the positions of Baku and Ankara coordinated on the issue of this Azerbaijani exclave?
In January 1920, the then Ottoman parliament, by direct order of Mustafa Kemal, adopted the so-called "National Oath", outlining the borders of Turkey as a state that was to arise on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. In the mid-1920s, the parliament of the Republic of Turkey already approved these borders. I have a corresponding map, on which, along with Batumi, Aleppo, Mosul, Cyprus and part of the Balkans, Nakhijevan is considered as the territory of Turkey. In Azerbaijan, mentions of this map are usually perceived very nervously, but this is a fact. Now let’s move from history to modern geopolitics. Turkey has two military bases outside its borders- in Sudan and Qatar. And recently, there has been increasing talk about the appearance of a third one - in Nakhijevan. I was very interested in the source of this information and, it seems to me, I managed to find it. In September 2018, a publication appeared in a not very well-known Turkish newspaper, according to which "the issue of establishing a military base in Nakhijevan is being discussed by the authorities in Ankara." Apparently, this leak was made deliberately and aimed to reconnoiter the ground. Taking into account the strengthening of military cooperation between Baku and Ankara on the territory of Nakhijevan, joint military maneuvers, meetings, we can state the obvious activation of Turkey in the Nakhijevan direction. Based on an analysis of all these factors, I can assume that the preparatory stage for the establishment of a Turkish military base in Nakhijevan is now underway. It will not be soon, but preparations for this are already underway. Ankara’s main goals are geopolitical in nature and are based on Russian-Turkish rivalry for influence in the South Caucasus.
- That is, the Turks create a counterbalance to the 102nd Russian Military Base in Gyumri?
I think yes. After that Turkey will claim for ousting Russia from the South Caucasus. Thus, I see Ankara’s intentions regarding Nakhijevan as a component of geostrategic and geopolitical pressure on Moscow. Of course, the base will become an additional lever of military pressure on Armenia. But these are long-term plans. Given Turkey’s serious involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, rapprochement with Russia in various fields, this prospect is not relevant for now. And today, only the prerequisites and corresponding conditions are gradually being created. In my opinion, Russia at a confidential level has already expressed dissatisfaction with Turkey on this issue, which led to a slight decrease in Turkish activity in the Nakhijevan direction. But the geopolitical goals of Turkey, nevertheless, have remained the same.
- The issue of the need to restore relations with Turkey in the Armenian society is perceived rather sensitively and, in general, is unpopular. Are there any common lines based on which Armenia and Turkey could reach some kind of agreements outside the interests of Azerbaijan and Russia? Indeed, in a global sense, the lack of relations with a western neighbor does not proceed from the interests of Armenia:
Certainly. It is in our interests, but not in the interests of Turkey. Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian military base is located on the territory of Armenia, and a military-political and strategic alliance has been concluded between Armenia and Russia. Accordingly, in the conditions of maintaining the existing configuration, normalization of relations with Armenia will not open up the opportunity for Turkey to be active in Armenia and more widely in the South Caucasus.
- That is, Turkey’s scenario in Georgia will not work in Armenia
Definitely. It can work only if Russia leaves Armenia - this will be a completely different situation. The current situation will definitely not lead to the strengthening of Turkish influence in the region, even in the case of normalization of relations with Armenia. It seems to me that Turkey calculated all these nuances in the policy towards Armenia immediately after the collapse of the USSR, being one of the first to recognize the independence of Armenia in 1991 and refusing to establish diplomatic relations with us. Ankara hastened to recognize the independence of Armenia, given the importance of the presence of a buffer zone for it-the South Caucasus between Turkey and Russia. The second - in the geostrategic sense for Turkey, it is important that this buffer zone is under its influence, and not under the influence of Russia. And Armenia is considered by Ankara as a traditionally pro-Russian country. Accordingly, Turkey aims at isolating Armenia as much as possible, exert pressure, hindering its strengthening and, accordingly, the strengthening of Russia's role in the South Caucasus. Turkey is a country that is shaping its foreign policy priorities on geostrategic and geopolitical calculations, rather than on some momentary political approach. Armenia is not of economic interest to Turkey - the market is too small.
From your words it follows that Ankara, in a certain sense, is afraid of Armenia :
Based on my own several meetings with representatives of the Turkish leadership, the analytical community, I can say that in Turkey there is confidence that if Armenia has at least some opportunity, it will begin to develop rapidly. Turks know Armenians well and are convinced of our creativity. We have no access to the sea, but under normal conditions, the location of Armenia in the center of the region suggests that all the most important communications should pass through our territory. And this is also an opportunity for the rapid development of Armenia. And why should Turkey give Armenia the opportunity to develop if this is accompanied by a strengthening of Russia's regional positions?
- It follows from what you say that for want of a better Turkey is interested in maintaining the status quo around Artsakh:
This is a very good question. What does Artsakh mean for Turkey? In a geopolitical sense, Turkey became interested in Artsakh only after we took Shushi in 1992. The Turks became worried because the capture of the fortress city demonstrated that Armenia has the potential to solve complex military problems. Of course, Artsakh within Azerbaijan would be an ideal option for Turkey. But it is not too much worried about the existing status quo. To some extent, for Ankara it is an opportunity to have more influence on Azerbaijan. The same way as it is for Russia to influence on Armenia. So in this issue everything is in fact crystal clear.
Let’s summarize the interview with the issue we discussed first. Is Erdogan's adventurism impulsive, or is it, nevertheless, deeply considered? Indeed, it is precisely as a result of it that Turkey today is in the center of global politics: the Turkey-USA-Russia triangle, Turkey-Cyprus-EU, etc.
If I was asked this question a few years ago, I would say that such a policy of Erdogan provokes resistance primarily from the military. It was the Turkish General Staff, its analysts, who always evaluated the situation most soberly and objectively. However, in the conditions of the termination of the existence of this center of military-political power in Turkey, everything has been concentrated in Erdogan’s hands. And a series of victories within Turkey (with the exception of the results of the Istanbul elections, he had no defeats for all these years), aroused great-power dictatorial habits in Erdogan. Let's admit, that there was a basis for that. All this led to the conviction that he could allow himself much in foreign policy, especially on the ideological basis of neo-Ottomanism provided for him by Ahmet Davutoglu. Thus, successful domestic political experience, coupled with ideological concepts, which, Erdogan apparently, has beaten into his head, lead to the formation of Turkey’s foreign policy, which I characterize as adventurous. Nevertheless, it is precisely as a result of it that the powers with potential incomparable with the potential of Turkey, to some extent are led by the nose by Erdogan, including the United States and Russia, not to mention European countries. Erdogan really allows himself a lot and for now is getting away with it.
- Erdogan’s adventurism is noticeable in his game of constant increase in rates, isn't it?
That's right. He constantly takes risks and applies methods in his policy that can cost Turkey dearly. But he sees that this does not happen and goes further, continuing to increase the geopolitical significance of Turkey. In this sense, he really leads the game to raise rates. This game is dangerous, it may end for Turkey very badly, but so far Erdogan has succeeded. Moreover, in Turkey itself, the economic situation is gradually deteriorating - according to some estimates, inflation in the country reaches 40%. All this leads to the rejection of Erdogan, especially in large cities, people really more or less adequately perceive the situation in the country.
- According to the results of all the recent elections, we see that there are a minority of those in Turkey?
This is true. The silent majority continues to support him. Erdogan has relied on Islam, and Turkey is a Muslim country after all. Muslims are majority.
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