Turkey: Forging An Energy Partnership with Azerbaijan & Armenia?

Via Stratfor, an interesting look at the possibility that Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan will enter into an energy relationship to counter the effects of Russia’s gains in the region after its intervention in Georgia. As the article notes:

“…Stratfor sources in Azerbaijan have said that Turkey plans to forge an energy relationship with Armenia — one involving Azerbaijan.

Turkey and Armenia have been feeling each other out for some time. In June, Armenian President Serge Sarkisian accepted Ankara’s request to establish a joint committee of historians to assess ways to resolve extant bilateral disagreements. In July, back-channel bilateral negotiations were held in Geneva, and then Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited the border town of Ani, the old Armenian capital, to launch renovation work of the tourist site under the aegis of UNESCO. Gul’s Sept. 5 visit to Armenia was the culmination of months of extensive behind-the-scenes preparations, which entailed careful moves by Ankara meant to get Yerevan to agree to talk.

The next step, Stratfor sources say, will be for the Turkish, Azeri and Armenian foreign ministers to meet — likely on the sidelines of this year’s U.N. General Assembly session, which begins Sept. 16, with the possibility of U.S. involvement. Azerbaijan is very keen on knowing Armenia’s intentions before Baku heads into its Oct. 15 presidential elections. The Turkish side is optimistic that the Armenian-Azeri dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region can be settled provided Yerevan has enough incentives.

In order to improve relations, Ankara is willing to offer Yerevan full and immediate normalization of ties and could partially open up its border to trade as a sort of down payment. The Turks are also working out an arrangement for the United States and Europe to extend financial aid to Armenia in an effort to ensure that Yerevan breaks out of Russia’s orbit. Finally and most important, Turkey is willing to engage in energy projects in Armenia, especially if Russia decides to cut nuclear fuel to Armenian power plants to prevent it from aligning with the West.

Stratfor is not in a position to judge the authenticity of these reports at this time. Until very recently, Turkey and Azerbaijan were both locked in long-standing and hostile struggles with Armenia, which makes it hard to believe reports about quickly improving relations and energy cooperation. However, the Russian intervention in Georgia could be changing relations among the three countries — or at least forcing them to re-examine their regional goals.

A resurgent Russia in virtual control of Georgia has complicated matters for Turkey, which does not border Azerbaijan proper. If Turkey is to consolidate itself as an energy transit state and extend its influence among Central Asia’s Turkic states, it needs to have access to Azerbaijan. Ankara can increase its access to Azerbaijan through Armenian energy lines that bypass Russia. Another option for bypassing Russia is through Iran, but this would involve an indirect route fraught with geopolitical complications. Ergo, Ankara’s friendly outreach to Armenia.

Armenia has always been a free player in the region given that it has no ethnic, linguistic or religious affinity with any of the countries in the Caucasus. Yerevan has oscillated between Washington and Moscow, which means it is not completely opposed to the idea of cooperation with Ankara and Baku. Armenia is also a poor and landlocked country — a fact that can serve as a powerful motivator for burying the past and embracing a prosperous future. Partnering with the Turks and becoming a transit state for Caspian oil from Azerbaijan to pass through to Turkey and onto Europe is a great means by which the Armenians can develop a sound economy. Furthermore — though it is difficult for any Armenian leader to admit at this time — the Armenians have worked with the Turks before, when Armenia was an Ottoman province.

As far as Azerbaijan is concerned, until the Russian intervention in Georgia, Baku was slowly working toward defeating the Armenians and taking back Nagorno-Karabakh. To this end, it was relying on its oil exports, with which it had hoped to enhance its military capabilities for a final conflict with Armenia. The Kremlin’s moves into the Caucasus essentially threw a monkey wrench into Baku’s plans. Without the ability to export oil in an unencumbered manner, Azerbajian knows that it is just another country that does not border any of its allies — and a very poor and badly managed country at that.

In other words, each of the three players in this dynamic has a dire need to work with the others to find a better way of meeting its needs. That said, deep animosities are not easily forgotten. Yerevan claims that more than 1 million of its people were killed by Turkish forces when Armenia was trying to secede — with Russian help — from an imploding Ottoman Empire during World War I. Given that the Armenian leadership hails from the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a compromise on this thorny issue will be very problematic.”

Such bad blood renders any process toward normalization extremely difficult. But while they are largely avoiding the political dimensions of this process, it does appear that the three states have begun examining the operational aspects of a potential relationship, driven by their respective interests.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 15th, 2008 at 10:50 am and is filed under Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Turkey.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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