By Fuad Huseinzadeh
In the recent years have emerged three very promising platforms of trilateral cooperation in the Black Sea-Caspian Sea region that consist in the following partnerships: Azerbaijan-Turkey-Georgia, Azerbaijan-Turkey-Iran and Azerbaijan-Turkey-Turkmenistan. For Azerbaijan, developing relations with foreign partners at bilateral and trilateral levels coincides with Baku’s official posture and its foreign policy strategy of non-alignment to any particular bloc. It was not by any coincidence that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, speaking at an official reception to mark the Republic Day on May 28, noted the great importance of all these formats of trilateral interactions: “These formats have a very great significance for regional security and cooperation and safeguarding our political and economic interests. We shall, of course, continue these tripartite meetings in the future, which have already become regular” the head of state commented.
In this regard it is notable the latest trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia – Elmar Mammadyarov, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Tamar Beruchashvili – which took place in the Turkish city of Kars. The Kars Declaration was the crown of the meeting which was the fourth one held in this format. In the declaration, the foreign ministers said that the three countries had the same views regarding principles of their cooperation and the future of the region.
According to the document, the foreign ministers stressed the importance of trilateral cooperation in the region in accordance with the documents adopted earlier – the Trabzon declaration of June 8th 2012, the Batumi joint communique of March 28th 2013 and the Ganja statement of February 19th 2014.
The ministers pointed out the importance of implementing joint projects in energy and transportation, in particular the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project and the TANAP gas project, stressed the importance of the Trilateral Sectorial Cooperation Action Plan for 2013-15 as an effective means of political dialogue, and stated the need to continue meetings in this format and to expand trilateral cooperation in other areas, including international organizations.
Along with this, the political component of this trio seems no less significant, given the geopolitical situation in neighboring countries. The developments in Ukraine or, to be precise, the ambiguous interpretations by some countries of the territorial integrity of this country, have clearly left an imprint on the final document adopted as a result of the meeting in Kars. “Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia have reaffirmed their firm support for one another’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and in this regard they have once again called for a speedy settlement of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan and the conflict in Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinval (South Ossetia) regions in accordance with fundamental principles and norms of international law, in particular on the basis of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of internationally recognized borders of states,” the declaration stresses.
At their final news conference, the foreign ministers stated in unison that they were confident that the transport and energy projects Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum, and Southern Gas Corridor will give an impetus to the implementation of new economic projects in Europe and Asia. However, regional security gained a greater emphasis once again. Elmar Mammadyarov said that Armenia’s aggressive policy against Azerbaijan threatens peace and development in the region. It was noted that this policy by Armenia is contrary to international legal norms. Noting that all conflicts in the world are a crime against humanity, Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey will continue with its efforts to establish peace between countries and peoples. Stressing the great importance of the three parties’ participation in international organizations and regional integration projects, Minister Tamar Beruchashvili said that the trilateral relationship will continue to meet the interests of our countries and peoples.
However, subsequent statements by the foreign ministers are noteworthy. Tamar Beruchashvili said that every country can take part in regional projects if it recognizes, first of all, the territorial integrity of a neighboring state and renounces all acts of violence. In turn, the Turkish minister was more specific in identifying the listeners of those statements. Cavusoglu said that as long as Armenian armed forces do not leave Azerbaijan’s land, that country will remain out of regional projects. “We support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Georgia. We hope that Armenia would respect the borders of neighboring states and becomes a nation like one of ours. In that case, the missing link will be where it belongs,” Turkish media quoted Cavusoglu as saying.
In the meantime, “the missing link”, as the saying goes, does not care a straw. Just like previously, Yerevan continues to be concerned not about real things, the socio-economic situation in the country that seems to be worsening further and, as a consequence, mass migration, but the same mythical benchmarks as before – international recognition of the 1915 “genocide” and “re-creation of the Great Armenia”. Armenia, the indefatigable neighbor of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia not only rejects the calls for good neighborly relations in return to non-aggression but also continues to lay territorial claims on them and tries to impose on them something they did not do.
There is only one thing that this policy promises Armenia – an increasingly deeper immersion into crisis and isolation in the region. The geopolitical state of affairs in the region, which has until recently suited Armenia, is going to change, and not in favor of Armenia.
Azerbaijan is increasingly stepping up its cooperation with Turkey. Last week, the head of the public and political department within the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration, Ali Hasanov, said that Baku should create a single political block with Ankara. He said Turkey is now one of the world’s 20 largest economies, and Azerbaijan is also steadily moving towards high economic indicators.
But while for Armenia the strengthening of allied relations between its two sworn enemies is not a big surprise, the increasingly worsening relationship between Russia and the West, and Iran’s rapprochement with Azerbaijan are fraught for Armenia including the loss of its most important allies in the region. The recent visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Baku confirmed the determination of the sides to eliminate former problems and to clarify everything, and the Russian president’s visit to Turkey and agreements reached during the visit to strengthen bilateral relations against the backdrop of the confrontation between Moscow and the West have even allowed some observers to predict the creation of a new geopolitical axis – Azerbaijan-Turkey-Russia.
“The Russia-Turkish agreements may seriously change the geopolitical architecture, primarily in the South Caucasus. In this regard, a new line of cooperation between Turkey-Azerbaijan-Russia – is possible, which in the long term may be expanded to include Iran, especially given Moscow’s attempts to increase its presence in India,” stated for R+ magazine, Nadana Friedrichson, a political analyst with EurAsEC Institute.
Thus, while Armenia is a hostage to important processes running around it but without any of its involvement, Azerbaijan and also Turkey and Georgia are not only depending on a geopolitical agenda but are also actively shaping it.
Kars is actually a very symbolic place for the history of the relationship between Turkey and the South Caucasus countries. We should recall that the Treaty of Kars on friendship between the Azerbaijani, Armenian and Georgian SSRs on one side and Turkey on the other was signed in this city in 1921. The document extended to the trans-Caucasus soviet republics the main provisions of the Treaty of Moscow. The Treaty of Moscow provided for establishment of trade relations and regulation of financial and economic issues. The Treaty of Kars added several provisions to the Moscow Treaty – on facilitation of border crossing by residents of the border zone and on giving them the right to use pastures located on the other side of the border. The Treaty of Kars effectively helped remove friction between Turkey and the trans-Caucasus soviet republics. However, the present-day Republic of Armenia does not recognize the treaty because it assigned to Turkey the cities of Kars and Ardahan, which Armenians covet, as well as the Mount Agridag which they call Ararat.
History, as we know, does not repeat itself. And almost a century after the treaty was signed, the region’s future is being decided without Armenia’s involvement.
Fuad Huseinzadeh is a journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan