Saturday, March 10, 2012

Who is stronger: Azerbaijan or Turkey?

Cengiz Aktar, who is known for his pro-Armenian stance among Turkish public, tried to handle a sensitive issue in his column on Wednesday, which is rarely discussed.

He basically claims that the Turkish influence in the Arab world has no match in the Caucasus. Quite to the contrary, he then goes, it is now Azerbaijan, which is asserting its influence over Turkey. He is providing a famous example from Turkey’s unfinished business of normalization with Armenia that has become a failed attempt in 2009 after both Turkey and Armenia proposed a set of preconditions to implement the twin protocols on establishing diplomatic ties.

Azerbaijan opposed the normalization, which included opening of borders between Armenia and Turkey two months after the protocols are ratified by parliaments. Azerbaijan explicitly said it is contrary to its national interests.

Aktar also suggests Turkey’s oil and gas interests with Azerbaijan as a reason why Turkey hesitated going down the road of burying a century old hostilities with its arch foe. According to Aktar, one of the reasons why Turkey decided to end normalization process with Armenia is Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He implied that siding with Azerbaijan in the conflict is basically "blindness" stemming from Turkey's overconfidence.

The Turkish columnist says thanks to Turkey’s recent relative economic and diplomatic success, it now 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,” he claims.

Aktar is correct in suggesting that Turkey's energy interests, internal opposition, discontent from Azerbaijan and its luxury to consume its increasing power killed its Armenia initiative.

He is right on the spot when he says Turkey’s overconfidence has derailed some of its policies, made it a sponsor of unnecessary policies that in fact brought little benefit, if any.

What Aktar was offering as an explanation of such a change is true for many cases including this one. But he is erring when he claims that the outcome of such a policy shift runs contrary to Turkey's national interests. Turkey changed its Armenia policies not by carefully calculating its benefits and by realizing that Azerbaijan is a strategic asset; however, the outcome is in the best interest of Turkey. Setting aside all domestic pressure and emotional attachment to Azerbaijan, a carefully calculated pragmatic assessment would yield the same result -- something Aktar ignores to see.

If Armenia was awash with oil and gas and Azerbaijan was a burden, Turkey would act the same way because of internal opposition and Azerbaijan's dissatisfaction. Aktar’s argument would be correct in this scenario.

When states have too much power, they also have luxury to use this clout in adventurous ways and are easily influenced by domestic lobbying and politics. Kenneth Waltz aptly says “international politics is too serious a business” and he would be right if states had just enough power to defend themselves. Too much power is being abused, mostly by domestic political actors.

What Aktar is suggesting is true in many ways. Over-confidence and too much power is being abused and frequently corrupts. But Aktar should sit tight; Turkey was lucky that domestic political demands were in line with its national interests with respect to maintaining good ties with Azerbaijan.

1 comment:

  1. Does the heavy Shia influence amongst Azeris have anything to do with it? - kk