Ankara’s Abkhazia gambit
|Friday, 18. September 2009 1 comment(s)||
While Turkey’s attempts at rapprochement with Armenia have attracted much attention, Ankara’s moves to forge closer relations with Abkhazia appear to be much less publicized. Yet the recent developments in the south-western Caucasus are likely to get Turkey more involved in the region’s complex geopolitical equation.
On the surface, there have not been any major shifts in Ankara’s official position on Georgia. Turkey’s senior diplomats reiterate that “there is no policy change in the Caucasus,” meaning Turkey continues to staunchly support Georgia’s territorial integrity. It would be worthwhile to remind, however, that Turkey’s approach toward the South Caucasus has always been more nuanced than that of its Western allies in NATO or the EU. In its previous historic incarnation as the Ottoman Empire, Turkey used to be the imperial overlord of some of these lands, battling it over with the other imperial power – Russia. One of the imperial legacies is Turkey’s sizeable Abkhaz diaspora -- around 500,000 Turkish citizens consider themselves to be of Abkhazian origin. The Ottoman past also underlies Ankara’s popular foreign policy concept of “strategic depth” with its historical and geographical dimensions. This concept helps Turkey’s policy elite better justify its ambition to play a greater geopolitical role in the Caucasus.
In addition, three factors seem to be influencing Ankara’s position in the south-western Caucasus. First, after Abkhazia was recognized by Venezuela recently (with Bolivia rumoured to be ready to follow into the Caracas’ footsteps), some Turkish analysts appear to believe that “Abkhazia’s independence process has begun to gain momentum.” Second, Ankara is certainly interested in preventing Abkhazia from moving too closely to Russia. Finally, Turkey would like to put a stop to incidents in which Turkish vessels would be seized by Georgian coast guard -- presumably in the international waters – and accused of being involved in smuggling various raw materials to Abkhazia.
Thus, it is quite remarkable that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, while on the official visit to Tbilisi on September 8-9, that he intends to visit Abkhazia in order to “get acquainted with [that republic] and attempt to regulate its relations with Georgia.” One day later, Unal Cevikoz, deputy undersecretary of the Turkish foreign ministry – and Ankara’s old Caucasus hand who was Turkey’s ambassador in Azerbaijan – paid a visit to Sukhumi, Abkhazia’s capital, and met with Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba.
This visit, a number of Turkish analysts argued, is not about Ankara’s attempts at kick-starting peace talks between Sukhumi and Tbilisi. Rather, Turkey’s Abkhaz gambit is a sign that a totally new ball game is about to begin between Turkey, Georgia, Abkhazia, and Russia. According to one commentary, Ankara “has entered into an unstoppable multidimensional integration process with Abkhazia.” There are also suggestions aired within the Turkish analytical community that Ankara will seek to persuade Tbilisi to let it develop a “controlled relationship” with Sukhumi.
Whatever comes out of Turkey’s latest foreign policy initiative, Ankara’s geopolitical resurgence in the Caucasus is definitely on the rise.
Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors