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Today’s Zaman: Natural gas and Armenia-Turkey reconciliation

03:06, 07.04.2011 Region: Armenia, Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey Theme: Politics, Economics, Analytics

Armenian News-NEWS.am posts the article “Armenia-Turkey rapprochement and gas” by Amanda Paul published in Today’s Zaman daily.

“Of all the topics that are currently being batted around as possible post-election foreign policy priorities of Ankara, the issue of Turkey-Armenia rapprochement is surfacing again and again,”  the daily reports.  

“I have even been contacted by energy companies involved in Caspian projects asking whether I have any inside information from Ankara as to whether or not a fresh attempt to get the rapprochement back on track will take place and if so how may if affect energy deals that are on the table -- most notably between Turkey and Azerbaijan but also as far away as Turkmenistan. For these guys getting their gas to European markets is far more important than the Turkish-Armenia border being reopened, therefore, they really do not wish to see Baku “upset” again, which could result in further delays for projects and create fresh tensions in the region,” the daily says.

“Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic ties and their common border has been closed since 1993, following Armenia’s occupation of seven Azerbaijan provinces during the Nagorno-Karabakh war (1988-1993). However, this situation brought no benefits for either nation so in 2008 the two sides bravely decided it was time to start to move away from their difficult past and take steps towards rapprochement. This culminated in the signing of two protocols in Zurich in October 2009 for the normalization of relations, including the reopening of the border. Such a development would have had positive consequences for stability in the region, helping lessen the siege mentality of Armenians, who, being boxed in by Azerbaijan and Turkey, have an obsession about security that has only served to make them overly reliant on Russia. For Turkey it would have meant the campaign by Armenia and its massive diaspora community to have parliaments around the world (in particular the US) label the tragic 1915-1918 events as genocide closed. Therefore it was a win-win for all. Only Azerbaijan could not see what was in it for them. Baku believed it would only have served to make Yerevan more intransigent in the peace-talks over Nagorno-Karabakh,” the source says.

“Unfortunately following intense pressure from Baku and Turkey’s main opposition parties, compounded by Baku holding hostage crucial talks with Ankara on gas tariffs and transit fees, Turkey decided to link the ratification of the Protocols to progress on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and in particular the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani lands. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went to Baku and announced that Azerbaijani soil was as Turkish soil and that Armenian must withdraw,” the daily reads.

“This statement was really the beginning of the end for the process. Given that Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan had already used up a lot of his political capital by embarking on the rapprochement with Turkey in the first place, he simply had nothing left to give so this was something Yerevan could not buy into. The result was that Turkey was branded as dishonest and untrustworthy. However, Armenia also had its share of the blame to carry given that in January 2010 the Armenian Constitutional Court issued a ruling on the Protocols, deeming them to be in accordance with Armenia’s constitution and in accordance with Armenia’s 1991 declaration of independence, which make recognition of the genocide one of its goals. Ankara believed this was evidence of Yerevan adding a precondition to the process,” the daily says.

“In the end the talks collapsed and until today the process remains “frozen.” Any new rapprochement attempt will need to be meticulously thought through -- civil society and academia have been busy coming up with possible steps forward to this end -- and all sides will need to be more flexible than they previously were. If progress is really going to be made, this means making it far more “inclusive,” including keeping Azerbaijan in the loop which will mean that something needs to happen on Nagorno-Karabakh. If this does not happen, I am very skeptical this process will be able to succeed. It is very likely that the “gas hurdle” will reappear because while Turkey and Azerbaijan may have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on gas tariffs and transit, they have not ratified it.  Without the ratification the agreement is not worth much. And, of course, it is very possible that Azerbaijan will again bring this issue to the table to continue to hobble rapprochement which, of course, would also have a knock on effect on the EU energy security projects,” the source reports.

“Furthermore, Azerbaijan may also go one step further as it has another card to play -- namely its own role as a transit state. For projects such as Nabucco to materialize gas from Central Asia (as well as Azerbaijan) is essential. Azerbaijan would be the transit state for Turkmen gas, thereby Azerbaijan may decide to say -- we want progress on Nagorno-Karabakh -- otherwise we won’t be ready to act as a transit state.  Gas it seems is very much the game changer in this triangle,” the author concludes.

Armenia News - NEWS.am

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