It’s big, it’s rich and it’s near, so why isn’t it more here? No, not Russia, the leading lady of many a former South Caucasus drama, but what some describe as a promising actor waiting in the wings — Turkey.
At a March 2 conference in Tbilisi on "Turkey’s South Caucasus Agenda: Roles of State and Non-State Actors," sponsored by the Eurasia Partnership Foundation and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV)*, academics, analysts, NGO-niks and retired diplomats debated the likelihood of Turkey acquiring a more active role in the region as a force for peace.
But don’t expect Ankara to rush at the opportunity. As one Georgian participant noted, there are more questions than answers about what Turkey’s role in the South Caucasus should be.
Right now, even while “looming large” over the region, “Turkey is indeed pushing below its weight … politically,” commented Peter Semneby, the European Union’s former special representative to the South Caucasus.
The reasons are many — the foreign-policy distractions of the Middle East and Iran, coupled with the rise of nationalist tendencies in Turkish domestic politics (and accompanying wariness about any further outreach to Armenia), plus Ankara’s desire not to irritate Russia, which still sees the South Caucasus as its own backyard.
More mundane explanations also play a role; more than 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, expertise in the South Caucasus still runs relatively thin among Turks, noted TESEV Assistant Foreign Policy Programme Officer Aybars Görgülü.
Overall, that means that though Ankara has given “hints” that it would like to be involved in mediating resolutions to the conflicts over the breakaway territories of Abkhazia, Nagorno Karabakh and South Ossetia, said Sabine Freizer, the Istanbul-based Europe program director for the International Crisis Group, it has not yet moved to take on that role.
FULL ARTICLE (EurasiaNet)
Photo: Adam Reeder/Flickr