About us   Editorial Board   Advisory Board   Subscribe   Contact us  
 


CAUCASUS UPDATE

In this section, we publish the weekly analysis of the major events taking place in the Caucasus and beyond. The Caucasus Update is written by our Senior Editor Alexander Jackson. Click here to subscribe.

Turkey's local elections and Armenian issue, CU Issue 28, April 6, 2009

On March 29, over 48 million voters cast their ballots in Turkey’s local elections to elect mayors and councils. The vote was seen as a referendum on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a view for which the AKP’s leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was largely responsible. Prior to the vote he had extensively toured the country to rally supporters, and according to observers the mood was closer to a general election than a local one (BBC News, March 30).

Mr Erdogan’s confidence was somewhat misplaced. Voters delivered a stinging – and surprising – rebuke to AKP. Although the party still won, with 40% of the overall vote, and maintained its grip over central Anatolia, its share of the vote slumped by 8% since 2007’s general election, it failed to make inroads on the coasts and it was soundly beaten by Kurdish parties in the southeast. 15 mayoralties were lost. One of the biggest winners was the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP).

AKP has always had a fractious and divided base of support. Its EU ambitions, economic reform and commitment to democracy have rested uneasily alongside its Islamic heritage, accusations of authoritarianism and its frequent battles with the secular establishment. Its supporters have been united by Mr. Erdogan’s charisma, strong economic growth and the lack of a realistic alternative, rather than a belief in the party’s policies. That AKP’s support has finally cracked somewhat, especially given the financial crisis, should therefore come as no surprise.

What does weakened support mean for Turkey’s biggest geopolitical tangles - the EU and Armenia? It could be a blessing or a curse, and it will greatly depend on the country’s internal dynamics. Mr. Erdogan’s weakened mandate should tone down the authoritarian, combative streak which his previous victories, and his party’s survival in the face of repeated legal challenges from secularists, had instilled. Most analysts agree that he will be forced to work with opposition parties, but what does this mean in practice? The elements represented by the opposition distrust each other for a number of reasons, and siding with any one of them will draw criticism from the others.

The other parties are, however, united in their opposition to negotiations with Armenia. Nationalists, Islamists and secularists have distrusted the diplomatic thaw and have strongly criticised the parallel initiative of apologies and historical revisionism undertaken by some Turkish academics. The Armenia issue is an explosive one in Turkish politics, and is not to be handled lightly. Previously, AKP had done so using its comfortable majority, without bothering to consult opposition parties (Eurasia Daily Monitor, March 27). Failure to do so now would cost it dearly.

There are now two factors that the government must contend with if it is to carry through its aim of normalising relations with Armenia. The first is Azerbaijan. Baku has made it clear to Turkey that it is very concerned about the resumption of formal ties between its closest ally and its rival (APA, April 3). Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has reportedly refused to attend an international conference in Istanbul on April 6-7 in protest, and Hurriyet has reported that Azerbaijan may even stop selling gas to Turkey if the borders with Armenia open (Hurriyet, April 2). Exactly how Ankara intends to mollify Baku is not yet clear: it is also uncertain how this rapprochement would affect the delicate negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Azerbaijan seems to be concerned that the opening of Turkish-Armenian borders could lead to hardening of the already tough positions in Armenia with regard to concessions on the Nagorno Karabakh issue. Turkey’s lengthy attempts to persuade Azerbaijan otherwise have seemingly yielded no results. Baku may, after much indignation, settle down and resume the peace process with Yerevan. However, it may equally feel so betrayed that it can gradually turn away from Turkey and the Western states. Azerbaijan’s recent signing of an MoU with Russia on the beginning of gas sale talks could also possibly be understood as a sign of its frustration in this regard.

Now Ankara’s position will be significant: Turkey may, for instance, continue to make the opening of borders conditional on clear progress towards a withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan or other confidence-building measures. But if this was the case, we should expect Azerbaijan’s reaction to have been far more muted.

The second factor is Washington. Barack Obama, who began his visit to Turkey on April 5, promised during his election campaign to recognise the Armenian ‘genocide’. His trip to Turkey is widely recognised as an attempt to, amongst other things, reassure AKP that he will pressure Congress not to pass a bill recognising the 1915 events as genocide. Obama’s promise to reach out to the Muslim world means that he needs pro-Western Muslim states like Turkey, far more than he needs the Armenian lobby in Washington. Provided that Mr. Erdogan receives a satisfying answer, he may be able to press on with opening the border whilst disarming nationalists by blocking Congress’ ‘genocide’ recognition.

If the newly-weakened AKP does achieve a diplomatic breakthrough with Armenia, the backlash at home will be intense. It could even start off a new round of confrontation with the military. The investigation into Ergenekon, a shadowy conspiracy by hardline secularists to allegedly mount a coup, rumbles on – rapprochement with Armenia will provide the General Staff and their supporters with more reasons to distrust the AKP as betrayers of Ataturk’s republic. If the backlash is strong enough, or if President Obama goes ahead and recognises the ‘genocide’ anyway, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Turkish politics will be paralysed yet again, which could further delay EU membership and polarise the electorate.

Restarting ties with Armenia was never an easy task. The Erdogan government has managed to make as much progress as it has through stubborn determination and a refusal to be dictated to the opposition parties. Now, with its political capital diminished and one eye on the general elections, will it be able to keep up the negotiations? And at what cost?



"Turkey's local elections and Armenian issue, CU Issue 28, April 6, 2009" | 1 comment | Search Discussion
The comments are owned by the poster. We aren't responsible for their content.

by Rovshan Isakov on Thu Apr 09, 2009 5:59 pm
It is Armenia that desperately needs open borders with Turkey, not vice versa. Under such circumstances, Armenia must withdraw its forces from Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, as well as the other towns around Karabakh. Secondly, they must give up their nonsense fake "genocide" claims against Turkey. And thirdly, Armenia must recognize Eastern borders of Turkey. Only after the implementation of all of the above should Turkey go ahead with the normalization of ties with Armenia. Azerbaijan's importance as an ally of Turkey significantly outweighs the positive outcomes of opening of borders with economically deprived Armenia.


PREVIOUS ISSUES

  Caspian Compromise Backfires for Russia and Iran, CU Issue 83, November 24, 2010
  Turkey in a Tight Spot on Missile Defense, CU Issue 82, November 11, 2010
  The OSCE and Kyrgyzstan’s Election, CU Issue 81, October 30, 2010
  Unblocking the US-Azerbaijan Relationship, CU Issue 80, October 07, 2010
  Nabucco Pipeline: Quo Vadis?, CU Issue 79, September 30, 2010
  Russia tightens its grip in the South Caucasus, CU Issue 78, August 23, 2010
  Armenian Politics: Rigidity Versus Flexibility, CU Issue 77, August 10, 2010
  Russia and Georgia: Ready To Talk?, CU Issue 76, July 21, 2010
  Can the US walk and chew gum at the same time?, CU Issue 75, July 9, 2010
  The Kyrgyzstan Crisis – A Qualified Success for Turkish Diplomacy?, CU Issue 74, June 24, 2010
  Brussels downgrades the Caucasus, CU Issue 73, June 07, 2010
  NATO’s New Strategic Concept and the Caspian Region, CU Issue 72, June 01, 2010
  Joe Biden and European Security, CU Issue 71, May 13, 2010
  Behind the US-Azerbaijan row, CU Issue 70, May 6, 2010
  Turkey and Iran: The risks of failure, CU Issue 69, April 30, 2010
  Kazakhstan, the OSCE, and the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, CU Issue 68, April 19, 2010
  The Implications of the Moscow Bombings, CU Issue 67, April 12, 2010
  Iran Manoeuvres for a role in Karabakh, CU Issue 66, April 5, 2010
  The EU and Abkhazia: Between a rock and a hard place, CU Issue 65, March 16, 2010
  Fallout from the US ‘Genocide’ vote, CU Issue 64, March 9, 2010
  Ukraine's elections and future of GUAM, CU Issue 63, February 10, 2010
  Less Democracy, More Security: Kazakhstan and the OSCE, CU Issue 62, January 18, 2010
  Tackling the North Caucasus Insurgency: Development or Rhetoric?, CU Issue 61, January 11, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 60, January 4, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 59, December 31, 2009
  The Turkmenistan-China Pipeline Changes the Energy Balance, CU Issue 58, December 21, 2009
  Russia’s European Security Treaty, CU Issue 57, December 7, 2009
  The ‘Kidnapping War’ in Georgia and its Implications, CU Issue 56, December 3, 2009
  Azerbaijan Shifts its Energy Priorities, CU Issue 55, November 23, 2009
  The South Caucasian States and Afghanistan, CU Issue 54, November 11, 2009
  Is Turkey turning East?, CU Issue 53, November 2, 2009
  What is Russia’s Gameplan for Iran?, CU Issue 52, October 26, 2009
  Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan: Where Next?, CU Issue 51, October 19, 2009
  The Armenians of Georgia: A New Flashpoint in the Caucasus?, CU Issue 50, October 12, 2009
  Turkey’s EU Membership: Will The ‘Armenian Opening’ Help?, CU Issue 49, October 5, 2009
  The Missile Defence Shift: Implications for the Caucasus, CU Issue 48, September 22, 2009
  Rising Tensions in the Black Sea , CU Issue 47, September 14, 2009
  Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan: The Clock Is Ticking, CU Issue 46, September 7, 2009
  The Battle of the Bases in Central Asia, CU Issue 45, August 31, 2009
  Russia, Israel, and the S-300s, CU Issue 44, August 24, 2009
  The motivations behind Turkey's 'Kurdish Initiative', CU Issue 43, August 17, 2009
  The Implications of the Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan Dispute, CU Issue 42, August 10, 2009
  What has changed since the August war?, CU Issue 41, August 3, 2009
  The Internal Dynamics of Armenia’s Karabakh Policy, CU Issue 40, July 20, 2009
  Gazprom’s Baku Triumph, CU Issue 39, July 06, 2009
  Ingushetia: The New Chechnya?, CU Issue 38, June 29, 2009
  Georgias Economy - A Matter for Diplomats, CU Issue 37, June 22, 2009
  ‘Progress’ In The Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Process, CU Issue 36, June 08, 2009
  Iran's Azerbaijanis and the presidential election, CU Issue 35, June 01, 2009
  Nabucco and South Stream - The Race Heats Up, CU Issue 34, May 25, 2009
  China and Central Asia, CU Issue 33, May 19, 2009
  Russia, Georgia, and NATO - A Bad Week, CU Issue 32, May 11, 2009
  The Obama Administration’s Emerging Caucasus Policy, CU Issue 31, April 27, 2009
  Integration and Division in the Caspian Sea, CU Issue 30, April 20, 2009
  The Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement - Implications for the South Caucasus, CU Issue 29, April 13, 2009
  Turkey's local elections and Armenian issue, CU Issue 28, April 6, 2009
  Is There Life Left In The Nabucco Project?, CU Issue 27, March 30, 2009
  Problems and Prospects for Russian Military Reform, CU Issue 26, March 23, 2009
  Russia and Georgia: Not back to war, CU Issue 25, March 16, 2009
  Armenia: Heading towards crisis?, CU Issue 24, March 9, 2009
  Drug trafficking in the Caucasus, CU Issue 23, February 23, 2009
  Russian-led military block: A real counterweight to NATO?, CU Issue 22, February 16, 2009
  Are the International Missions in Georgia still relevant?, CU Issue 21, February 9, 2009
  Israel and Azerbaijan: Baku’s Balancing Act, CU Issue 20, February 2, 2009
  The North Caucasus in 2009: A Bleak Forecast, CU Issue 19, January 26, 2009
  The Military Balance in Nagorno-Karabakh, CU Issue 18, January 19, 2009
  Russia, Iran, and Barack Obama in 2009, Part II, CU Issue 17, January 12, 2009
  Looking forward to 2009 in the Caucasus and beyond, Part I, CU Issue 16, January 5, 2009
  The opportunities and the risks of NATO’s new supply routes, CU Issue 15, December 22, 2008
  The Black Sea Ambitions of Armenia, CU Issue 14, December 15, 2008
  Another Small Step for Nabucco, CU Issue 13, December 8, 2008
  Will Saakashvili survive politically?, CU Issue 12, December 1, 2008
  The latest fashion: conflict mediation, CU Issue 11, November 24, 2008
  The Baku Energy Summit, CU Issue 10, November 17, 2008
  Obama and the Caucasus, CU Issue 9, November 10, 2008
  Kazakhstan's oil options, CU Issue 8, November 3, 2008
  Is the Minsk Group being sidelined?, CU Issue 7, October 27, 2008
  Gas and oil developments in the Caspian region, CU Issue 6, October 20, 2008
  Where next for the Georgian peace process?, CU Issue 5, October 8, 2008
  Unrest in the North Caucasus, CU Issue 4, September 29, 2008
  Saakashvili's future, CU Issue 3, September 22, 2008
  Iran after the Georgian War, CU Issue 2, September 15, 2008
  Football diplomacy, CU Issue 1, September 8, 2008
       
 
  © 2006-2010 CRIA
  All rights reserved

Editorial Board
Advisory Board
Our Authors

Back Issues
Caucasus Update
Current Issue

Contact Us
Subscribe
Join us on Facebook