Kaliningrad of the Caucasus

R+ is speaking to Mehmet Fatih Oztarsu, Turkey’s only expert on the Caucasus region who lived and was educated in all the three countries of the South Caucasus. Being vice-chairman of the Turkish analytical centre Strategic Outlook, M.F. Oztarsu comes up with analytical materials on the region’s countries.
Quite recently the Turkish expert published a book entitled “But Which Turks and Armenians?” (Ama Hangi T?rkler ve Ermeniler) which has evoked a wide response and mixed reactions both in Turkey and Armenia. This is why we have decided to start our talk with M.F. Oztarsu from this particular book.

- Tell us please about your book “But Which Turks and Armenians?”: What is it about and why did it make such a stir? 

- The book reflects observations of the situation in Armenia and the Armenian question. The impressions I received during the period I lived in Armenia needed to be presented to people in the form of a book. One can find answers in the book to many questions about Armenia that may come to mind. The book consists of two parts. The first part considers the psychological condition of Armenian society. The second analyses political relationships in Armenia. The book is written in Turkish but nonetheless it has evoked much interest in Armenia and demands that it should be translated into Armenian.

- As can be seen from the debate, your book carries a certain call for Turkey to take a closer look at Armenians. However the Turkish side made steps towards Armenia more than once but all gestures of good will from the Turkish side met with only claims from Armenia including territorial ones… 

- The conciliatory notes in my book were addressed not only to Armenians. They rather reflect the wish to change an opinion that has rested for decades on baseless accusations against Turkey. We must immediately settle fundamental problems and be an influential country in the region. This can be done by studying Armenian society and working out joint solutions. Because very few people in today’s Turkey know Armenia and the way people live there. In the end this fact plays against Turkey. Whatever Turkey has been doing up to now, it has had no success. It appears that new methods should be tried.
We have faced with two problems today: the Armenian leadership now officially laying territorial claims to Turkey; and society which, having no knowledge of Turkey, takes it as a rule as an enemy image. The state has for too long a time been run by people from Karabakh with their war-time past. In other words, we have never seen an Armenia that is not governed by nationalists.
But this may change. There are oppositionists holding the opinion that it is necessary to improve relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
As regards public opinion, it is necessary to write many more such books. In this one I tried to describe very differing characteristics of the psychological condition of society: sound and unsound ones with their positive and negative aspects. The most important thing is to get the correct diagnosis and eliminate the anti-Turkish sentiments in the people suffering as of today from a morbid and clinical hatred towards the Turks. For this end, an atmosphere of reasonable discussion should be created.

- Armenia’s leadership recently announced its wish to join the Customs Union. Armenian experts themselves assess this step as capitulation of Armenia which previously threatened to go towards the West. What is your opinion on this issue? 

- At first glance, this can be regarded as Yerevan’s capitulation. The word “capitulation” is used even not by us but by the Armenian opposition. Protest actions have taken place in Yerevan against the Customs Union. By the way, two active participants of those protests, namely Aykak Arshamyan, the Yerevan press club’s project coordinator, and Suren Sagatelyan, a council member of the Transparency International anti-corruption centre, were cruelly beaten up by unknown attackers.
Up to now, Russia’s pressure has been focused on the energy sector. Either Yerevan had to consent to joining the Customs Union or a revolution would have happened before the winter came. As the energy crisis grew, protests were gathering momentum in different spheres, the public started rising up against the authorities and the oligarchy. That decision was taken because there was no alternative. Nonetheless it had not been agreed on with the people. It is said that Armenia will get advantages in security. But being already under Russia’s protection, such opinions are being circulated with the only purpose to keep the people in fear of an imaginary enemy and convince them that the decision taken in correct. Thus Serzh Sargsyan’s helplessness comes to light which points out a crisis in the “Karabakh clan’s” administrative traditions and collapse of Armenia’s foreign policy as a whole. Moscow’s influence will certainly increase not only in the sphere of security but also in many other areas, mainly in economics and energy, and Armenia will become the Kaliningrad of the Caucasus.

- The opinion is current among the expert community that Yerevan’s entry to the Customs Union may somewhat hamper improvement of relations between Armenian and Turkey. Do you agree with this? 

- This is possible but Moscow may also be interested in relations improving between Yerevan and Ankara. Moscow held Armenia’s strings in its hand as well in the past. The future situation will develop the way Russia wishes. Yerevan did not consider the issue of mutual relations with Turkey before joining the Customs Union though.
Squeezed in the region and pretty tired of Russian influence, Armenia at the same time has made important steps towards European integration. That is, according to the Armenian opposition, the subject of rapprochement with Western states was not presented from the very outset as an alternative to the Customs Union. Vladimir Putin’s visit to Baku and Azerbaijan’s efforts to further build up its military power may have contributed to Armenia hastily taking the decision. From now onward Yerevan is powerless to say something as an independent state on its mutual relations with Turkey.

- Armenia hopes that its accession to the Customs Union will provide it with greater support from Russia in the Karabakh issue. What is your opinion on this matter?

- Sargsyan says that joining the Customs Union is linked to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and ensuring security in the region. But this thesis is not convincing. Some Armenian specialists’ words about the European Union are more plausible. According to them, the EU demanded that Armenia should respect the territorial integrity of other states. Now the question is what position are the current (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan) and potential Customs Union member states going to take. I think this question is worth giving a thought to without delay.

- How should Azerbaijan act in this situation? What can you say about Azerbaijan’s current policy?

- Azerbaijan is successfully pursuing a balanced policy. In my view, more careful steps should be made as regards the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. If Sargsyan suddenly recognizes Nagornyy-Karabakh’s independence and Russia allows him to do so, that would certainly make the of conflict settlement process more complicated. While treating Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine from a position of strength, Russia prefers to act as an economic partner in its relations with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. In the latter case, Russia is trying to build an economic monopoly with the purpose to oust the European Union from the region. Given this, one can draw the conclusion that it will only benefit Azerbaijan to develop relations with the EU as resolutely as before.



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