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October 21, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8982

Russian News Agency Ria.ru: Turkey's Caucasus Influence Is Dangerous Because Of Pan-Turkic Project's Popularity In Region

October 21, 2020
Russia, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8982

On October 7, 2020, Russian news agency Ria.ru published an article, titled "Encircled. Why Is Turkey's Influence In The Caucasus Dangerous?" focusing on Turkey's policies in Azerbaijan and in Georgia. Turkish political scientist Onur Sinan Güzaltan explained to Ria.ru that, in addition to "sentimental feelings," Ankara needs to spread its political influence in Baku, because Azerbaijan is the door to the Caucasus and Central Asia. In particular, the country is strategically important for Turkey's trade and the energy industry. "Turkish strategists consider [Azerbaijan] near the Caspian Sea as their front line in the region,' Güzaltan told Ria.ru.

Ria.ru added that Ankara is pushing its influence in Georgia. According to the news agency, in Adjara, the Autonomous Republic within Georgia, from 70 to 75 percent of all investment is of Turkish origin. It was reported that Turkish citizens are also buying up real estate. Georgian political activist Sandro Bregadze stated that Turkish influence in Georgia is very strong in the "shadow economy." "This is especially true for trafficking (human trafficking – Ria.ru), drug trafficking... If you go to Batumi [the second largest city of Georgia], you will see the large Kutaisi street, where there are a lot of dubious establishments, which are controlled by the Turks. There are brothels and various clubs," Bregadze said.

Caucasus expert Artur Atayev told Ria.ru that Ankara is sure that the Caucasus falls under Turkey's area of responsibility. Ankara is also sure that, because Ottoman rule was a golden age of prosperity for the area, the Pan-Turkic project of a single state for all ethnic Turks is warmly welcomed in the Caucasus.

Below is Ria.ru's article:[1]


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaking at the opening ceremony of the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP). (Source: Ria.ru)

"Azerbaijan Is The Door To The Caucasus And Central Asia"

"Ankara has had a special relationship with Baku for a long time. Military cooperation began, just as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (Azerbaijan SSR) turned into an independent state in 1992. Back then the parties signed an agreement on military personnel training. As Turkish experts noted, this step was aimed at weakening 'Russia's hegemony in international relations.' This was followed by other agreements covering all areas of defense, from topography to the military-industrial complex.

"In 2010, [the two countries] signed an Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Assistance. The parties committed themselves to support each other in every possible way in the event of an external aggression. On the eve of the current aggravation of the Karabakh conflict, the armed forces of the two countries held large-scale joint exercises with live fire.

"Ankara also developed economic ties with Azerbaijan, involving Georgia. Take the example of TANAP, the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline.

"The Turks had previously laid pipelines through Georgian territories from the Azerbaijani fields: in 2006, they launched the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, and a year later, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline. But TANAP had a special meaning. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called it a historic project and the 'Silk road' of energy.

"In March 2015, Erdoğan, along with the presidents of Azerbaijan and Georgia, Ilham Aliyev and [former president of Georgia] Giorgi Margvelashvili, started [TANAP's] construction in Kars, Turkey. The pipeline not only made Turkey an important supplier of energy resources for Europe, it also strengthened Ankara's position in the Caucasus. In his gala speech, Erdoğan stressed: 'TANAP is a vivid example of a lasting trust and friendship between Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.'

"He also noted that the pipeline will contribute to the energy security of Europe. Which, translated from the diplomatic language, means: [the pipeline] will become an alternative to Russian supplies.

"TANAP was not laid following the shortest route. [It passes] through Georgian land, since Armenia, which is closer to Azerbaijan, has practically no relations with Turkey. Ankara closed the Armenian-Turkish border in 1993, on account of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"The war broke out just before TANAP was brought to full capacity. Baku claimed that, in July, Armenia tried to seize the Azerbaijani section of the gas pipeline. 'The goal was to cross the state border with Azerbaijan, occupy new territories and get closer to TANAP or take control of it,' Aliyev said, in an interview with Turkish media.

"Turkish political scientist Onur Sinan Güzaltan explained to RIA Novosti that, in addition to sentimental feelings, Ankara has a strong logical reasoning. 'Azerbaijan is the door to the Caucasus and Central Asia. The country is strategically important for Turkish trade. For example, TANAP made it possible to become a transit point in the gas supplies to Europe and, in addition, to get a significant part of the energy. Although the support for Baku is a result of historical and cultural ties, Azerbaijan also plays a key role for Turkey's security, economy, and energy [policy],' concludes the expert. He also clarifies: 'Turkish strategists consider the former Soviet Republic near the Caspian Sea as their front line in the region.'"

In Adjara, The Autonomous Republic Within Georgia, From 70 To 75 Percent Of All Investment Is Of Turkish Origin; Turkish Influence In Georgia Is Very Strong In The "Shadow Economy"

"The media started reporting back in the 2010s on the infiltration of Georgia, or rather in its southern part, by Turkish businesses. In Adjara, an Autonomous Republic within Georgia, from 70 to 75 percent (the media gave different figures) of all investments is of Turkish origin. It was reported that Turkish citizens are buying up real estate.

"In 2019 Sandro Bregadze, leader of the ultranationalists participated in the 'Georgian March,' claimed that the influence of the Turks is very strong in the shadow economy. 'This is especially true for trafficking (human trafficking – Ria.ru), drug trafficking... If you go to Batumi, you will see the large Kutaisi street, where there are a lot of dubious establishments, which are controlled by the Turks. There are brothels and various clubs,' said Bregadze with resentment.

"While Turkish business is welcome in Azerbaijan, many people in Georgia are concerned about this. One of the officials, on condition of anonymity, complained to the Russian media that his country was encircled. 'Azerbaijan is increasing its business presence through Kvemo-Cartli [province] (where mostly Azerbaijanis live – Ria.ru) whereas Turkey is [increasing its business presence] through Ajaria,' said the official. He also added: 'Armenia is not such a powerful economic unit in the region as to balance the Turkish-Azerbaijani presence.'

"Even Giuli Alasania, mother of former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, was accused of appeasing the Turks. The head of state was also criticized. 'During his rule, Mikheil Saakashvili personally facilitated the growth of the Turkish demographic presence in Ajaria,' said political scientist Georgi Vekua. 'According to official data, he granted Georgian citizenship to seven thousand supposedly ethnic Georgians, who used to live in Turkey.'

"In the military sphere, Georgia and Turkey are not as close allies as Ankara and Baku, but they still cooperate. In 2019, Azerbaijan hosted the 'Eternity' command and staff exercises in which Azerbaijani, Turkish and Georgian officers took part. Since 2009, the special forces of the three countries have been traditionally conducting the 'Caucasian Eagle' maneuvers."

"Ankara Fills With Concrete Pragmatic Content The Slogan 'Two Countries – One Nation'"

"Artur Atayev, expert on the Caucasus, notes: in addition to transport and logistics, Ankara pays attention to the forming of Georgia and Azerbaijan political and business elite.

"'In the post-Soviet area there is an ever-present division among politicians – pro-Russian or pro-Western ones. In the Caucasus there are pro-Turkish [politicians]. If you are a successful businessman in Turkey, if you are a graduate of a good elite training program in a Turkish center, then you will be successful in Azerbaijan and, most likely, in Georgia,' the expert explains.

"Ankara fills with concrete pragmatic content the well-known slogan 'Two countries – one nation.' 'They are well aware that Azerbaijan was largely built by the Bolsheviks and that the people have very different roots there,' continues Atayev. 'But that doesn't stop Turkey. The idea of a single nation belongs to Erdoğan, and eventually it was picked up by Ilham Aliyev.'

"Turkish experts are well versed in the peculiarities of national politics in the 'brotherly country.' They take into account, for example, that several top positions in the republic are occupied by Lezgins [a Northeast Caucasian ethnic group native], they are well aware about the differences in the origin of the Azerbaijani elite.

"Ankara's pragmatism is also evident in the realistic assessment of the popularity in Caucasus of such ideas as 'Great Turan' (pan-Turkic project of a single state for all ethnic Turks) and as 'neo-Ottomanism.' For people in the Caucasus, the ottoman rule was a golden age of prosperity.

"Turanism is more aimed at awakening of 'kindred feelings' based on the common Turkic heritage. 'They are implementing practical humanitarian projects, identifying leaders of public opinion, who are ready to cooperate. Turkey is pursuing a policy of small steps in order to change the social and cultural image of the region in the long term.' the expert believes.

"In general, he reminds, Ankara is sure that the Caucasus falls under Turkey's area of responsibility. Both for historical reasons and because of the realities of modern politics."

 

[1] Ria.ru, October 7, 2020. The article was written by Anton Lisitsyn.

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