Integration of the South Caucasus: a view from Turkey

Robert Gazaryan, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Integration of the South Caucasus: a view from Turkey

Turkey's policy in the South Caucasus is based on the principle of good-neighborly relations, but Ankara does not hide its regional interests, which include building up its regional influence. Turkey is closely following all processes that could lead to the unification of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and welcomes the positive agenda of the South Caucasus. Ankara does not seek to assume the role of the chief arbiter, but it will not cease to provide assistance to the peacekeeping policy. The prospect of overcoming the contradictions existing in the region, with the subsequent formation of supranational structures, may interest Turkey.

If Armenia and Azerbaijan agree to rebuild the border infrastructure, Turkey will be one of the first countries to offer assistance. The construction market of the republic has thousands of companies that are relatively successful in overcoming the pandemic. The coronavirus epidemic has darkened the international air travel market, but stimulated renovations. Turkey strives to achieve global success, including through the construction industry, therefore Ankara's readiness to invest in the restoration processes in the South Caucasus is linked to the opportunities for the development of various segments of the national economy.

In many ways, the integration of the region will allow Ankara to focus on the transport and logistics sector of the economy. New transport routes may be added to the existing transport system that links Turkey and Azerbaijan, while simultaneously supporting the transit potential of Georgia, which will link Turkey with the entire South Caucasus.In this case, Ankara will be able to initiate the unification of transport networks, which will provide an opportunity for the citizens of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to get to the Bosphorus by the shortest land route, and then to Europe. In turn, Ankara is realizing a long-standing political desire to get close to the Caspian region, thereby expanding its export opportunities in Central Asia.

Like Iran, Turkey does not have impressive experience in implementing integration projects. Therefore, Ankara is hardly ready to act as a curator of the association, especially in the presence of anti-Turkish sentiments in the ranks of Armenian nationalists.However, Turkish politics is able to create the necessary atmosphere, provide a platform for maintaining the desire for integration, which will allow it to overcome contradictions with Armenia when the existing agenda in relations changes.With the change of the internal political paradigm, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will overcome the consequences of the conflicts, thereby removing the need for Ankara to maintain the balance of power in the region. The existing anti-Turkish sentiments will lose their relevance, and the nationalist parties of Armenia will find themselves in the minority, since the new opportunities and prospects of the future union will negate the expediency of the existence of a revanchist ideology.

The benefits are obvious, but the Turkish policy is pragmatic and its participation will be possible provided that the subjects of the region approach the integration process on their own initiative, as openly as possible without any extra-regional coercion. Otherwise, Ankara may encounter opposition from the marginal circles of Armenian politics, who intend to accuse the Turkish leadership of seeking to expand its influence "in the spirit of neo-Ottomanism" and a desire to abolish the sovereignty of the South Caucasus republics.

Unification promotion will enable Turkey to develop a completely different strategy towards the European Union. European policy will become more active in discussing the modernization of customs cooperation with Turkey, which could become the main transit between the EU and the South Caucasus integration area. The expansion of the customs union will provide full access to the domestic market of the world's largest trading bloc, allowing Ankara to use the full potential of the national economy in two directions at once, west and east.