Internet press-conference of Senior Analyst for Turkey/South Caucasus, International Crisis Group Nigar Goksel

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Nigar Goksel
Senior Analyst for Turkey/South Caucasus, International Crisis Group
Турция
On October 30 an Internet press conference with Senior Analyst for Turkey/South Caucasus, International Crisis Group Nigar Goksel for Armenian Media was held on the topic "Turkey's internal and external security issues, Turkey-Russia relations and the role of Turkey in Nagorno Karabakh conflict."
 
The Internet press-conference was organized within the framework of the project "International press-center "Dialogue": Diversification of the sources of international news for Armenian media". These "first-hand" comments Armenian journalists will publish in their media outlets.
 
This project of the "Region" Research Center is supported by the OSCE office in Yerevan.
 

 

 The "Hetq" newspaper,  www.hetq.am

Question- What does it mean to Turkey to actually be part of the anti-terror coalition against the ISIS?

 Answer - Besides allowing its bases to be used by the anti-IS coalition for airstrikes targeting IS, Ankara has begun to crack down more effectively against IS recruiters and sympathizers in the country. This, however, only began in July – before which Turkey was faulted for its open door policy and turning a blind eye to IS activity on its territory. It was only after the 20 July Suruc attack that Turkey changed its approach, became more serious about confronting IS, and closed certain parts of its border, cutting off the logistical lines that IS was using. After the Ankara bombing on 10 October that killed almost 100 people, Ankara appears to have stepped up its anti-IS activity in the country. According to ICG open source research, 161 IS-related arrests have taken place in Turkey, 128 after the Suruc bombing and 17 since the Ankara bombing.  Many more were detained, however they were later either released, or if they are not Turkish citizens, deported to their home country. And around 1100 people have been denied entry into Turkey on the basis of being affiliated with IS. Turkey does have a crucial role to play against IS, and has fallen short of expectations as such, both by domestic constituencies and by Turkey’s allies who are in the forefront of the fight against IS. The Ankara bombing increased the scrutiny of whether Ankara has taken sufficient measures to protect its citizens against IS, and these questions are exacerbated by the fact that it has been pro-Kurdish, government-critical groups that have been targeted by the IS attacks in Turkey. 

 Question  -How you perceive the ECtHR judgment on Perincek, and are there alternative evaluations of this process and decision in Turkey?

 Answer - The ECHR ruling regarding the right to deny genocide of Armenians was largely received positively in Turkey, where there are divergent views about whether the massacres and deportations of Armenians in 1915 legally constitute a genocide or not. The debate in Turkey of the issue has been relatively shallow though. As long as this is not perceived as a ruling about whether 1915 constituted genocide or not, this is not likely to have a negative effect on the overall debate of Armenian-Turkish history in Turkey. Ultimately, it is important that it was underlined that inciting violence or committing hate speech remain convictable. 

 

Artak R. Barseghyan, Public Radio of Armenia,www.armradio.am

 Question -Due to the domestic political escalation in Turkey, how likely is the change of the government after the elections on November 1?

 Answer - Currently the country is being governed by an interim government, largely composed of AKP figures and bureaucrats. While the November 1 elections are not expected to generate a significantly different outcome from the June elections, the pressure to, if necessary, form a coalition towards a legitimate, accountable government will be stronger. It is possible that if again a government cannot be formed, yet another round of elections can be scheduled, however the cost of uncertainty for Turkey’s political and economic stability is rising. 

 Question –How do you assess the prospects of normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations in the light of geopolitical developments around Syria and Iran?

Answer - The developments in Syria and Iran do not directly affect the prospects of Armenia-Turkey normalization. But there may be some indirect connections. 

 One effect of the conflict in Syria is that Turkey is significantly distracted by the turmoil in its southern neighborhood and has less attention to spare for the Caucasus. For Ankara to embark on an ambitious initiative regarding normalization with Armenia becomes accordingly less likely. The war in Syria drains Turkey’s strategic and political attention, and leaves less for any initiatives related to the Caucasus. Developments in Syria also dominate the discussions between Turkey and the West, pushing Armenia-related agenda items down in the list of importance. European capitals are engaged with Ankara primarily on the IS-threat and migration issue. Armenia-Turkey relations do not make it to the radar. 

Another connection of these two scenes is the effect of Russia’s involvement in Syria on Turkey-Russia relations. The tensions between Moscow and Ankara over Syria can make Ankara more wary about Russia’s rising leverage in the Caucasus.  

Ankara-Tehran relations have also been strained by divergences over the war in and future of Syria. While Turkey-Iran relations have been strained over Syria in particular, this does not really relate to Armenia-Turkey relations, at least yet.  

 On the Syria theatre, Iran and Russia act together, on behalf of the Assad regime. 

 Though economically Turkish private sector will benefit from the lifting of sanctions, the strengthening of Iran’s strategic hand due to the nuclear deal is a source of concern for Turkey. 

 In the middle to long term, Iran’s empowerment as a result of the nuclear deal can drive more intense competition between Turkey and Iran in the South Caucasus; however this is not an immediate concern, or a short-term prospect. It will likely take time for the effects of the nuclear deal to translate into increased confidence and activism in Iran’s policy towards the Caucasus, since sanctions will be lifted only gradually. 

 

David Stepanyan, www.arminfo.am

Question – Please comment on the changes in the regional role of Turkey in the light of the lifting of Western sanctions against Iran and the gradual increase in the geopolitical weight of Tehran.

Answer - My answer above covers this. I can make a short addition as follows:

 In time, we will see how the nuclear deal with Iran affects Turkey’s Caucasus policies. Since the end of the Cold War, Turkey’s role in containing Iran and Russia was a significant factor of Turkey’s strategic importance for the West in the South Caucasus. We will see whether in time, as Iran’s relations with the West are restored, Turkey’s strategic significance for the West in the Caucasus wanes.  In time Iran’s pro-activeness in the Caucasus may also rise, constituting more competition for Russia and Turkey. But as I noted above, such dynamics will take time to play out, and no immediate effect is expected. 

 Question – Does Ankara currently play a role in the regulation in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, given the total absence of relations between Turkey and Armenia?

 Answer - The term “Azerbaijani lobby” is misleading. What is at play when it comes to the Azerbaijani influence over Turkish policy is not a lobby per se but rather a combination of two factors. One is the current political leadership’s assessment of the national interests of the country. The other, is the sentiments and interests of a range of communities of the society. Regarding the first factor: Turkey has an edge in its regional geopolitical competition with Russia primarily because of Baku’s prioritization of Turkey in a number of areas, primarily related to energy and soft power. Endangering this relationship is seen by strategic thinkers in Ankara as a “ball kicked into Russia’s court”.  There are also simple economic interests: Turkey is the largest non-energy sector investor in Azerbaijan, SOCAR is the leading foreign direct investor in Turkey, and Azerbaijan sells natural gas to Turkey at the lowest prices of any other supplier. Again, in light of these dimensions, I feel like the word “lobby” is reductionist. 

 That being said, there is a segment of society, including strategic thinkers and opinion leaders, who think Turkey’s policy should be less hinged on Baku, and that full alignment with Baku has left Turkey devoid of the capacity to be a player… However in the short term it is not likely that this opinion will transform the parameters of Turkish policymaking. 

 Going back to the main question, whether the Azerbaijani lobby is effective in the parliamentary elections in Turkey: To my knowledge, the issue of Azerbaijan or Armenia has not been raised at all in the election campaigns… The agenda is saturated with many much more pressing problems.

 

Gagik Baghdasaryan, www.newsarmenia.am

Question – Do you think it is possible to consider the warming of the Russian-Turkish relations a past stage against the background of the Syrian events? How will these relations be built in the new environment?

Answer - The warm climate that had developed between Ankara and Moscow has certainly been eroded. The Turkish leadership, and particularly the president, has recently made harsh statements about Moscow’s Syria intervention and hosting of Assad in Moscow. There is a realization in Ankara that Turkish-Russian interests are not aligned, either in the Black Sea region or in the Southern neighborhood. Russian interventionism in an increasingly wide geography is increasingly seen as a threat to Turkey. Turkish security policy is likely to turn more towards NATO now; when Turkey feels threatened, the desirability of Western engagement always rises. Syria is important for Turkey for many reasons – no less because it is intertwined with many dimensions of the Kurdish issue. Ultimately, the evolution of the proxy war in Syria will determine the degree to which Turkey and Russia tensions escalate; We cannot know for sure, yet. 

However, Turkey remains deeply dependent on Russia, particularly for natural gas. More than 50 percent of its consumption is Russian gas. This cannot be replaced in the short term. There are also many other economic interests, infrastructure projects, trade and tourism. And it is not in Moscow’s interests to sustain a confrontational relationship with Turkey, particularly in light of being drained by showdown with the West. Therefore there is likely to be an effort to de-escalate the tension, on both sides. Another honeymoon mode in the relationship cannot be expected but limiting the fallout is a possibility.

 

Tigranuhi Martirosyan, www.tert.am

Question – The Armenian-Turkish relations seem to have frozen. A few months ago, President SerzhSargsyan sent the protocols “to hell”, and withdrew them from the Parliament. What will the future developments of the relations between Armenia and Turkey be, taking into account the new geopolitical developments?

 Answer - Not only did the Turkey-Armenia normalization process stall in 2010, but also the tone of the relations further soured in 2015. Though the Armenian parliament formally scrapped the bilateral protocols in February 2015, the Armenian president has stated that he still stands behind his signature and is ready to return to the protocols. However, Ankara’s linkage of normalization with Armenia to some progress on the Nagorno-Karabakh front is not expected to change. Since 2010, Turkey and Azerbaijan have continued to close ranks politically, economically, and in the defense sector. 

Given the draining effect of other geopolitical developments and the high stakes vested in its relationship with Azerbaijan, it is highly unlikely that Ankara will, in the short term.embark on a new ambitious initiative with Armenia. Beyond Turkey though, it seems all sides are waiting for the West-Russia showdown – now unfolding in the Ukraine and Syria theatres- to unfold. Moscow, Ankara and Euro-Atlantic capitals are all concerned that any change in the status quo in Armenia-Turkey-Azerbaijan relations might upset balances in the Caucasus to their own detriment. Therefore, any new ambitious initiative is seen as too risky.  This approach carries dangers to of course. The status quo is leading all sides to lose ground. And the threat that Nagorno-Karabakh can evolve into yet another proxy in the Russia-West confrontation exists. 

Question - What options do you see for the resolution of the NagornoKarabakh conflict? Recently there was a lot of tension along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the line of contact between Karabakh and Azerbaijan with killed civilians. For the first time,since  the ceasefire agreement large-caliber Turkey-make weapons were deployed. Why do you think Azerbaijan has adopted such tactics? What are the goals of the Azerbaijani party?

Answer - Baku’s strategy has been to incentivize Armenia for a negotiated solution by making the status quo unsustainable. One of its tactics to this end has been to isolate Armenia, excluding it from regional integration projects and thus creating an opportunity cost for Armenia. The second has been to drive an arms race, geared at convincing Yerevan that the status quo, particularly with regard to the occupied territories beyond the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, leaves Armenia less secure, not more. The escalation of violence on the border and the line of contact is not, however, only a message to Armenia, it is also a message from Baku to the West and to Russia. 

 The urgency of a settlement between the two sides is rising. If not a comprehensive agreement, steps to transform the conflict and de-escalate are needed Armenia and Azerbaijan need to decide whether they take their destiny into their own hands, to bilaterally take ownership of a course to break this downward spiral that risks leaving both sides worse off. Otherwise, an accident or an imposed-outcome risks narrowing their options. 

 

KarineAsatryan, www.a1plus.am

 Question - To what extent do the forces participating in the parliamentary elections in Turkey raise the Nagorno-Karabakh issue in their programs? Is the Azerbaijani lobby effective?

 Answer - The term “Azerbaijani lobby” is misleading. What is at play when it comes to the Azerbaijani influence over Turkish policy is not a lobby per se but rather a combination of two factors. One is the current political leadership’s assessment of the national interests of the country. The other, is the sentiments and interests of a range of communities of the society. Regarding the first factor: Turkey has an edge in its regional geopolitical competition with Russia primarily because of Baku’s prioritization of Turkey in a number of areas, primarily related to energy and soft power. Endangering this relationship is seen by strategic thinkers in Ankara as a “ball kicked into Russia’s court”.  There are also simple economic interests: Turkey is the largest non-energy sector investor in Azerbaijan, SOCAR is the leading foreign direct investor in Turkey, and Azerbaijan sells natural gas to Turkey at the lowest prices of any other supplier. Again, in light of these dimensions, I feel like the word “lobby” is reductionist. 

 That being said, there is a segment of society, including strategic thinkers and opinion leaders, who think Turkey’s policy should be less hinged on Baku, and that full alignment with Baku has left Turkey devoid of the capacity to be a player… However in the short term it is not likely that this opinion will transform the parameters of Turkish policymaking. 

 Going back to the main question, whether the Azerbaijani lobby is effective in the parliamentary elections in Turkey: To my knowledge, the issue of Azerbaijan or Armenia has not been raised at all in the election campaigns… The agenda is saturated with many much more pressing problems. 

 

Aram Sargsyan; “Zhamanak” daily, “First Armenian News”, www.1in.am

Question - In Your opinion, how can the recent Russian-Turkish tensions impact on the prospects of the Armenian-Turkish normalization, if we take into account that Armenia is Russia’s ally and Moscow has or had big influence on the Armenian-Turkish process?

 Answer - (I have answered other questions about the possible trajectory of Russia-Turkey relations and Turkey-Armenia relations in this file, pls refer to them for more detail. I will only make a short addition here, about the interconnection between these two sets of relations) 

Indeed Moscow appeared to support the Turkey-Armenia normalization process in 2009-2010, however there were different opinions about why it did so. Perhaps Moscow needed to present itself as a constructive actor at that conjuncture. A more cynical view holds that Moscow was aware that Turkey’s normalization with Armenia would spoil Baku-Ankara relations, and that this would offer Moscow additional leverages over Azerbaijan. Given the heightened skepticism in Ankara today about Moscow’s intentions (due to the confrontation over Syria, again taken up in other questions), Ankara may be ever more skeptical about Moscow’s role in either Armenia-Turkey normalization, or in the resolution of the Karabakh process. That being said, in Ankara, Russia is seen as the decisive actor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Furthermore, whether right or wrong, the conventional wisdom among foreign policy pundits in Turkey, is that Yerevan does not have agency in its relations with Ankara or Baku, and that its position will be determined by Moscow. Accordingly Ankara will surely stay in close contact with Moscow regarding the various schemes that Moscow is discussing in its diplomatic traffic with Yerevan and Baku. 

 Question - Should we expect Turkey’s activity and involvement in the regional politics in South Caucasus and in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict particularly after upcoming parliamentary elections in Turkey?

Answer - I answer this mostly in questions related to Turkey-Russia. Here is an addition to connect those answers to the elections:  

The surveys suggest the results of the November 1 elections will not be fundamentally different from the elections in June. Accordingly, either a coalition government will be formed, or there will be a state of limbo, with no accountable, legitimate government until Spring 2016, and possibly beyond. The security threat posed by IS, and the conflict with PKK (or resumption of peace talks) will definitely be the priorities for any incoming government.  This is one factor that will curb Turkey’s activism in the South Caucasus. However, there are at least two good reasons for Turkey to step up its involvement in the region: One is that with the passage of 2015, the “space” for Turkey-Armenia engagement will widen. Another is that there is a growing awareness that the state of “looming war” between Armenia and Azerbaijan poses risks for not only the two countries, but also the regional standing of Turkey and the West. This does not mean, however, that Turkey will do anything to alienate Azerbaijan, or stoke more tension with Russia. Turkey already has enough problems with other neighbors and once-allies. Only formulas that are seen to offer win-win dividends will entice Ankara at this juncture. 

 

Eduard Mkhitaryan, www.galatv.am  

 Question – In Turkey internal and external security issues seem to be currently interwoven. In many cases an impression is created that the Turkish authorities prioritize the fight with the Kurdish extremists more than the operations against the Islamic State. What is the position of the official Ankara and what is the primary threat to the country?

 Answer – Indeed Ankara has prioritized the fight against the PKK insurgency andtargeting the regime of President Assad over the threat of IS. The formation of a strip of territory in Turkey’s south controlled by PKK affiliates is seen as a major national security threat. This has certainly caused challenges in the fight against IS, since the Kurdish forces are effecting in battling the IS in Syria. It has also deepened the domestic cleavages in Turkey, exacerbating the sentiment among the Kurdish national movement in Turkey that Ankara cannot or does not ensure their security and wellbeing.  It is crucial that the peace process between the PKK and the Turkish state be restored in order for the threat posed by IS to be focused on. Ultimately there cannot be a military solution to the conflict with PKK, therefore the Turkish state and PKK need to return to negotiations so that they can both channel their energies to confront the IS threat. 

 Question – Do not you think that the position of Turkey on the Karabakh issue is not objective and it cannot be such taking into account Armenia's blockade by Turkey and the Turkish-Azerbaijani statements made by high-ranking politicians and diplomats?

Answer - 

 

Tatev Harutyunyan, www.aravot.am

Question – The fact of the Armenian-Turkish relations have actually come to a dead-end. Are positive shifts possible in this relation in the light of the fact that some international experts have argued that Turkey is largely to blame for the stalemate, as the Turkish Parliament did not ratify the Armenian-Turkish protocols?

 Answer - For Ankara, it was politically expedient that progress in Turkey-Armenia relations take place in parallel to process in the NagornoKarabakh talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Yerevan insisted the two tracks weredisconnected, Ankara defined them as “mutually reinforcing.” Azerbaijan, on the other hand, claimed the Armenia-Turkey normalization track actually undermined the Karabakh negotiations, because Yerevan’s confidence in Turkey’s dismissal of Azerbaijan had eroded any incentive the Armenian side might have to reach a solution with Azerbaijan where both sides compromise. Indeed most involved Euro-Atlantic capitals have argued that Armenian-Turkish normalization is more viable and thus should be the first step in breaking the wider regional stalemate. However, the pressure to ratify the protocols has diminished by now, as other conflicts – Ukraine and Syria particularly- have taken center stage. As I mentioned above, the appetite among involved external players to move stones today on the Turkey-Armenia or Armenia-Azerbaijan disputes is weak. Of course, if an escalation of violence is marked, this will change. 

 Question – What developments should be expected from the Armenian-Turkish relations and in the Karabakh peace process, especially in the context of the recent improvement in the Russian-Turkish relations? Particularly in the context that Russia realizes that its new partnership with Turkey within the Black Sea and Caucasus region reinforces its positions.

 Answer - I have answered other questions about Turkey-Russia relations and Turkey-Armenia relations. Pls refer to them. 

 

Armen Minasyan, www.panorama.am

Question – The Turkish government in Ankara blames the terrorist attack on the Islamic State, as well as PKK and PYD. However, none of these institutions has assumed any responsibility for the explosion. On the other hand, accusations because of the explosions were made against the power. How do you assess this situation?

Answer - There is no evidence of any PKK or PYD involvement in the Ankara attack. However IS links have already been uncovered. The fact that IS has not claimed responsibility can be strategy to fuel the blame game between the state and the Kurdish movement. And the fact that only pro-Kurdish targets are attacked may be geared at deterring harsher measures against IS by the Turkish government.It has not served the government’s interests that this bombing took place, as it is primarily the government that gets blamed for not being able to secure its citizens. It is not conceivable that any Turkish government would play a direct role in such a suicide bombing. However, the penetration into Turkey of IS affiliates as a result of its open door policy regarding the Syrian border, the rhetoric of the political leadership that is geared at delegitimizing the pro-Kurdish segments of society, and the inflammation of political and social polarization by the ruling elite has created conducive grounds for extremists. 

 Question – Will the situation created in Syria as a result of Russia's military intervention in Syria force Turkey to revise its own policy or will it lead to a confrontation between Russia and Turkey?

 Answer - The warm climate that had developed between Ankara and Moscow has certainly been eroded. The Turkish leadership, and particularly the president, has recently made harsh statements about Moscow’s Syria intervention and hosting of Assad in Moscow. There is a realization in Ankara that Turkish-Russian interests are not aligned, either in the Black Sea region or in the Southern neighborhood. Russian interventionism in an increasingly wide geographyis increasingly seen as a threat to Turkey. Turkish security policy is likely to turn more towards NATO now; when Turkey feels threatened, the desirability of Western engagement always rises. Syria is important for Turkey for many reasons – no less because it is intertwined with many dimensions of the Kurdish issue. Ultimately, the evolution of the proxy war in Syria will determine the degree to which Turkey and Russia tensions escalate; We cannot know for sure, yet. 

 However, Turkey remains deeply dependent on Russia, particularly for natural gas. More than 50 percent of its consumption is Russian gas. This cannot be replaced in the short term. There are also many other economic interests, infrastructure projects, trade and tourism. And it is not in Moscow’s interests to sustain a confrontational relationship with Turkey, particularly in light of being drained by showdown with the West. Therefore there is likely to be an effort to de-escalate the tension, on both sides. Another honeymoon mode in the relationship cannot be expected but limiting the fallout is a possibility. 

 

Anahit Danielyan, www.karabakh-open.info

Question – One of the goals of the International Crisis Group is the search for contacts between the sides, for ways to restore confidence, but we know that many of the participants of the peacekeeping process are in jail in Azerbaijan, and this campaign seems to be continuing. In this context, how do you think the search for the above-mentioned ways is possible? What role should, in your opinion, "big brother" Turkey play in the Karabakh conflict settlement?

 Answer - 

Question – The Turkish TR-107 reactive rocket and artillery station was recently used by the Azerbaijani forces along the Azerbaijani and Karabakh contact line. It is no secret that Turkey is also Azerbaijan’s supplier of arms and what should the role of Turkey be in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict resolution?

Answer– 

 

TatevikGhazaryan, www.news.am

 Question – Do you see any possibility for the coordination of actions by Russia and Turkey in Syria? What could be the impact of not reaching a consensus on this issue?

 Answer – I addressed Turkey-Russia relations above.

 Question – Don't you think that Turkey's position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict doesn't help the peaceful resolution of it? Why does Turkey sacrifice its own interests because of Azerbaijan?

 Answer- I have answered other questions that I think also cover what I would say in response to this one. I can make the following addition to what I have already expressed:

 Whether one agrees with it or not, it is important to see that for the Ankara establishment, including the mainstream political elite and state institutions, the endgame in the Caucasus is an “open region”, where both the Turkey-Armenia and Armenia-Azerbaijan borders are open, enabling regional integration. Politically, this requires, according to the Ankara approach, that Armenia and Azerbaijan resolve their conflict enough to open their transportation routes. For Ankara, the issue has not been the full resolution of the NK conflict, but rather a return of occupied territories outside the originally disputed land (territory within NKAO borders) to Azerbiajan.Accordingly, over the years Ankara has made various proposals to open its border with Armenia and integrate Armenia into regional development schemes, in return for Armenia’s withdrawal from occupied districts and enabling of the return of Azerbaijani IDP’s. (There have always been fundamental ambiguities in Turkey’s position though, such as how many districts Turkey expects Armenia to withdraw from.) There are of course people in Turkey as well that see this approach as futile, and not serving Turkey’s approach. However, the contrary view is more prevalent in Turkey: that Armenia sacrifices its more fundamental interests for the sake of districts that were originally not contested.  

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