Turkey seeks rapprochement with Armenia, UAE and other traditional foes

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Over the past month officials from both Ankara (Turkey) and Yerevan (Armenia) exchanged statements which signal a possible rapprochement between these two historical foes. But this is not all: Ankara in fact has been reaching out to quite a few different actors.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened the prospects of starting talks with Yerevan, and Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, in his turn, has expressed his desire to begin negotiations: as a kind of a goodwill gesture, Yerevan has unilaterally opened its airspace for Turkish overflights between Azerbaijan and Turkey (Turkish airspace still remains closed to Armenian aircrafts). The two countries’ borders have been closed since the early 1990's due to the conflict in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, claimed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan - in this case, Ankara supported the latter against the former even in the 2020 war.

Needless to say, such potential rapprochement would have a major impact on South Caucasus geopolitics - among other things, it would give Ankara better access to Azerbaijan. However, this process faces its challenges such as the mutual distrust between the two actors involved, for one thing.

Ankara will always place its national interest above their allie’s common goals. For example, while it seeks EU and NATO membership, it also supports the self-declared independent Northern Cyprus state, which goes to enhance Turkish position in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea - to the detriment of EU members Greece and Cyprus, of course. The same logic applies to other Turkish diplomatic endeavors.

Well, Armenian-Turkish talks are not the only instance of Ankara seeking reconciliation with its traditional foes. In May, for example, Turkey and Egypt had their first diplomatic high-level contacts after an eight-years-old break. Ankara also seems to have started a normalization path with the UAE, and even Saudi Arabia.

Two weeks ago, President Erdogan and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan had a phone conversation for the first time after a whole year. According to Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, other positive steps are being taken regarding normalizing diplomatic relations with the UAE. Of course, such won’t be an easy task.

What is behind this consistent recent shift? There are of course different goals in each particular case, but a new approach trend seems to be forming.

On June 15, President Erdogan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev signed the Shushi Declaration, an agreement which includes many points, such as mutual defense guarantees, and economic cooperation. It emphasizes the so-called Zangezur corridor, which is to connect Azerbaijan and Turkey through the former’s western region. Azerbaijan has its own plans for being able to reach Iran, Armenia and the Nakhchivan region by railroads. Turkish-Armenian rapprochement talks should be seen in this light and thus may offer some risks to Yerevan.

One should also keep in mind that in January the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan issued a joint declaration in Islamabad focusing on enhancing their cooperation on defence, energy security, the environment, and other topics - with many ramifications. The highlight however goes to the military and geopolitical aspects of the agreement and its context.

For example, while Erdogan has given diplomatic support to Pakistan pertaining to the Kashmir issue, a recent tweet by the Pakistani embassy in Turkey detailed the schedule for a three-day event in Northern Cyprus to promote dialogue between Pakistan and northern Cypriots. Some thus have speculated Islamabad could recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which would be an enormous diplomatic win for Ankara in their efforts to secure some hold over an island that of course has great geostrategic importance in the Eastern Mediterranean,

While Pakistan is seeking allies to counter India, and Azerbaijan is trying to strengthen its position in the Caucasus region, Turkey, in its turn, seeks to increase its influence in the Caucasus and the Mediterranean as well as in the entire Middle East.

Next year shall mark the centennial of the Lausanne Treaty, which created today’s Republic of Turkey. A new constitution is being drafted to replace the current one (created in 1982) and it is supposed to put an end to the Ataturk era. What will come of this new Erdogan’s era? Only time will tell, but Turkey's recent rapprochement policies in fact indicate its more ambitious plans for the whole Middle East region.

Erdogan thus seems to be changing his strategy of pan-Turkism and neo-Ottomanism revival from an open confrontation approach to a more tricky and soft one. Turkish hegemony in the South Caucasus and beyond remains his long-term goal.

Uriel Araujo is researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts.

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor