Prof. Hüseyin Bağcı
President of the Foreign Policy Institute

South Caucasus is known by its mountainous and challenging territorial features.
Accordingly, the people living in this region are known to be tough and often
uncompromising. In fact, the region has such a complicated history with invasions,
occupations, forced relocation of large populations, like Meskhetian Turks from Georgia to
multiple locations in the Soviet Union, today the region suffers from an interwoven set and
layers of difficult issues inherited from its painful past.
When tackling with regional issues in South Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia are
to be considered as the countries situated at the heart of the region, but without including
Turkey, Russian Federation (RF) and Iran, any analysis of the region and its multiple
problems would remain incomplete. The RF, as the successor of the Soviet Union, has, in its
view, vested strategic interests in the region and therefore, is keen to maintain its military
presence and political influence in the region. Still, following the dissolution of the Soviet
Union, Turkey, relying mainly on the support of the USA, has been able to develop strong
relations with the countries, except Armenia, in this region. Construction and
operationalization of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline has been the jewel in the crown of
such strategic achievements. Other important projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural
gas pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad have strengthened the sense of friendship and co-
operation between Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
On the other hand, Armenia has been and is still suffering from a self-imposed isolation in
the region and fails to benefit from any of major project implemented in South Caucasus.
Why so? Two main reasons: one has to do with its unwise approach towards and bad
relations with Turkey. This economically underdeveloped and scarcely populated country of
South Caucasus has indeed bitten some pieces larger that it could swallow. Armenia
blatantly violated in the beginning of 1990s the internationally recognized borders of
Azerbaijan and occupied a region inside Azerbaijan known as Nagorno-Karabakh and relying
on the Russian military support, has been keeping it under occupation since then. Similarly,
towards Turkey, its militarily strongest neighbour, which handles its relations with Azerbaijan
based on the principle of “One nation, two states”, Armenia has been following a hostile
policy, supporting the efforts of Armenian diaspora around the world to ensure the
international recognition of the so-called “Armenian genocide”. The relocation of Armenian
population in the then Ottoman territories under the then circumstances is presented as
“genocide” by some Armenian circles, which distort the history. On this front, however,
Armenia has hit the wall and can no longer achieve much other than irritating a most
important neighbour. Armenia has also serious problems with Georgia due to its close
relationship with Russia, which has territorial issues with Georgia and in August 2008 had a
brief war with this country.

Moreover, Armenia has been suffering from an identity crisis in the international scene as it
has been moving between the RF and the West as its strategic partner. Due to this
unresolved dilemma, it has found itself often engulfed in political instability and never-
ending political ‘revolutions’. Its problematic relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan have
caused Armenia to become heavily dependent on RF and Iran. Iran, due to its large
population of Azerbaijani descent, mostly inhabiting the northern regions of this country
that border with Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, has made a strategic choice and thus, has
been providing Armenia with a lifeline.
In this overall picture, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkey and the RF have been
able to develop their relations and partnership in many areas. Despite differentiation of their
certain political and strategic priorities, a fact that has become clearer in recent years
particularly in Syria and Libya, these two major players and historical rivals in the region have
been careful not to cross certain red lines and appear keen to maintain their mutually
beneficial relations. In fact, this partnership has played a key role in the relatively smooth
conduct and conclusion of the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Apparently, the complex situation and confusing web of relations in South Caucasus cannot
be covered in a single article. However, it is useful to take stock of what happened recently
and also to give some thoughts to where the region might be heading towards from this
point onward.
It is doubtless that today’s political and strategic conjuncture offers a unique and historical
opportunity to all actors in the region to achieve something that has not been attained since
the collapse of the Soviet Union: durable peace, stability, and all-inclusive co-operation in
the region. In this respect, in November 2020 Turkey and Azerbaijan came up with an
important proposal to all concerned and suggested that a South Caucasus co-operation
platform be established by incorporation of all existing regional co-operation schemes, and
regional development projects are devised and implemented jointly in a spirit of co-
operation and mutual benefit. The 10 November (2020) Agreement brokered by the RF and
signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia after the 44-day War to end the conflict includes
one provision, which is strategically vital both for Turkey and Azerbaijan. It is the one about
the establishment of direct transportation connection between Azerbaijan’s Autonomous
Region of Nakhcihevan and the rest of Azerbaijan. Such a connection bears significance in
many ways, as it would also connect Turkey and Azerbaijan directly without having to go
through either Georgia or Iran.
As far as Iran is concerned, this key regional actor appears to have exaggerated worries
about the results of increased direct contacts between Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani
population in Iran, after the liberation of occupied Azeri territories. However, it can be
regarded only as normal when Azerbaijani Turks in Iran feel happy about the liberation of
occupied Azeri territories from Armenia and cheer for the decisive victory of Azerbaijan’s
army. It was not perhaps the wisest approach for the Iranian leadership to relocate, in a
rushed manner, to the Azerbaijani border a lot of military troops and equipment as it caused
concern on the Azerbaijan side. In today’s world, the internationally recognized borders of
each country are inviolable and cannot be changed easily. Within this given parameter, the

countries in the region should focus on the possibilities of co-operation, and carefully avoid
potential new conflicts and confrontations. During the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war, the
Azerbaijani leadership has acted wisely by declaring and emphasizing several times the
importance they attach to their close relationship with Iran. In fact, throughout the war, the
Azerbaijani side has demonstrated all features of a well-established and mature state
structure, with all officials and institutions acting and functioning in the best way possible.
Azerbaijan’s victory means a lot for the Azerbaijani people as it clearly ended the Armenian
occupation of many regions. This will definitely boost the self-confidence of Azerbaijan and
we may see in the period ahead a more dynamic Azerbaijan spearheading the regional co-
operation initiatives. The new strategic realities may also assign Azerbaijan the responsibility
to function as a more active bridge between Turkey and the Turkic states in Central Asia. For
its part, Turkey has always supported Azerbaijan in every way possible, including through
military cooperation. This close relationship will undoubtedly continue as Turkey and the RF
will be monitoring jointly the implementation of 10 November Agreement. Due to its Prime
Minister’s reckless and inconsiderate behaviours and actions, Armenia has lost a lot as a
result of the recent developments. In any case, the day of victory for Azerbaijan was
inevitable as occupation of a big and wealthy neighbour by its smaller neighbour was not
sustainable in the long run. In fact, RF President Vladimir Putin has also underlined this
conviction in his statements.
Interpreting the recent developments from an optimistic angle, one can claim that
Azerbaijan by taking its occupied territories back from Armenia, has relieved both the RF and
Armenia from a huge burden. On the international fora it was unjustifiable for Armenia to
defend such an occupation and explain the anomalies it caused such as millions of internally
displaced Azerbaijani people. If the Armenian leadership starts showing some wisdom, which
it has failed to demonstrate so far, it should seek to open new avenues of co-operation with
Turkey and Azerbaijan. The future sustainable prosperity and peace of the Armenian people
heavily relies on such an approach.
Last but not the least, the role to be played by the countries outside South Caucasus, like the
USA and France, and other international actors such as the European Union and the
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), must consider the new realities
on the ground. In particular, the OSCE, its Minsk Group, its Co-Chairs and Special
Representative, should quickly adjust their approaches to the new realities. Only this way
they can remain relevant besides Turkey and the RF and can find opportunities to make
meaningful contributions to the peace, stability, and co-operation in South Caucasus.

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