Turkish Embargo of Armenia
Ever since Armenia gained independence Turkey and Azerbaijan have joined forces to stifle the fledgling republic. In addition to ordinary problems of transition from the centralized Soviet system to a free and democratic regime, Armenia was burdened with the huge catastrophe of a major earthquake. Rather than helping a stricken people, Turkey blocked the relief routes, rendering a tough situation even harder. Even the U.S. acquiesced to Turkish intransigence, when its military cargo planes were refused air space to rush assistance to Armenia.
The Turkish policy was tantamount to the continuation of the genocide, which the Ottoman leaders perpetrated against Armenians during World War I.
Turkey is an international outlaw, but it has been successful in carrying its sinister policies against its neighbors, because it has served world powers as the necessary evil in settling regional scores.
Many European countries have exercised a more principled policy against Turkey's transgressions, which is why the latter has been cornered recently in its attempt to join the European Union. The U.S. has been pushing Turkey's candidacy for the European Union for two major reasons: a) to reward Turkey in its cooperation with Israel to maintain a hegemony in the Middle East, and b) To have a spoiler within the Union to forestall any future European challenge to its world supremacy.
Turkey's long-standing blockade of Armenia has been a sticking point in its relations with the U.S. Therefore, the administration - aided by the Armenian lobby - has been persuading Turkey that lifting the blockade will better serve its long-term goals in the region.
The Armenian parliament has been debating the merits and demerits of lifting the Turkish blockade, because the blockade has also served as a self-inflicted wound for Turkey, while forcing Armenia towards self-sufficiency.
As the U.S. and European pressure over Turkey grows to lift the blockade against Armenia, the Armenians have been pondering whether the blockade was a blessing in disguise, hurting Turkey more than Armenia.
Throughout the embargo period Armenians in the Diaspora and in the homeland have blamed Turkey for its attempts to strangulate Armenia economically through its hostile policy of blockade. Advocacy groups, especially, in America and Europe have pushed for lifting of the blockade.
Although Armenia seems to be unprepared for the eventual lifting of the embargo, it will at least sound hypocritical if it opposes the move, especially if that comes without preconditions. Thus far the Turks had set some tough preconditions that Armenians have to evacuate all the liberated territories in Karabagh, renounce the genocide and territorial claims against Turkey, etc.
If Turkey lifts its embargo unconditionally Armenia will score a moral victory. But like all other moral victories, this one also may not prove to be that beneficial. The practical impact of the lifting of the embargo will open up borders for Armenian exports and reduce prices on its imports. Armenia's lifeline to the outside world has been Iran and Georgia. In view of instability in Georgia and potential trouble in Iran, this may prove to be a welcome opportunity.
But it looks like Turkey stands to benefit more than Armenia, as the move will boost the economy of its depressed Eastern provinces and flood Armenia with Turkish goods and services.
Turkey will gain brownie points with the U.S. and Europe for good behavior and the road will be paved for her accession to the European Union.
On the other hand, even if no progress is reported in Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, Turkey will serve as a bridge for Azerbaijan to neutralize Armenia's de facto embargo against Azerbaijan while the latter continues to maintain its own embargo against Armenia.
Turkey has always entertained pan-Turanian aspiration
s to join its Central Asian cousins to build a pan-Turkic empire. In this case Armenia will not only stop containing long-standing Turkish imperial ambitions, but it will, in a way, contribute to their realization by opening the floodgates. Ironically, in a shortsighted policy, the U.S. has been supporting that policy in the hopes that Turkey's growing influence in Central Asia may contain Russian intentions in the area. But Turkish gamble in Iraq to undermine U.S. plans should have taught some sober lessons.
Turkey's growing influence in Caucasus and Central Asia, will balance, or even neutralize, the other contenders' powers, namely that of Iran and Russia, which have been thus far helping Armenia economically, politically and militarily.
These changes may not happen overnight, but they are in perspective should Turkey decide to lift the blockade and move East.
Unfortunately Armenia is not strong enough to benefit from the lifting of the embargo and withstand the unintended consequences.
The wise course will be to move with the current or else lose the potential gamble by default.
September 3, 2003