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Giorgi Asatiani: Georgia between Russia and Turkey

Photo: vestiturkey.com

The shooting down by Turkey of a Russian SU-24 war plane over Syria has not just damaged the two countries’ relationship. It has affected the situation in the whole region, where the chronical problems that were in a more or less balanced state before that tend to rise again. 

Georgia like all the other neighbors of Turkey has faced problems.  Since its independence, Georgia has been supporting good-neighbored relations with Turkey. Under Shevardnadze’s rule, the country tried to wage a multi-vector international policy - with both success and failures – trying not to spoil its relations with the powerful northern neighbor without any serious reason. 

When the United National Movement led by Mikheil Saakashvili came to power after another “color revolution” in Georgia, the situation changed dramatically. Georgia was involved into a kind of unnatural alliance creating a peculiar axis with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

They started to drive the idea of fraternal and friendly relationships with Turkey into the public consciousness, but with little success. The key obstacle was the historical memory of the people, which is very hard and maybe impossible to drive out within two decades. It is hard to make people forget about the bloodshed, total destruction of both people and infrastructure, and the centuries-long slavery.

The ruling elite leaned to Turkey, but not the ordinary people. Even the labor migrants that had to earn their living in Turkey prefer not to remember the conditions they had to work in in the territory of Turkey.

The Georgian Dream Party that came to power on the wave of public discontent tried to return to the balance policy.  After all, normalization of the relations with Russia was one of the key demands of its voters.

The new authorities tried to make their commitments true, but their efforts proved useless in view of the country’s full political dependence on the West.  Actually, the United National Movement Party was treated with indulgence, granted a guaranteed inviolability and pardon for all its deeds.

Along with Georgian Dream’s political dependence, the country depended economically on both Turkey and Azerbaijan. The dependence reached such high scales that the Georgian authorities were ready to wrap up any project, even the most favorable one, if Baku, not even Ankara, demanded so. 

The non-parliamentary opposition in Georgia has repeatedly voiced that problem calling things by their proper names. Turkish and Azerbaijani investments on economy of Georgia have reached such a high level that the investor may have a deciding vote, which restricts Georgia’s sovereignty, indeed. The growing foreign capital in the country has sparked public discontent. The population sees how the last levers of economic and political pressure are handed over to the neighbors. Georgia’s position in the Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance threatens its civilization too. Turkey at the behest of its leader Erdogan has openly declared the line towards Neo-Ottomanism and revival of the Ottoman Empire.

The idea of Pan-Turkism - the establishment of Greater Turan from the Mediterranean up to the Pacific uniting all Turkic nations under hegemony of the Ottomans – has always been the blue dream of both sultans and revolutionary Young Turks. 

Russia – as Empire and then as the Soviet Union - has always been an impassable obstacle to the Greater Turan.

The body of the hypothetical state is divided by two Christian countries – Armenia and Georgia. Apparently, Georgia is doomed to become a transit corridor for Turkey and Azerbaijan. That is why the railway directly linking Baku and Kars was so much spoken of.

Today, Georgia can be used as a corridor, but what will happen to it in future, if Erdogan manages to enforce his idea of Pan-Turkism? Will it have an opportunity to flourish in the shade of its gardens without fearing its enemies? Will it find friends to hide behind? Such questions are not voiced today. Yet they cannot avoid thinking about them either.

The downing of the Russian war plane may become the very spark that will blow up not only the Middle East, but also the entire world. In case a large-scale armed conflict breaks out near Georgia’s borders, its aftermaths cannot be assessed even theoretically.

Perhaps, this is what made the Georgian authorities behave so careful and cautious. They have not commented on that incident in any way, while the opposition represented by the United National Movement did not conceal its happiness over the incident and hopes. The Georgian Dream’s bloc has quite grounded concerns that Washington is not happy with the moderate and balanced policy of the incumbent authorities in Georgia. U.S. together with freaky Erdogan may have a temptation to bring not less freaky Mikheil Saakashvili back to Georgia. No one can either deny or confirm that probability today.

The fight against Daesh (ISIL – a terrorist organization banned in Russia – editor’s note) created also domestic problems for Georgia. Everyone knowns the old problem of Georgia connected with the ethnic Chechens – Kists - residing in Pankisi. During the Chechen War, the militants healed their wounds there and returned after recovery. In due time, this became a reason for setting visa requirements to Georgia.

It is no secret that Turkey is the key transport corridor for Daesh to receive manpower, weapons and ammunition and supply gas and other values. It is no secret either that many Georgians have rather high statuses in the hierarchy of the “Islamic State.”

Along with the Pankisi Gorge, Adjara has stepped forward. In the period of independence, especially after expulsion of its leader Aslan Abashidze, Turks have managed to greatly Islamize that autonomous republic.   In Soviet period, it was considered a Muslim region in name only; now the situation has changed dramatically.

Even the Georgian Dream that avoids any sharp political steps has arrested several people in Adjara. Although they had with them weapons, ammunition, and specific literature, they were not directly accused of ties with Daesh.

There is another region in Georgia – Kvemo-Kartli – that is densely populated with Azerbaijanis.  It is the largest ethnic community in Georgia.  Most of the population, mainly the youth, leans to Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Near the ancient capital of Georgia – Mtskheta, there is the monastery Jvari to Mtskheta, on the right side of which one can see the monument to the outstanding Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov, who described that place in his poem The Novice (Mtsyri).  It is incredible that the known lines from his poem can obtain a political topicality again, after two centuries.

Giorgi Asatiani, EADaily’s political analyst in Tbilisi

Permalink: eadaily.com/en/news/2015/12/03/giorgi-asatiani-georgia-between-russia-and-turkey
Published on December 3rd, 2015 10:44 AM
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