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Georgia – Turkey: “restaurant diplomacy” or talks on full stomach

Photo: pixelrz.com

Prime Ministers of Georgia and Turkey, Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Binali Yildirim have met in Batumi, Autonomous Republic of Adjara, quite lately. The relations between the two countries are very good, at least they seem to be good. This is not just good-neighborhood and partnership. These are allied relations. Apparently, an Ankara-Tbilisi-Baku axis is emerging in the South Caucasus, with Georgia tending to link Turkey and Azerbaijan due to its geographical location. Turkish and Azerbaijani peoples have much in common: ethnic background, religion, very similar mentality, cultural and linguistic similarities. That why the “one nation – two states” thesis have been heard very often during the recent years. With Recep Tayyip Erdogan coming to power, the Turkish state has been transformed significantly. Erdogan managed to do what no one did during the 70 years of the Turkish statehood. He has managed to shake the fundamental principles the founder of present-day Turkey, Mustafa Kemal-pasha (Ataturk) established decades ago.

Ataturk authorized the army for functions of the permanent guarantor of the constitution and guardian of the secular state at the time. Erdogan stripped the army and generalship of that monopoly. He has not only withstood in the fight against the army elite, but also defeated it, depriving it of its influence on the domestic policy. Erdogan does not conceal his endeavors to restore the erstwhile power of the Ottoman Empire that collapsed after the WWI losing a significant part of the territories seized earlier. Erdogan whom journalists call a new sultan plans to return some of the lost territories in the short run.

Back to Georgia, Adjara is one of such “Turkish” territories which is specified as “Ottoman Sanjak of Batumi” in many maps of present-day Turkey. Georgia is aware of that fact, and many no-nonsense politicians and public workers have repeatedly voiced that issue.

Here are the most interesting nuances of the Batumi meeting of the Turkish and Georgian prime ministers. Noteworthy that Binali Yildirim arrived in Georgia directly from Turkish town of Artvin where he delivered a speech on constitutional referendum scheduled for April 16. The Constitutional amendments if approved through referendum will replace Ataturk’s Turkey with Erdogan’s one. Turkish authorities show hyperactivity in their efforts to carry out Constitutional reform. High-ranking emissaries are sent to foreign trips to brain wash representatives of big Turkish diasporas. In Europe, they understand that remotely democratic Turkey will hardly become more democratic after that reform. It’s for a reason that the Dutch government banned at once two Turkish ministers from entering the country to agitate for the constitutional referendum.

Turkish prime minister travelled to Georgia accompanied by Minister for Food, Agriculture and Livestock Faruk Celik, Minister for Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications Ahmed Arslan. Turkey’s Ambassador to Georgia Zeki Lvent Gumrukcu, Turkish Consul General to Batumi Yasin Temizkan and other officials were present at the meeting in Batumi. Minister Celik’s presence at the talks is clear – Erdogan still fails to have the Russian ban on Turkish agricultural products lifted at full. Loss of the huge Russian market will be painful for Turkey, given that European market is not accessible to Turkish agricultural products due to high standards. Minister Arslan’s presence was clear as well– Georgia is an important corridor linking Turkey with its key ally and partner Azerbaijan.

After the talks, Binali Yildirim drew the attention of journalists to the sustainably growing trade turnover of the two countries. The Turkish prime minister said: “I have arrived in Batumi at the invitation of my dearest friend Kvirikshvili. It was not a planned meeting. We discussed preparations for a second meeting of the Turkey-Georgia High-level Strategic Cooperation Council to be held later within the year.”

It could fit into what can be called good diplomatic relations, but for an odd nuance. The talks in Batumi were held at a dinner in one of the local restaurants. The officials talked for about 1.5 hour behind the closed doors. It is no secret that after talks, officials have a dinner, but it is very strange that such serious talks were held during the dinner like talks of mates in freewheeling 90s. Perhaps hungry journalists were not let inside not to hang on every word of the dining negotiators.

As said above, the Turkish prime minister arrived in Batumi from Artvin that was part of the Russian Empire 100 years ago, like Kars, Sarikamis and many other towns. In 1930s, Turks seized Alexandretta from Syria and calls it Iskenderun. As for Adjara and Javakheti, Turks nearly officially call them lost territories.

In this light, the recent large-scale public unrest in Batumi that came out of the blue is a reason for concern. There is an old Georgian fairytale about a fox that offers friendship to a sheep and cock. That friendship proved short as fox ate both the friends. The well-known final of Alexander Pushkin's “Fairy tale of the Golden Cockerel” contained an unconventional statement: “The tale's a lie, but it's got a hint! For a good pal, it's a tip”.

Irakli Chkheidze (Tbilisi) for EADaily

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