Baku has hosted the sixth Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan lately. Foreign Minister of Georgia Mikheil Janelidze highly appreciated the results of the meeting.
“It is a truly unique mechanism formed between the three neighbors. We have a very important role not only in our region and for our three countries, but also in a relatively wider area, globally. All the three countries are a bridge between Europe and Asia. Trade and economic cooperation between Europe and Asia is becoming deeper with every year due to this corridor, and we cooperate to make efficient infrastructure investments, we take political measures to use these capacities,” he said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Chavucoglu was highly pleased with the visit results too. He said that trilateral formats play a big role in development of the three countries’ cooperation. He said the three countries laid stress on the activities to put Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway into service. Cavusoglu’s comments have been covered more broadly, which is not surprising considering that Turkey it’s the driving force of the tripartite alliance and more than others seeks to enhance that cooperation. Nevertheless, the Turkish minister does not think that the railway has too high economic importance.
The railway to Kars successfully operated yet when that town was part of the Russian Empire. There are no special difficulties with freight activity from Azerbaijan to Turkey. The currently operating railway easily copes with this task due to the developed infrastructure of the Black Sea ports in Batumi and Poti. Experts say that the real indicators of freight activity will reach one-third of the peak loads at best. The annual passenger turnover of over one million people seems quite doubtful as well. Such a big number of passengers in the region is hardly realistic given the stiff competition with developed motor and air communication. After all, if that railway were economically viable, it would be built many years ago.
This project has always had a more important military and political subtext. To launch such a project, a person with political views like those of Erdogan should have come to power in Turkey. The Turkish society has always had smoldering dreams for restoration of the Ottoman might and establishment of the Great Turan even during the years when Turkey seemed to have found itself in the list backward countries.
Economic growth and a new political elite with old imperial ambitions have embodied those ephemeral dreams. No one denies any longer that the world has entered a stage of stable instability and redivision due to the United States. All this prompts bloody wars, collapse of states, deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. No one will deny that Lebanon, Iraq can be considered as unified states only formally. Syria would face the same fate, but for Russia that saved its statehood. However, this global destructive is not over yet. It is just flaring up. Perhaps, this makes the railway in the region of frozen conflicts so necessary for Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Yet, there are traps and pitfalls in the relations of the allies. As defeated countries, Georgia and Azerbaijan have revanchist plans, and the ruling elites in both the countries seek restoration of territorial integrity. In this light, it becomes clear why the railway in the region where frozen conflicts may be unfrozen at every moment is so important.
Another matter that this new tripartite alliance may be short-term. What will happen if the reasons to cooperate against others diminish or disappear? Everyone has a skeleton in their closet.
Despite their good-neighbored and friendly relationships, Georgia and Azerbaijan have problems that come to light regularly. One-third of the total border stretching more than 400km lacks both delimitation and demarcation.
One of the stumbling blocks is the David of the Gareja old monastery. Saint David of the Gareja was one of the so-called Syrian fathers who greatly contributed to Christianization of Georgia. He is honored by both the Church and the people. Georgia and Azerbaijan consider the territory of the monastery and Erisimedi village as their own. This is an extremely painful issue for both the sides.
There is another painful territorial dispute too. Georgia considers Zaqatali, Kakhi, Sheki as its historical province of Saingilo and the local population as forcefully Islamized Georgians. Azerbaijan, in turn, considers several regions in Kvemo-Kartli (east of Georgia) as its historical region where Borcali tribes resided. Azerbaijan’s scientists and NGOs even claim that Georgia and Armenia were established on Azerbaijani lands.
A similar delayed-action mine was laid under Georgian-Turkish relations too. Georgia says historical Georgian regions Tao-Klarjeti are currently part of Georgia. Turks, in turn, claim that almost entire west of Georgia is their historical land. This has already been fixed in maps. Besides, Georgia’s growing economic dependence on Turkey and Azerbaijan makes the situation worrisome. Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement Party managed to expel Aslan Abashidze from Ajara under pretext of fighting separatism and opened doors wide for Turkey. To reduce its dependence on the Russian gas, Georgia has fully replaced it with the Azerbaijani gas and turned fully dependent this time on Azerbaijan. Suffice it to say that the biggest taxpayer in Georgia is SOCAR, Azerbaijan’s oil company.
As the saying goes, he who pays the piper, calls the tune.
Irakli Chkheidze (Tbilisi), for EADaily