Tbilisi had an unusual visitor on July 2. But one whose presence could have far-reaching consequences for the energy map of both the South Caucasus and Europe.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s two-day state visit to Georgia, his first, involves the usual meetings with the usual assortment of senior Georgian officials and the usual signing of various, vaguely described agreements.
The two countries have not divulged the details.
The Turkmen government is excited about how the use of “transportation-transit infrastructure between the Caspian and Black Sea regions will provide for the supply of broad inter-regional integration with the states of Europe, and the Near and Far East.”
Georgian Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili, for her part, expressed a hope that the visit would bring “interesting results” for “deepening” the two countries’ relations as well as for “the execution of regional projects.”
Of course, bottom line, that means one thing – energy.
A few months ago, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic told Reuters that Turkmen gas would reach European markets by 2019.
Three Chinese warships are have visited Istanbul while a Turkish vessel made a stop China, a "rare moment in naval diplomacy" while the two countries are navigating some rocky shoals in their military relationship.
The guided-missile frigates Linyi and Weifang and the supply ship Weishanhu arrived in Istanbul on May 24 for a five-day stay. (The Linyi and Weifang, recall, were the ships that recently took part in joint Russian-Chinese exercises in the Mediterranean and Russian Victory Day celebrations in Novorossiysk on the Black Sea.)
Meanwhile, a Turkish frigate, the TCG Gediz, visited the Chinese port of Qingdao from May 22-24. The TCG Gediz is on a long trip around the Far East, stopping in 14 countries, and although the stop in China has garnered the most attention, Turkish analysts saw the tour as part of a broader pivot to Asia. "As a Nato member, Turkey is sending everyone the message … that it can collaborate with everyone in the military field, not only with the allies of Western countries," Selcuk Colakoglu, vice-president of the Ankara-based think tank International Strategic Research Organisation, told the South China Morning Post.
As NATO officials gathered last week in the Turkish beach city of Antalya, Turkish officials used the occasion to make unusually strong commitments affirming their support of the alliance in its growing conflict with Russia.
Turkey announced that it would head the alliance's new Spearhead Force in 2021. Plans for the Spearhead Force, a rapid reaction unit staffed from NATO member militaries, were drawn up last year explicitly to combat potential Russian attempts to destabilize NATO countries.
In remarks at the meeting, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Cavusoglu explicitly criticized Russian policy in the region. AFP reported that Cavusoglu said "Ankara was prepared to play a 'constructive role' in the disputes between Russia and the West over Ukraine. But he said: 'Nothing can justify what Russia has been doing in its neighbourhood.... Ukraine. Crimea. Georgia.'"
And Cavusoglu also called for the next NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016 to accept new members. "We favour NATO expansion. Currently we have four candidate countries – Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Georgia. And we would like to see the 2016 Summit aimed at expansion,” he said.
Located atop a steep hill, the Armenian Genocide Memorial is one of the landmarks of Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. But it does not stand alone.
Armenia contains nearly 30 memorials to the the victims of Ottoman Turkey’s 1915 massacre of ethnic Armenians, according to the Armenian National Institute (ANI), a Washington, DC-based research and education center. They often stand in places named after locations in Turkey that formerly contained ethnic Armenian communities — Nor Sebastia, Nor Hajen, Musa Ler or Arabkir.
“Monuments have come to serve as a location for gatherings, as the victims of the Armenian genocide have no graves,” claimed ANI Director Rouben Adalian, an historian. During the 1960s, when greater public attention also started to focus on the Holocaust, the Armenian Diaspora began the construction of monuments to the victims of 1915.
In Soviet Armenia, Adalian added, the topic generally had been suppressed. None of the monuments were built before 1965. “[I]t was not even discussed until 1965 when there was a public outcry that the genocide should be remembered.”
Many monuments were built throughout Armenia in the 1970s and 1980s; most adhere to a stark symbolism. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, they often are smaller and use more religious and ethnic-identity references than previously would have been allowed.
In several locations, graves of soldiers killed during the 1988-1994 war with neighboring Azerbaijan over breakaway Nagorno Karabakh have been placed next to the memorials.
Yet other than the best-known memorials in Yerevan, the northern village of Aparan and the hamlet of Sardarapat, not far from the Turkish border, most of these structures are not well maintained, and receive few visitors.
For Armenians, the towns of Muş and Sason in southeastern Turkey, not far to the west of Lake Van, hold particular historical significance. But today, 100 years after the massacre of 1915, few ethnic Armenians still remain there
In the medieval era, Muş served as the central town of the influential Armenian principality of Taron, home to Mesrop Mashtots, who invented the Armenian alphabet in the early fifth century.
Sason, known to Armenians as Sasun, is the setting for the 8th-10th-century Armenian national epic, “The Daredevils of Sasun" (also called “The Daredevils of Sassoun"), which tells how Armenian fighters, led by the legendary ruler, David of Sasun (or Sassoun), repulsed repeated Arab invasions.
Although both locations lost their prominence in modern times, they remained important regional centers for Armenian culture until the bloodshed of 1915.
Today, little sign of that past remains. The old part of Muş, where many ethnic Armenians once lived, has been partly destroyed, though the walls of a women’s hamam and an Armenian church still stand. Khachkars, Armenian memorial cross-stones, stand near many Kurdish houses. Stones with carved crosses often have been used for construction materials. A graveyard can be found on a nearby mountain.
Recently, an Armenian club opened in Muş with the name "Daron - Hay,” a local Armenian rendition of “Taron-Armenian.” Members say they chose the Armenian word “Hay” since the Turkish word for Armenia, Ermeni, can be used as an insult.
Members say, though, that those attitudes are starting to change a little. But still, despite a relative liberalization of government policies in recent years, many ethnic Armenians in Turkey remain cautious.
Kim Kardashian, the US celebrity who conquered the Internet, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who conquered Crimea, will be among the VIPs to visit Armenia this month for the 100th anniversary of the mass slaughter of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.
TV star Kardashian, her rapper husband Kanye West and much of her Armenian-American clan are headed this week to the tiny South Caucasus country that is the Kardashians’ paternal homeland, celebrity-news site X17 reported on April 4. The trip will be filmed for E!’s “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” television show.
Already, she has begun her preparations.
Concerned about her roots, Kardashian changed her look from platinum blonde back to brunette for the pilgrimage, US Magazine noted; a shade perhaps also seen as better suited for the occasion.
Putin may have made no similar adjustments, but, unlike Kardashian, he confirmed plans to attend the official commemoration ceremony itself on April 24.
Nonetheless, Kardashian’s presence in the country will help Armenia in what is proving to be fierce competition with Turkey over April 24, a date Ankara has selected to remember the landmark 1915 Battle of Gallipoli.
Yerevan and Ankara have accused one another of deliberately timing their respective commemorations to leave the world’s leaders and celebrities with an uncomfortable choice. The two countries are closely comparing RSVPs.
Just days after Turkey's defense minister said that its new, controversial air defense system would not be integrated with NATO's, the president's spokesman openly contradicted him.
"As one of the most important countries in NATO's security line, we will definitely ensure this integration and harmony," said Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kalin did not address the other recent plot twist in this long-running saga -- that Ankara's decision on whether to continue as planned with a Chinese system, or instead switch to a Western one, would be based on how the bidding countries mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
But his statement does -- again -- make it appear likely that Ankara will eventually reverse course and decide to go with a Western, NATO-compatible system. NATO officials have repeatedly argued that they could not integrate a Chinese system into their own for security purposes, and failing to integrate NATO's system would be a big handicap for Turkey. By not integrating with NATO "Turkey will lose half of its radar capabilities,” one unnamed defense analyst told Hurriyet Daily News.
Turkey analyst Aaron Stein notes that Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, whose remarks initially set all this off, may not know what he's talking about, and in any case the decision is not going to be made in the defense industry but in the presidential palace.
Amidst an angry backlash from Armenian-Americans, Starbucks has removed from cafés around Los Angeles artwork depicting women in Armenian national dress under Turkish flags.
The coffee chain was apparently attempting to cater to LA’s large ethnic Armenian community , but anyone with a smattering of an understanding of Armenian-Turkish relations — or of Google searches — could see how displaying such a poster could go awfully wrong; especially ahead of the centennial commemoration of the slaughter of over a million ethnic Armenians in Turkey.
With the centennial planned for April 24, the century-old dispute about whether or not the killings amounted to genocide has reached a fever-pitch. Armenia already has withdrawn from a largely defunct reconciliation plan with Turkey.
The Armenian National Committee for America, a Diaspora group, launched a social-media campaign at #boycottstarbucks deeming the art “Tasteless!” and calling for the coffee-colossus to remove the photos and apologize.
The outpouring has prompted the company to issue an apology. In what appears to have become the company’s standard response to press-queries, a Starbucks spokesperson wrote to EurasiaNet.org that “We missed the mark here and we apologize for upsetting our customers and the community.”
The spokesperson stated that the artwork has been removed from “our Mulholland & Calabasas store in Woodland Hills” and that the company is “working to make this right" and "to ensure this image is not in any other Starbucks locations."
Similar statements appear to have been sent to RFE/RL and the Armenian-American publication Asbarez.com, according to their reports.
Turkey is reportedly linking its purchase a multi billion-dollar air-defense system to whether the bidder countries recognize the Armenian genocide.
That news, reported by a number of Turkish media, is the latest unexpected turn in the multi-year saga over the arms deal. The original bidders for the deal were companies representing the United States, Europe, China, and Russia, giving the program the air of a geopolitical litmus test. When Turkey announced that it planned to give the Chinese company the contract, it faced a barrage of pressure from its NATO allies who were concerned that linking that system with NATO air defense equipment already in Turkey could expose NATO secrets to China.
All along, Turkey has denied that there was any political subtext to its decision, saying that its choice of China was related solely to questions of price and the fact that China would hand over more of the technology to Turkey. Now, though, that appears to have changed. With the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide approaching in April, Ankara is reportedly waiting to see how the various bidders mark that event.
"Rumors in political circles in Ankara said that no decision will be made over the missile defense system winner before [April 24] since Turkey wants to first see France and the U.S.'s position on the 1915 incidents," reported the pro-government Daily Sabah. "An agreement may be made with China if the U.S. and French administrations take a 'pro-Armenian' stance."
The move by the U.S. Congress to deny secondhand warships to Turkey could portend an "arms embargo" from Washington, some military officials in Ankara are warning.
Last month, Congress approved the transfer of several naval frigates to Mexico and Taiwan, excluding Turkey -- which had been slated as one of the original recipients -- over concerns about its policies toward Israel and Cyrpus.
While the ships would have been of use to Turkey only as the source for spare parts, the move nevertheless has raised alarm in Ankara, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
“These are almost useless vessels of no strategic importance for the Turkish Navy,” one senior defense official in Ankara told the newspaper. “The Americans know that the ships would not be great naval assets for Turkey. We think the decision not to transfer the ships to Turkey may be reflecting the likelihood of a broader embargo in the future.”
Another official, also speaking anonymously, suggested that the reprisal could go the other way:
A defense procurement official in Ankara said any further U.S. move “that may look like an embargo due to political rifts” would trigger reaction and risk U.S. defense business in Turkey.
“The unfriendly U.S. move came at a time when our U.S. [and European] allies are trying to convince us that going for a Chinese solution in our air defense program is not a good idea. The timing of the frigate decision is puzzling. The Americans know very well which contracts potentially involving U.S. defense business in Turkey could be jeopardized and how much harm that may make to U.S. industry,” said the official.