Professor Hüseyin BAĞCI: Turkey considers Azerbaijan as "one nation, two states"

14.10.2020 (Caucasian Journal) How is the political situation in South Caucasus - in particular, the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict - seen from Turkey's perspective? What are current political priorities of the powerful neigbour? 
Caucasian Journal’s guest today is Professor Dr. Hüseyin BAĞCI - President of Turkey’s Foreign Policy Institute and professor at Middle East Technical University in Ankara. Professor Bağci is also Caucasian Journal's Board member.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Journal: Dear Professor Bağci, thank you for this opportunity to talk about foreign policies in our region, and the position of Turkey, which is of great importance to our countries. First of all, my sincere congratulations you with recent appointment as the head of Foreign Policy Institute (FPI) – Turkey’s oldest and most prestigious think tanks! It a great honour for us to have you in Caucasian Journal’s Board. So, how does it feel to become a leader of this think tank, after many years of university teaching?

Hüseyin BAĞCI: Thank you very much. Indeed, it is a very good feeling, but also an intellectual responsibility to lead such an institute. I have been involved in the activities of FPI since late 1980’s and was deputy director. But now, of course, it is a new field of responsibility. We contribute to main stream debates on Turkish foreign and security nationally and internationally.
AK: I am sure many aspects of Turkish foreign policy have clear implications for South Caucasian countries - not just for obvious geographical reasons, but also because of huge political, economic, and cultural ties and interdependence. But how is South Caucasus viewed from the Turkish side? Can you outline your professional viewpoint, and perhaps also the public perception?

HB: South Caucasus is essential for Turkish foreign and security policy considerations. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union Turkey considered this region as "window of opportunity" for common projects and economic developments. This is why Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan did find a common platform in Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. Turkey was the spiritus rector of this regional organization and it was necessary even at that time to provide new platforms for the South Caucasus countries. Turkey has close links with those countries ethnically, historically and economically. In Turkish public life, we have very influential persons originating from those countries. There is, in general, a very positive image in Turkey of this area and people, but we have to know more and to learn more from each other.

AK: If you would like to comment on the recent developments in any of our region’s countries – under the “Turkish angle” – I’m sure our readers would be most interested.

HB: The term  "Turkish angle" is interesting. Therefore, when we look at the region with a future perspective, you see that Turkey, as a regional power, has great interest in economic and political stability there. The One Road One Belt project from China covers this region entirely, and those countries are pivotal for the energy, connectivity, infrastructural developments, transport and technological developments. Turkey’s relations with Russia is another important factor for the regional developments. I think that, the more Turkey gets involved in this area, the more Russia will feel uneasy. So, Turkey has to make it clear that it has no intention to change the Russian historical position and role there, but as two important players, they could contribute to the future projects together to create "Benelux countries" of South Caucasus. Could it be realized, we will see. But theoretically, it is possible, if Armenia and Azerbaijan would solve their territorial dispute in Nagorno-Karabakh.

AK: But I recall one of your publications referred to conflicts in our region as “insoluble disputes”...

HB: Indeed, I called this ‘’insoluble disputes’’ but it can change within the new Zeitgeist dominating in the world. Therefore, the "frozen conflicts" in South Caucasus will get "hot and melted" in the meantime. This is very complicated area with multiple problems. Now, not only Russia, but also Turkey, USA, China and the EU review their perceptions of this region, and there will be new definition of interests. I think that Russia will be very defensive and the other actors very offensive to take part in regional developments. The "insoluble disputes" will face new challenges which could lead to solutions. But, I am still cautious and see that it will take still more time than we expect.  
Turkey's official position is to support Azerbaijan unconditionally - also in diplomatic sense, not only militarily.
AK: How would your comment the official position of Turkish government on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan?

HB: Turkey's official position is to support Azerbaijan unconditionally - also in diplomatic sense, not only militarily. But Russia is not interested that Turkey is on the table. It will depend on president Aliyev to insist on it. But how far can he go is open question. Turkey's wish is not to be a mediator but be on side of Azerbaijan.

AK: Can you comment about the reasons behind Turkey's decision to take Azerbaijani side - even at the expense of deterioration of its relations with NATO allies, including France, not to mention relations with Russia? Do you agree this is a wise strategy in long term?

Whether it is a wise strategy is another issue - time will show it, but it seems Turkey feels obliged to support president Aliyev. 
HB: This is the policy of Turkish administration, even at the expense of NATO allies. Turkey considers Azerbaijan as "one nation, two states". France and Turkey have recently had a crisis in the Mediterranean, but president Erdogan plays German card. France is historical ally of Armenia, so there is a clash anyway. With Russia it has another dimension. Russia will not allow this and president Erdogan is already disappointed with Putin's statements. Whether it is a wise strategy is another issue - time will show it, but it seems Turkey feels obliged to support president Aliyev. There will be no step back, but both sides are disappointed with each other - I mean Russia and Turkey. Russia had better cards and plays chess, but Turkey - backgammon! No clear strategy in sight.

 AK: Turkey and European Union, Turkey and NATO… This is always “hot” topic. What’s your view on Turkey’s current policy, and what do you see in longer perspective? Do you agree that relations with China, Russia and Iran are improving at the expense of Turkey’s ties with the West? 
Turkey will not leave NATO ever, until NATO experiences a natural death - like Warsaw Pact maybe!
HB: I think Turkey is a part of Western political and military structure, and is a Western state in this respect. Turkey still negotiates with the EU for full membership although it's not a very good moment. But also there is no "official cut of desire politically" by both sides. There is very strong negative rhetoric but neither side takes the first step to finish the negotiations. It is never-ending love relationship! Turkey is member of NATO since 1952 and will not leave NATO ever, until NATO experiences a natural death - like Warsaw Pact maybe! But, I do not expect any time soon that NATO dissolves itself. No, it will not be the case. There are some conflicts, of course, among the NATO countries, or generally in transatlantic relations in recent years, but Turkey is essential part of NATO and will remain so. 
China, Russia and Iran are nice opportunities for Turkey, but NATO remains the most important institution. Like a "catholic marriage", it will last until death! China is certainly not a viable option but important as economic partner. Russia remains for Turkey as "neighbor with common but also differing interests" also for the future. Although Turkey, Russia and Iran are partners in Astana Process, there are more differences in the Middle East policies of each country. Turkey’s relations with the West will remain troublesome but it will not lead to a "divorce’" with the West.

AK: I cannot help asking you about the developments in relations between Turkey and Greece – how optimistic (or pessimistic) are you?

HB: Turkey and Greece are like a married couple to share the same bed (EU and NATO) but having different dreams! Greece is a neighboring country and sometimes uses strong rhetoric but there will be no military conflict between them. I am optimistic because it is a regional imperative that Turkey and Greece have to work and live together. This type of crises can occur, but there is always a way from escalation to normalization.

AK: I guess your former students are your “agents” in many countries, including Georgia and our neighboring states. I hope with their help we can think of organizing important events to stimulate competent dialogues on problems of importance. What shall you say about the directions of potential cooperation?

HB: Certainly we could have more dialogue and cooperation and it is essential for the intellectual linkages. I would always be part of any common project with your institute and I am pretty sure we can realize many projects together. We are ready for cooperation and let’s start already today!

AK: With pleasure. If you have any other comment that you wish to share with our international readership, the floor is yours.

HB: I think that the regional think tanks have an important role to bring the issues to the intellectual platforms. The more we talk and do research the more international readership would get sound, objective and reliable analysis. We are above the political parties and neutral in our research. I am sure that our institutes will provide a good contribution for understanding the realities of the region. You do already very good contribution. Together we will do much better. The cooperation is essential.

AK: Thank you very much!

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