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Turkey-Abkhazia Relations post-Abkhaz Elections

Hasan Kanbolat, Director of ORSAM

Sergei Bagapsh won again in the Dec. 12 presidential elections held in Abkhazia, which has declared a one-sided (de facto) independence from Georgia. While Bagapsh was the president of a state considered “de facto” independent, he is now the president of a state considered “de jure” since the August 2008 war.
 

In this respect, the Bagapsh administration will want to improve relations with Abkhazians living outside Abkhazia and especially with Turkey, which has an Abkhaz population five times as big as the Abkhazian population in Abkhazia, in the new term in order to balance Russia’s influence over Abkhazia.

After all, many Abkhaz deputies, in particular Soner Gogua, who is from Adapazarı, frequently visit Turkey. Bagapsh should be expected to make an unofficial visit to Turkey in 2010 as the guest of İstanbul-based Federation of Abkhaz Associations, which completed its establishment works in November. Bagapsh had plans to make an unofficial visit to Turkey (Ankara, İstanbul and Adapazarı) between Oct. 17 and Oct. 24, 2007, however, the visit was delayed after Tbilisi requested that Ankara postpone the visit due to the escalating opposition demonstrations in Georgia and following telephone diplomacy between Ankara and Sukhum.

The rapprochement between Turkey and Abkhazia -- which began after Foreign Affairs Ministry Deputy Undersecretary and former Ambassador Ünal Çeviköz, who was part of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s delegation to Tbilisi, drove to Abkhazia on Sept. 8 to meet with Abkhaz officials -- pointed to the start of a new period.

Two ambassadors who have experience in Turkey’s Caucasus issue played a major role in preparing the groundwork for this new period. These two ambassadors are the former Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan, Çeviköz, and the former Turkish ambassador to Georgia, Ertan Tezgör. Even though Turkey is a Euro-Atlantic country and has good relations with Georgia, having good relations with Russia provides a favorable environment for Turkey and Abkhazia to improve relations. A report released on Dec. 16 by the Middle East Strategic Research Center (ORSAM) and the Economic Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) titled “Abkhazia for the Integration of the Black Sea” provides a re-evaluation of and suggestions for Turkey-Abkhazia relations.

The report highlighted that Turkey could play an important role in overcoming the isolation of Abkhazia. After recalling that in the 1990s in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s breakup, close economic relations were established between Abkhazia and Turkey, direct maritime connections were built between Sukhumi and Trabzon and a highway connection was established between the two countries, the report notes that Abkhazia was virtually cut off from the outside world as a result of the 1996 decision by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to impose economic sanctions at the request of Georgia and that Turkey, which cooperated with the CIS decision, discontinued ferry travel to Abkhazia.
It also emphasized that Russia fully cooperated with the embargo decision until 2000 and that during that period a lot of harm was inflicted on the people; however, the sanctions did not yield any political results.

In conclusion, we can summarize the new period in Turkey-Abkhazia relations as improving humanitarian ties with Abkhazia by recognizing Georgia’s territorial integrity. To achieve this, direct bilateral relations should be improved on issues such as ensuring direct transportation between Turkey and Abkhazia (first by sea, then by air) and providing assistance in the areas of culture (via civil society organizations), religion (via the Religious Affairs Directorate), development (via the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency [TİKA]) and humanitarian grants (via the Turkish Red Crescent [Kızılay]).
* This article was first published in Today's Zaman on 29 December 2009

Source: ORSAM

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