Yerevan – Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s recent invitation to Turkish President Abdullah Gul to visit Yerevan to watch a football match together was historic. Given the two countries’ long-strained relations, this visit would have been remarkable at any time. But coming as it does only one month after the alarming Russian-Georgian confrontation, it may offer real hope that tensions in the volatile Caucasus region can be eased.
Of course, ancient and difficult issues divide Armenia and Turkey. But now is the moment for both countries to put the past aside in order to address their common security concerns. In the new context set by the war in Georgia, the urgency of Turkey becoming a real bridge between the nations of the Caucasus is not lost on anyone.
This expectation is an inevitable consequence of Turkey’s geography and history. Situated figuratively between modernity and tradition, secularism and Islam, and democracy and tyranny, Turkey also is an actual physical bridge between East and West. For the peoples of the Caucasus, Turkey marks our path to Europe. It is a NATO member, bordering the three Caucasus republics that have NATO Individual Partnership Action Programs. It aspires to join the European Union, and would bring the EU to our three borders, even as we, too, aspire to join one day.
Indeed, Turkey has never missed an opportunity to present itself as a regional broker. Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkey proposed the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. This year, as the American-led effort to mediate a Middle East peace settlement began to falter, Turkey took up the job of mediator in both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the conflict between Syria and Israel. Now, in the immediate wake of the Russia-Georgia crisis, Turkey’s leaders have stepped forward once again to take a leadership role in the Caucasus.