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Cooperation paradigms in the South Caucasus

Making sense of Turkish-Georgian relations
Coopération au Sud Caucase : le cas des relations turco-géorgiennes
Vahram Ter-Matevosyan
p. 103-125

Résumés

L’objectif de cet article est d’explorer les dynamiques des relations turco-géorgiennes en se concentrant en particulier sur la période post-Mouvement National Uni. L’article étudie les déterminants qui façonnent et définissent l’essence de l’approfondissement des relations entre la Turquie et la Géorgie. Il vise aussi à analyser les manifestations du Soft Power de la Turquie en Géorgie. Il s’agira notamment d’étudier les nombreux projets que la Turquie a mené à bien dans les sphères culturelle, humanitaire et de l’éducation, mais aussi les points d’achoppement qui obèrent parfois les relations bilatérales, pour montrer, ainsi, que, en parallèle à l’expansion de ces relations, il existe en Géorgie une opposition croissante à la Turquie, soutenue par certaines forces politiques et par l’Eglise orthodoxe géorgienne.

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1The relatively small region of the South Caucasus keeps attracting massive attention from regional and trans-regional actors. Until the mid-1990s, there was still uncertainty about the mid-term and long-term strategic objectives that stakeholders pursued in the region. The region itself, entrenched in ethno-political and territorial conflicts, did not have much to offer. However, by the mid-2000s, with expanding energy projects, it became tremendously difficult to underestimate the increasing strategic weight of the region. Within a short period, the South Caucasus became a catchphrase for observers and practitioners alike.

2Turkey was one of the players that made its interests widely known in the region. The Justice and Development Party, which came to power in Turkey in November 2002, based its regional policy priorities largely following the steps of the previous coalition government of Bülent Ecevit. The relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan have been expanding since mid-1990s, which led them build closely interlinked alliance. In the case of Armenia, the reality is more complex as Turkey refuses to establish diplomatic relations with it by enforcing a political and economic blockade. The relations between Turkey and Georgia have a different background and dynamics. For many citizens of Georgia, Turkey was long seen under an unfavorable light. However, since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1991, this evolved from mutual discovery towards close cooperation in different fields. Moreover, by the end of the 2000s, both Turkey and Georgia widely interpreted their relations as a rather successful case of regional cooperation. After Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s departure in 2013, however, some circles in Georgian society started to be more vocal and voiced concerns about “the Turkish economic and cultural infiltration into Georgia”. The paper seeks to unveil the reasons for increasing anxiety in Georgia and to identify the main forces and their central arguments when opposing Turkish policies. For that purpose, the paper looks upon the manifestations of Turkish “soft power” politics in Georgia. Primarily, it discusses various projects that Turkey carried out in the economic, cultural, educational and humanitarian spheres. Then, the paper also touches upon Georgian political and social perceptions of those projects exemplified by the findings of in-depth interviews conducted by the author in the spring of 2014 in Tbilisi.

Political priorities of Turkey in Georgia

  • 1 A. Davutoğlu, 2001; B. Aras, 2011, p. 53-68; B. Aras, 2000, p. 36-58; A. Davutoğlu, 2008, p. 77-96; (...)

3The research on post-Soviet Turkish foreign policy in the South Caucasus1 can be divided into several groups. According to some experts, Turkey has elaborated and does run a clear-cut and comprehensive regional policy in the South Caucasus, thanks to which it has managed to become a regional actor, thereby bypassing even Russia in many areas. Another group of researchers claim that Turkey pursues different interests vis-à-vis each entity of the South Caucasian region. Hence, there is no unified and integrated foreign policy of Turkey in the South Caucasus. Three UN member states, two partially recognized states and one non-recognized de-facto state have different rankings in the list of policy priorities for Turkey. The next group of analysts posits that Turkey still lacks a long-term policy towards the states in the South Caucasus and only local processes define Turkish political objectives. Some even argue that the major obstacle for Turkey’s all-embracing policy in the region is the absence of diplomatic relations with Armenia, the establishment of which will lead to Turkey’s full and complete political presence in the region.

  • 2 M. Cecire, 2013, p. 111.
  • 3 M. Çelikpala, 2007, p. 27-28; BBalcı, 2014, p. 49; A. Kotchikian, 2004, p. 43.
  • 4 B. Aras and P. Akpınar, 2011, p. 63.

4In particular, Michael Cecire argues that Turkey “is visibly ascendant as a Caucasus power” and “Turkey’s Caucasus system” already functions in the region, where Turkey is perceived as a “merchant hegemon”. Moreover, in his opinion, Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia trilateral cooperation has been a challenge to the common perception of the region being under the Russian dominance2. As Mitat Çelikpala, Asbed Kotchikian and Bayram Balci ascertain, Georgia, first and foremost, provides the most direct and stable land route from Turkey to Azerbaijan and Central Asia, therefore, its role is indispensable and profound. Moreover, Georgia’s engagement in Caspian energy projects as a transit country and Turkey’s investments in the Georgian economy have made the two countries irreversibly interdependent3. In addition to the energy security factor, Bülent Aras and Pınar Akpınar, in discussing Turkey’s policy in Georgia, also pinpoint to significant implications for regional stability and border security4. Thus, most analysts are of the common opinion that Turkish policy in Georgia is dominated by the key role the latter plays in exporting Caspian and Central Asian energy resources to Europe. In other words, the successful implementation of Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s geopolitical projects is directly proportional to Georgia being a predictable and stable state.

5In discussing Turkish interests pursued in Georgia, one can also see an accentuation on economic aspects. Russia’s policy towards Georgia has left the latter without alternatives, but to build even closer relations with Turkey, which was seen as the nearest and most suitable bridge to Europe. Reiterating Georgia’s former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s statement5, Balci argues that for Georgia Turkey is a window toward Europe, thanks to which Tbilisi’s aspirations to go beyond its Caucasus enclave may become possible6. Cecire is not mistaken in mentioning that in order to grasp the essence of Turkish-Georgian relations, one should consider them within the context of the Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan trilateral format, which will enable to acknowledge that Turkish-Georgian relations have stemmed for the most part from Turkish-Azerbaijani relations.7 In any case, it is important to note, that many experts, in analyzing Turkish policy in Georgia, do not pay much attention to its social and cultural implications, which in fact influence the relations between Turkey and Georgia to a significant degree. Those factors are discussed in the next sections of this article.

  • 8 D. Göksel, 2013(b), p. 21.
  • 9 Saakashvili Speaks of Importance of Close Ties with Turkey”, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?i (...)
  • 10 G. Ackerman, 2004.
  • 11 D. Göksel, 2013(a), p. 19.
  • 12 This argument was made by Davutoğlu as an advisor to the PM. The script of the interview was publis (...)
  • 13 D. Göksel, 2013(b), p. 2.
  • 14 M. Cecire, 2013, p. 113-115.

6A number of complex and systemic factors determine the perceptions that the Georgian political elite has developed towards Turkey. In elaborating policy approaches towards Turkey both former and present Georgian leaderships’ attitudes seem determined by a number of geopolitical, economic, infrastructural and simply pragmatic factors. For instance, the former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has referred to the Turkish-Georgian relations during his presidential term as a “golden age”8. His administration, indeed, was an outspoken supporter and protagonist of an even deeper Turkish presence both in the Georgian economy and the whole region. During his presidency, Saakashvili authored a few statements glorifying Turkey, its culture and political system9. He famously named Mustafa Kemal, the founder of modern Turkey, as one of his main political role models10. He was also known for opening the doors of the Georgian economy to Turkish investors who brought capital and opportunities to Georgia. When speaking of Turkey’s interests in Georgia and in the region, he noted: “for Turkey specifically it is important to create a zone of stability with peaceful and friendly nations around it. Georgia was, maybe, the best case of the famous policy of ‘zero problems with neighbors’”11. More than once this thought was voiced during his term and, perhaps, in this regard reiterated similar remarks by the Turkish political elite. For instance, on January 2, 2008, Ahmet Davutoğlu, advisor to the Prime-Minister at the time, in his interview to CNNTürk noted: “Turkey’s ‘zero problem policy towards its neighbors’ has been successfully implemented for the past four years. The most striking examples of Turkey’s success in the region are its relations with Georgia (the other being Syria - VTM)”12. Nigyar Göksel also holds the opinion that “Turkey and Georgia appear to present a model of integration in Europe’s East”13. Cecire enhances his arguments of the Georgian direction being successful by noting that, unlike many countries where Davutoğlu’s much-quoted “Strategic Depth” doctrine was judged as exceedingly negative or unequivocally, the Caucasus became the top beneficiary of that policy and was the only success story14.

7Georgia’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Secretary of the National Security Council Eka Tkeshelashvili mentioned during an interview conducted by the author: “in order to get the complete idea of Turkish policy in Georgia one should clarify Georgia’s pursued interest too. And only in combining the interests of those two [Turkey and Georgia - VTM] we could thoroughly comprehend the policy objectives of the sides”. She also defined Georgia’s interest as follows: “to take advantage of Georgia’s geographical position in the region, to become a ‘regional hub’ and apply the key elements of economic liberalism in that process”15. Both Turkey and Turkish-Georgian cooperation were given key importance in the National Security Concept of Georgia of 2005 and in its revised version of 2011 (both documents were adopted during Saakashvili’s presidency). In the meantime, a few differences were observed. For instance, in the 2005 version of the document Turkey was distinguished as a “strategic partner”, “a leading regional partner”, “an important trade partner” and “a valuable strategic partner”16. Meanwhile, in the revised version of 2011, Turkey is characterized as “Georgia’s leading partner in the region”, “Georgia’s largest and economic partner”, “a regional leader” and “an important military partner”17. Thus, in the revised version, “a strategic partner” formulation was gone.

8It seemed as if after the change of power in 2012-2013, Georgia’s new leadership, the “Georgian Dream” coalition, would give in to the concerns in some public circles and would review the political orientation towards Turkey most vividly defended by the previous administration. And indeed, in the period preceding the 2012 parliamentary elections, in the pre-election campaign, as well as in the first months of PM Ivanishvili’s administration, some statements were made, which caused certain anxiety both to the former administration and inside the Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance. The statements made after the elections questioned the financial and economic expediency of some of the regional projects; most vividly the ongoing Kars-Akhalkalaki railway project, which was initiated in 2007 to connect Turkey and Azerbaijan through Georgia. Turkish entrepreneurs followed suit and voiced their fears about different bureaucratic obstacles that they had started to face in Georgia. However, after visiting Baku, then Ankara, the new Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili made a few remarks, which eased the tense atmosphere.

  • 18 Interview with Sergi Kapanadze, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.
  • 19 Interview with Koba Turmanidze, May 8, 2014, Tbilisi.

9During the interviews conducted by the author, a question was asked whether the present Georgian leadership’s policy towards Turkey differed from that of the former ones. In the answers, a tendency seemed to dominate, that even though there was some continuity, nevertheless, the new leadership showed more circumspection and less enthusiasm towards some Turkish projects. Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, professor at the Caucasus University, Sergi Kapanadze notes that after the change of power, anti-Turkish moods began to increasingly evolve in Ajaria, a semi-autonomous region where a large portion of population profess Islam, and in some other territories of the state18. Especially in the 2012 Parliamentary elections, a candidate in Ajaria from the “Georgian Dream” coalition (then in the opposition) built his political campaign on anti-Turkish sentiments and slogans, which played a decisive role in the election results. Speaking of the “Georgian Dream” parliamentary election campaign in Ajaria in September 2012, President of “Caucasus Research Resource Center - CRRC” Koba Turmanidze mentions that a notable process was observed: though many of the foreign investments were directed to Ajaria and it became one of the success stories of the Georgian economic reforms, the opposition managed to direct the public opinion against the Turks, Turkish capital and, of course, the Georgian authorities, and enjoyed success in the elections19.

  • 20 I. Alasania, 2013, p. 7.
  • 21 Ibid.

10Later processes revealed that in spite of the election promises to challenge Turkish penetration in Georgia, the new administration kept on running a policy towards Turkey which didn’t differ much from that of the previous administration. The following statement by the former Georgian Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania reflects Tbilisi’s current position towards Turkey: “At the meeting point of powerful countries and resource-rich regions, an adaptive and reality-oriented Georgian foreign policy is not only desirable but a strategic necessity. We embrace and cherish our European identity, but neither can we ignore the realities of geography and geopolitics”20. In the same vein, Alasania marks Georgia’s relations with Turkey as “exemplary and accelerating as our interests increasingly intertwine”21.

Turkish Economic Policy in Georgia

11In addition to political and geopolitical gains that Turkey pursued in Georgia there were considerable efforts from Ankara to promote Turkish business and economic projects too.

12Turkey and Azerbaijan interchangeably take the lead in the foreign trade with Georgia since the mid-2000s. Naturally, statistics show that import and export volumes of energy resources are considerable, but besides that, Turkish investments and turnover in a number of spheres indicate that during recent years Turkey has noticeably increased its economic presence. The analysis of the data provided by the National Statistics Office of Georgia22 shows the change and the dynamics within the last years. While the trade volume between 1995 and 2003 did not go beyond $200 million, from 2004 to 2007 the volume almost doubled, which was not only thanks to the Georgian leadership’s economic policy after the “Rose Revolution”, but also as a result of Ankara’s active economic policy. In July 2006, the Russian market almost became unavailable for Georgian products, because of Russia partially closing the Upper Lars border gate, the only check point between both countries, for renovation purposes. Turkey was quick to react and a number of new initiatives were launched. As a result, in November 2007, Georgia and Turkey signed the Free Trade Agreement, and as soon as it was put in force, the bilateral trade volumes drastically increased. Evidently, it was stimulated not only by the force of the agreement, but also by the closed Georgia-Russia border as a result of the South Ossetian war, the completion of energy programs, as well as some other relevant factors related to Turkish economic performance.

13One can also observe a similar increase when analyzing Turkish Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) volumes in Georgia23. In the case of both foreign trade and the FDI, we deal with certain patterns. For instance, between 1997 and 2003 Turkish total investments barely reached $103 million; however, the situation has drastically changed since 2004. Within the next nine years, the Turkish investments have marked a sweeping growth of up to $864 million. In addition, it should be also underlined that Turkish investors are predominantly interested in the textile industry, agriculture, construction and energy spheres of the Georgian economy. Dozens of Turkish construction companies are engaged in various projects (construction of hydropower stations, roads and railroads), the working volume of those companies exceed $1 billion24. In 1999, ten Turkish entrepreneurs founded an organization named GÜRTIAD (Gürcu ve Türk Işadamlari Derneği – Association of Georgian and Turkish Businessmen) aimed to protect and promote their interests in Georgia. Its governing body currently has 66 members, one executive representing each Turkish company operating in Georgia25.

  • 26 The latter has built more than 20 airports both in and out of Turkey.
  • 27 The Batumi Airport is to be administered by TAV until 2027, and the Tbilisi Airport exploitation co (...)
  • 28 D. Göksel, 2013(b), p. 4.
  • 29 Passengers departing from Hopa check-in at the Turkish Airlines Office situated at the Hopa port, a (...)

14Thus, the period between 2006 and 2007 became another turning point in enhancing trade and economic relations, after which the Georgian market became more open to Turkish capital and investments. That period also coincided with the process of looking for new markets by the Turkish “green capital” and business elite – the “Anatolian Tigers”. As a result, a number of Turkish enterprises actively penetrated into the Georgian market. Most visible for the population was the construction of new terminals in Tbilisi and Batumi Airports by TAV Urban Georgia of TAV Group (Tepe-Akfen-Vie)26. The latter was also able to obtain the long-term exclusive agreements for the management of the airports and flight services27. The Georgian leadership, particularly Ivanishvili’s administration, has periodically criticized high fees fixed by the TAV for running these airports as they affected ticket prices28. TAV’s appearance in the Georgian market led five Turkish airline companies to be more actively engaged in Georgian air transportation (Turkish Airlines, AtlasJet, Pegasus, AnadoluJet, BoraJet). Turkish airline companies carry out regular flights from two Georgian airports to Ankara and Istanbul. Moreover, the latter has become an important transit hub when travelling to and from Georgia. More notable is the agreement signed between Turkey and Georgia on March, 14, 2006 regarding the joint operation of Batumi Airport, which enabled the non-existing airport of the small Turkish coastal city of Hopa, located about 10 km south of the Georgian border, to be included in Turkey’s domestic flight system. In other words, Hopa Airport mentioned in the Turkish versions of different Turkish Airlines’ websites in reality is the same as the Batumi Airport29.

15The branches of two commercial banks “T.C. Ziraat Bankası” and “Türkiye Bankası” operate in Tbilisi and Batumi. The first bank established its branch in Tbilisi in 1998, initially under the name of Emlak Bank Tbilisi Branch, but in 2001 it was registered as JSC Ziraat Bankasi A.Ş. Tbilisi Branch. It should be noted though that the Turkish name T.C. Ziraat Bankası is written at the entrance of the bank. The second bank, JSC “Turkey Işbank A.Ş. Batumi Branch”, was opened in Batumi in July, 2012, and has the status of the branch of the same bank in Turkey30. It is notable that each of the banks has only one office and no other service centers on Georgia’s territory. Moreover, reports prepared by the bank indicate that financial and credit transactions are relatively modest in comparison to other commercial banks operating in Georgia. This rather modest presence in the Georgian banking industry is explained by two factors: a) for Georgia’s small economy its banking system is overloaded b) these branches simply follow their business in Georgia to perform services to a restricted number of clients31.

16The enhancement of economic cooperation after 2004 and the growth of Turkey’s macroeconomic figures stimulated the Georgian labor force to start to explore employment opportunities in Turkey. Especially after 2006, due to the cancellation of visa regime between both countries, an unprecedented number of people left for Turkey. In the following years, Turkey became one of the most important destinations for labor migration of Georgians32. Remittances from Turkey to Georgia have shown some interesting patterns too. Those data manifest that just like trade turnover and foreign investments, in the case of money transfers as well, the year 2004 was a turning point for the same above-mentioned reasons. Between 2004 and 2007, the remittances from Turkey have rated $46.7 million; and after the Free Trade Agreement was signed (November 21, 2011), they reached $179.4 million in 2008-201333.

  • 34 Interview with Alexander Rondeli, 6 May 2014, Tbilisi.

17Nonetheless, some Georgian public and analytical circles think that even though the Georgian leadership has done large-scale work in engaging Turkish investments, “the Turkish great capital never came to Georgia”, as Alexander Rondeli, President of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, put it during an interview34. Most of the interviewees shared that idea and agreed that the efforts put to attract the Turkish capital and observable results do not go hand in hand. At the same time, they would try to explain why it didn’t take place. To their mind, the Georgian market, however open it was for Turkish, or any, capital, was not flexible and could be no more attractive than its actual size allowed.

  • 35 Interview with Kakha Kukava, 11 May, 2014, Tbilisi.
  • 36 Interview with Kakha Kukava, 11 May, 2014, Tbilisi.

18Though the political forces in Georgia are for the most part positively oriented towards the expansion of the Turkish capital and Turkish business in Georgia, nevertheless, some political forces openly express their concern over Turkey’s growing role. Though we have already touched upon some acute accentuation made by the members of the “Georgian Dream” coalition during the pre-election campaign and post-election statements, there are some political forces among the non-parliamentary ones, namely the nationalist “Free Georgia” and the “Alliance of Patriots of Georgia”, which stand out. For example, the head of the “Free Georgia” party Kakha Kukava mentioned in an interview: “We certainly welcome the investments, but there are a lot of cases when the Turkish entrepreneurs’ behavior is obscure. For example, people selling shawarma in Batumi and Tbilisi central avenues and highways put Turkey’s flag next to it. Their motivation is incomprehensible, what is the need for sticking the Turkish flag beside shawarma. Such actions are not perceived amicably in Georgia”35. He added that his party perceived Turkey as a threat to Georgia’s national interests, but also explained that he was against extreme measures and was of the opinion that Turkey’s expansion to Georgia must be prevented by diplomatic means.36

Turkish “soft power” politics in Georgia

  • 37 For more details see K. Öktem, 2012, p. 77-108.

19Parallel with economic expansion, the Turkish leadership has also attached a particular importance to increasing educational, religious, cultural and humanitarian initiatives, in order to shape a positive attitude towards Turkey in the public realm in Georgia. Just like in dozens of other countries, Turkey started to apply leverages for spreading its religious, ideological and cultural influence in Georgia. Those initiatives are coordinated by three state institutes attached to the Turkish Prime Ministry – the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (Türkiye Işbirliği ve Kalkınma Idaresi – TIKA), Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centers and the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet)37.

  • 38 N. Yildiz, 2012, p. 25, 158-165.

20The TIKA has implemented large-scale projects in Georgia since 1994. The programs completed in recent years have included the improvement of social and economic infrastructures and services, organization of educational programs (vocational, language teaching), repairing and furnishing educational centers, health care, improvement of drinking water and sanitary. According to the 2012 annual report, Georgia has received 4.23% of the TIKA’s overall financial, vocational and technical support, which made Georgia the seventh largest assistant beneficiaries of TIKA38. Georgia is also the second largest beneficiary in the post-Soviet space after Kyrgyzstan. It should be noted, that beneficiaries of TIKA are mostly the Muslim-populated territories in Georgia, and only a few programs have been implemented in Tbilisi and Gori.

21In 2007, Ankara decided to set up Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centers worldwide, which targeted at balancing the influence of “Gülen Schools” and to promote Turkish language, literature, history, culture and art. These centers have been established on the example of “Goethe-Institut”, British Council, “Instituto Cervantes” and other similar institutions39. It was Bülent Arinç, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, who opened the Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center in Georgia in May 2012. The chairman of the Yunus Emre Foundation, Ali Fuat Bilkan mentioned in his opening address that the political and economic relations between Turkey and Georgia “had attained a perfect level, thus the establishment of Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center in Tbilisi would be a bridge between the Turkish and the Georgian languages, culture and arts and would heighten the cooperation between the two countries”40. The above-mentioned center was opened in the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, at the opening ceremony of which the President of the university noted that that center would be “of great service to the educational and cultural life of Georgia”41. According to the Embassy of Turkey in Georgia, the Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center has also opened departments of Turkish Studies in Akaki Tsereteli State University in Kutaisi and in the State Educational University of Akhaltsikhe42, a city next to the border with Turkey but also inhabited by a large and vibrant Armenian community.

  • 43 Ş. Korkut, 2010, p. 117‒139.
  • 44 K. Öktem, 2012, p. 89.

22The activity of the third state institution, the Presidency of Religious Affairs or the Diyanet, has also embraced a couple of spheres in Georgia, which predominantly refer to religious and spiritual issues. In difference to the previous two institutions, the Diyanet has been active in Turkey since 1924, and has expanded its activity abroad since 1980s. Subsequently, it has more experience in dealing with Muslim communities abroad. The Diyanet helps Georgian nationals in organizing the hajj, teaching imams, training theologians, providing scholarships for post-graduate studies, disseminating Islamic literature in the Georgian language. It also coordinates financial support and consulting in the restoration of mosques and building new ones43. The Diyanet leadership visited Georgia in 2009, and the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church visited Turkey and met the leader of the Diyanet in May 2014. In 1995, the Presidency of Religious Affairs established the Eurasian Islamic Council (EIC) (Avrasya Islam Şurası), which has become an important factor in promoting Turkey’s interests among the Muslim communities of the Balkans and the CIS44. So far, the EIC has organized eight conferences, which have been attended by Georgian Muslim community leaders as well, including the muftis of Ajaria.

  • 45 Schools belonging to that network are: “Tbilisi Private Demireli School”, established in 1993; R. S (...)

23In addition to the above-mentioned state institutions, a number of Turkish educational institutions belonging to the Fethullah Gülen network also operate in Georgia. They are widely known as “Turkish schools” and operate under the auspices of the “Çağlar Educational Institutions” (Çağlar Eğitim KurumlarıÇEK), established in February 1993. Up to this day, the ÇEK has established seven schools and one university in Georgia45. The dates of establishment of those schools indicate that, excluding the first two and the university, the other five were established after the “Rose Revolution” during the Saakashvili’s presidency.

  • 46 Interview with Nika Chitadze, 10 May, 2014, Tbilisi.

24Both the administration and the teaching at the Gülen schools are largely done by Turkish citizens. These schools are distinguished for their state-of-the-art facilities and advanced technical solutions. They pay special attention to participation in the Turkish language Olympiads (Türkçe Olimpiyatları) organized in Turkey, which allow students to visit Turkey, be acquainted with the program organizers and establish contacts. Notably, a flexible and complementary system has been established between the schools and the university. Pre-school and middle school graduates get tuition fee discounts when studying in universities. During their university years, students also have the opportunity to periodically take part in Turkish cultural events and usually visit Turkish educational and academic institutions. Nevertheless, according to an IBSU professor, even though those schools are established by the Gülenists, no overt propaganda is visible either for the Gülen movement or for Turkey46. Meanwhile, along with the Georgian flag, the Turkish flag flies in front of all the buildings, and the Turkish and Georgian flags, shaking hands with each other, are imprinted on logos of all the schools. At any rate, students and teachers every day encounter with Turkey-associated symbols.

  • 47 Interview with Alexander Rondeli, 6 May, 2014, Tbilisi.

25The Turkish Embassy in Georgia also carries out programs not listed in the embassy’s website. For instance, Alexander Rondeli confirmed that his organization had implemented the program of “Atatürk Lessons in Leadership” with the assistance of the Turkish Embassy in Tbilisi. During the four-month period of that program around two dozen officials from different ministries delivered lectures on different topics, and in the last week of the course a Turkish diplomat gave a series of lectures headlined “Atatürk’s Role in Establishing the New State”. Tens of thousands of Georgian Laris were allocated for that program47.

Emerging disapproval towards Turkish Policy

  • 48 Jones and Kakhishvili, 2013, p. 22.

26Taking into consideration the above-mentioned facts, what is the reason for the observed perceptive differences between the Georgian public and its leadership regarding the Turkish presence in Georgia? Which circles in Georgia (public, political and institutional) largely express their different opinion from that of the authorities in regard to Turkey’s presence and growing influence in Georgia? The first is, of course, the Georgian Orthodox Church, which is an important factor in shaping Georgian identity and has often played a major role in domestic political discourse “but its impact on Georgian foreign policy can best be described as marginal”48. It has played an instrumental role in shaping and disseminating anti-Turkish sentiments among Georgian society. With noticeable endorsement from the “Georgian Dream” coalition, the Church became more outspoken about its religious objectives, which proposed defending the exclusive rights of the Orthodox Church in Georgia, re-Christianization in Islamic communities in Georgia and defying rising Islamist tendencies, etc.

  • 49 Interview with Saakashvili, 2013, p. 20-21.
  • 50 D. Göksel, p. 5.

27In his turn, Saakashvili regrets for not having sent many young people to Turkey during his term just to visit Turkey and even to study there. “Very few people in my country actually know Turkey. This explains why some old prejudices remain. There are many prejudices left behind. But they could be easily overcome. It was overcome at the government level. But… we did not realize that prejudices prevailed among some parts of the population”49. As Göksel puts it, overall, the Turkish-Georgian economic and strategic integration projects have not been matched with developing ties between opinion shapers or analysts/strategists in civil society, think tank, or media communities. Strikingly, neither the strategic setting as it affects Georgia-Turkey relations nor the ups and downs in bilateral relations have received much attention in public debates50.

28As a matter of fact, Georgians’ attitudes towards Turkey and the Turks keep being shaped under certain factors. Primarily, the memory of historical conflicts and encounters during the Ottoman Empire is still vivid in the Georgian general public perception51. Besides these factors, a Georgian public opinion survey conducted every year between 2009 and 2013 by the CRRC52 shows another notable tendency. Two questions were asked to find out the public opinion about the Turks: what people thought of doing joint business with Turks and what they thought of Georgian women marrying Turks. The following table reflects the change in the dynamics of public opinion throughout the last five years.

Date

What do you think of doing joint business with the Turks?

Do you approve of Georgian women marrying the Turks?

2009

75% Yes

19% Yes

2010

66 % Yes

19% Yes

2011

66 % Yes

21% Yes

2012

65 % Yes

20% Yes

2013

72 % Yes

23% Yes

  • 53 Interview with KobaTurmanidze, May 8, 2014, Tbilisi.

29Explaining the answers to the above-mentioned questions, the president of the CRRC noted that the Georgian public is in fact predominantly in favor of developing interstate relations with Turkey rather than an enhancement of inter-societal and interpersonal relations53.

  • 54 M. Çelikpala, 2007, p. 28.
  • 55 Interview with Alexander Rondeli, 6 May 2014, Tbilisi.
  • 56 Interview with Alexander Rondeli, 6 May 2014, Tbilisi.

30Çelikpala stresses that “Turkey prevented Georgia from turning into a failed state by supporting the efforts to create a strong and efficient state”54. Rondeli also argues that “if it was not Turkey’s support in the first years of independence, it was quite possible that Georgia might not even exist55”. “At the same time”, Rondeli goes on, “the historical memory is, in any case, alive, and a great part of the population is still vigilant against the Turks. Public perceptions about Turks may be divided into two-groups: those, who mostly approve a Russia-oriented policy, do not acknowledge the Turks a priori, and those who are more realistic, are for the Turks. When you are under Russia’s pressure, then you naturally have to look at both Turkey and Iran differently. Of course, a large anti-propaganda is carried out for most of the part by circles closely related to the church, sometimes they [the Turks – VTM] deserve it and sometimes not. Anti-Turkish propaganda has always existed, for example, if it comes to the Turkish brothels, then the Georgian mass media trumpets on and on, but in case of Georgian brothels, not a single word is said”56.

  • 57 Interview with Sergi Kapanadze, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.
  • 58 Interview with Sergi Kapanadze, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.

31As Kapanadze puts it, despite all, Turkey’s cultural policy is not visible to the public. The public does not become pro-Turkish, the Georgian traditions are not replaced with Turkish ones. True, Turkey does play a significant role, but not as much as the EU and the US57. “For instance”, he continues, “the roles of Russia and Turkey have been often discussed in public debates. And in this regard, it is being pinpointed that Turkey in fact has occupied more territories from Georgia than Russia did, so what is the difference? And the logic of anti-Turkish attitudes is built upon it?”58

32Thus, one may conclude that even though Turkey has extensively invested in the Georgian economy, there is still demand for further Turkish capital. Along with financial investments, Turkish organizations also run a variety of humanitarian, cultural and educational programs, which have attracted wide attention in Georgia. Those projects serve their purpose, and generally, a positive rather than negative image of Turkey has slowly but steadily been taking shape in Georgia. Simultaneously, different political and social groups try to reach out to the public and communicate the “true nature of the Turkish presence in Georgia”. Religious and historical arguments are widely used to back up their opinions, which still seem to be quite dominant among the Georgian population.

Divergences between Turkey and Georgia (Ajaria, questions of cultural and religious heritage)

33Besides achievements in bilateral cooperation, certain complexities also still exist between the two countries. We will focus here mostly on the emblematic and revealing case of Ajaria.

34The National Statistical Office of Georgia has published a data report on the population of Ajaria, which contains some interesting tendencies. First, the population in the administrative center of Ajaria Autonomous Republic has grown by more than 26.000 between 2004 and 2014 reaching 396.00059. Besides internal migration, the growth in population is due to several thousands of Turkish citizens (Georgian by nationality) being granted Georgian citizenship (the figure circulated is 20.000), who have most likely settled mainly in Batumi. As argued during the interviews, only Turkish nationals who have been able to prove their Georgian origin, were granted Georgian citizenship.

  • 60 I. Menagarishvili, 2013, p. 107.
  • 61 Ibid.

35The Turkish presence and cultural penetration in Georgia is more visible in Ajaria. According to 2002 data, more than 120.000 Muslims lived in that part of Georgia. The figure is likely to be higher today. Their main places of residence are Batumi, the mountainous regions of Kedi and to a lesser extent Khulo and Shuakhevi60. The 2013 report also explains that the socio-economic conditions in Ajaria are harsher, and the local Muslim population undergoes various manipulations (by various Turkish organizations) and discrimination (by local self-governing authorities)61.

  • 62 D. Aslamova, 2014.
  • 63 I. Menagarishvili, 2013, p. 119.
  • 64 Diyanet İşleri Başkanı Görmez, Gürcistan Ortodoks Kilisesi Patriğill. İlia’yı kabul etti, May 2, (...)

36Turkish religious organizations have a few dozen boarding schools in Ajaria, where children from poor country families get free education, after which many go to Turkey to get a religious education. Notably, since 1993 several thousand Georgian citizens mostly from Ajaria and Kvemo Kartli (a region of southeastern Georgia whose population is Muslim for a large part) have left for Turkey for religious education (both higher and vocational) and Quranic courses62. Most of them have returned and have been enlisted for service in mosques in different settlements. It should be added, that besides Turkey, some Georgian Muslims leave for Iran and Saudi Arabia too63. According to the May 2014 data, there were 311 mosques in Georgia64, and despite the fact that most of them are prayer houses, officially they are registered as mosques. According to 2009 data, 184 of those mosques are in Ajaria, 140 of which have been built in the recent years.

  • 65 I. Menagarishvili, 2013, p. 122-123.
  • 66 D. Aslamova, 2014.
  • 67 I. Menagarishvili, 2013, p. 121.

37In recent years, the debates over a number of programs implemented in Georgia by Turkey, in particular concerning restoration of mosques or construction of new ones, have been especially acute. Especially, the Georgian Orthodox Church is resolutely struggling against the Turkish presence in Georgia, fighting for conversion to Christianity of local Muslims and reconstruction of Georgian churches on the territory of Turkey. A number of Georgian clergymen, who preach about Ajaria’s de-turkification during the service, have been most distinguished in anti-Turkish hard line standings. They organize mass baptisms administered “for the sake of getting people back to their ancestors’ religion”65. One of the priests, Father Theodor, states that “Islam came to Ajaria with blood and violence… Those who adopted Islam stayed pure-blooded Georgians and refused to mix their blood with the Turkish blood”66. The construction of a huge Orthodox Church right in the center of Khulo, a predominantly Muslim-populated town in Ajaria, is a vivid instance of the struggle by the Georgian Orthodox Church. The local population saw that step as a provoking and conflictual one67. Another notable process is either the dismantling of mosques and minarets in a number of Muslim-populated settlements of Georgia (Chela, Samtatskaro, Nigvziani, Tsintskaro), or even actions of protests against Friday prayers in some mosques, which, as some may argue, are directed by the Orthodox Church.

  • 68 Ibid, p. 128.
  • 69 T. Liles, 2012, p. 2.

38Crucially, some analysts and political circles hint on the development of potential hotbeds of tension based on religious identities. Some people claim that Turkey’s activity in Georgia and its support for Georgian Muslims is targeted at creating a stronghold in Georgia. However, it is Georgian Muslims, and more or less, Muslims of other ethnic groups, who find those claims unacceptable, because those accusations makes them incomplete Georgians and alienated citizens. In addition, they insist that Turkey pursues economic interests in Georgia at large, and as for the Georgian Muslims, they lack effective tools to become a fifth column for Turkey68. This emerging discourse made many young people in Ajaria to reconfigure their religious identities “in order to be perceived as more legitimate members of the Georgian nation”69.

  • 70 B. Mindiashvili, 2012.

39 Another controversial issue in the relations between Georgia and Turkey refers to the maintenance and disposition of the cultural heritage in both countries. Alongside with the development of interstate relations, particularly since 2005, the Georgian Orthodox Church has been more consistently posing the issue of reconstruction of a few churches and monasteries in the north-eastern part of Turkey (Oshki, Ishkhan, Khandzta, Otkhta, Ardashen, Khakhuli). Albeit the authenticity of those churches belonging to the Georgian Orthodox Church are regularly questioned by the Armenian Apostolic Church and some Armenian historians, nevertheless, at this point, the Georgian Orthodox Church is more persistent in asserting the reconstruction of those churches. Simultaneously, the Turkish side insists on the reconstruction of Aziziye Mosque in Batumi and repair of Kvirike Mosque in Kobuleti and Ahmadiya and Jakeli Mosques in Akhaltsikhe. It must be noted that the conditions put forward by the two parties and the lists of religious structures on the table periodically change70.

  • 71 Georgian Patriarchate Suggests Turkey Allow Services In Christian Churches In Return For Allowing (...)

40 Georgian religious leaders insist that before talking about building a new church or repairing one in Ajaria, one should seriously address the issue of preserving the churches of Tayk-Kgharjk (Tao-Klarjeti) diocese, located mostly in northeastern Turkey. They also argue about their unalienable right to administer religious ceremonies and services there. The Georgian clergy also demands that just like in the case of Armenians, Greeks and Jews, Georgians as well should be granted minority rights in Turkey, which will provide them with a legal status, and which will be followed by the return of Georgian churches and monasteries back to the Georgian Orthodox Church, as they believe71. Observers counter-argue by saying that even if the Turkey-living Georgians were granted a status of a religious minority out of their growing number, it would have no retroactive effect. on the return of church estates and inventory seized in 1936 and claimed by the Georgian Orthodox Church

  • 72 Interview with Eka Tkeshelashvili, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.
  • 73 Interview with Eka Tkeshelashvili, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.

41 In explaining the realities in Ajaria and related to the status of Georgian religious buildings in Turkey, one can have the impression that the entire Georgian public disagrees with Turkish policy either silently or audibly. In fact, the following argument by Eka Tkeshelashvili reflects the mindset of the Saakashvili’s presidency: “frankly speaking… Turkey has never played any deconstructive role in Ajaria and has done nothing which might cause discontent for anyone. For those living in Ajaria, Turkey’s neighborhood is in essence very beneficiary;, active cooperation in the economic, tourism and trade spheres creates no uneasiness at all”72. She also criticized those organizations and public circles, which condemn Turkey but glorify Russia, by calling them “deconstructive and anti-democratic forces”73.

*

42Georgia’s importance is more than evident for Turkey and its annually growing economic influence comes to prove this. The analysis of political and economic dynamics indicates that in deepening bilateral relations Turkey and Georgia pursue different objectives deriving from different (geo)political realities and ambitions. While Turkey aspires to a geopolitical, economic, religious and socio-cultural presence in Georgia, Georgian policies towards Turkey are based primarily on trade, economic and social factors. Most Georgian public and political figures, as well as the vast majority of the research community is positively oriented towards Turkey’s presence in Georgia’s economic and strategic spheres. Nevertheless, there is a visible and growing resistance from some political forces, the Georgian Orthodox Church and affiliated circles, to which could be added a sizeable part of the population. They debate about inherent problems that Georgia faces while allowing far greater Turkish presence in the strategically important domains of Georgia. Since 2004, Turkey’s growing influence in Georgia’s economy, Georgia’s engagement in the energy programs directed from the Caspian region to the West, as well as the ongoing ambiguity in the relations between Georgia and Russia have created a systemic opportunity for Turkey to extend its political influence in Georgia.

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Notes

1 A. Davutoğlu, 2001; B. Aras, 2011, p. 53-68; B. Aras, 2000, p. 36-58; A. Davutoğlu, 2008, p. 77-96; K. Kirişçi, 2009, p. 29-57; H. Yavuz, 1998, p. 19-41; M. Çelikpala, 2007, p. 25-30; B. Balci, 2014, p. 43-52; A. Kotchikian, 2004, p. 33-44.

2 M. Cecire, 2013, p. 111.

3 M. Çelikpala, 2007, p. 27-28; BBalcı, 2014, p. 49; A. Kotchikian, 2004, p. 43.

4 B. Aras and P. Akpınar, 2011, p. 63.

5 Saakaşvili Gürcistan’ın Yeni Elçilik Binasını Açtı”, http://www.chveneburi.net/tr/default.asp?bpgpid=1370&pg=1

6 B. Balcı, 2014, p. 50.

7 M. Cecire, 2013, p. 119, 123.

8 D. Göksel, 2013(b), p. 21.

9 Saakashvili Speaks of Importance of Close Ties with Turkey”, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=12061

10 G. Ackerman, 2004.

11 D. Göksel, 2013(a), p. 19.

12 This argument was made by Davutoğlu as an advisor to the PM. The script of the interview was published as an article; A. Davutoğlu, 2008, p. 80.

13 D. Göksel, 2013(b), p. 2.

14 M. Cecire, 2013, p. 113-115.

15 Interview with Eka Tkeshelashvili, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.

16 http://www.parliament.ge/files/292_880_927746_concept_en.pdf

17 http://www.mfa.gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&sec_id=12

18 Interview with Sergi Kapanadze, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.

19 Interview with Koba Turmanidze, May 8, 2014, Tbilisi.

20 I. Alasania, 2013, p. 7.

21 Ibid.

22 http://www.geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&p_id=137&lang=eng

23 http://www.geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&p_id=140&lang=eng

24 More detailed see I. Chkhikvadze, 2011, p. 6.

25 Gürcu ve Türk Işadamlari derneği, http://www.gurtiad.ge/tr/Icerik.ASP?ID=191

26 The latter has built more than 20 airports both in and out of Turkey.

27 The Batumi Airport is to be administered by TAV until 2027, and the Tbilisi Airport exploitation contract was prolonged from predetermined 2027 to 2037.

28 D. Göksel, 2013(b), p. 4.

29 Passengers departing from Hopa check-in at the Turkish Airlines Office situated at the Hopa port, and then they are taken to the Batumi Airport by HAVAS company buses. That journey takes about 30 minutes, and what is more, the buses do not stop at the Georgian-Turkish border. Then they pass on the territory of the Batumi Airport, and passengers are taken to the departure hall waiting to get on board the planes. Upon arrival, the same HAVAS busses meet the passengers leaving for Hopa right beside the plane, which take people to Hopa, once again never having a stop on the border control point. The flight numbers from Batumi and Hopa are the same, but the tickets have quite different prices, since in case of Hopa there are domestic prices, and Batumi Airport taxes are not paid.

30 Financial Indices of Commercial Banks, https://www.nbg.gov.ge/index.php?m=404

31 http://www.georgianews.ge/business/9211-fitch-finds-georgian-banking-sector-over-banked-.html

32 International Centre for Migration Policy Development, 2014.

33 http://www.geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&p_id=137&lang=eng

34 Interview with Alexander Rondeli, 6 May 2014, Tbilisi.

35 Interview with Kakha Kukava, 11 May, 2014, Tbilisi.

36 Interview with Kakha Kukava, 11 May, 2014, Tbilisi.

37 For more details see K. Öktem, 2012, p. 77-108.

38 N. Yildiz, 2012, p. 25, 158-165.

39 A. Kaya, 2013, p. 56-59.

40 http://www.yev.org.tr/turkiye/index.php?lang=en&page=7&newsCat=1&newsID=297

41 Ibid.

42 Türkiye-Gürcistan Kültürel İlişkileri, http://tbilisi.emb.mfa.gov.tr/ShowInfoNotes.aspx?ID=164753

43 Ş. Korkut, 2010, p. 117‒139.

44 K. Öktem, 2012, p. 89.

45 Schools belonging to that network are: “Tbilisi Private Demireli School”, established in 1993; R. Sahin Friendship Primary Secondary School, established in 1994; Kutaisi Niko Nikoladze Primary Secondary School, established in 2004; Primary School “Skhivi”, established in 2011; Tiflis Nikolaz Tsereteli International School, established in 2006; and Rustabi Rustaveli Primary Secondary School, established in 2007; Marneuli Agmashenebeli Primary School, established in 2011; and International Black Sea University in Tbilisi (IBSU), established in 1995.

46 Interview with Nika Chitadze, 10 May, 2014, Tbilisi.

47 Interview with Alexander Rondeli, 6 May, 2014, Tbilisi.

48 Jones and Kakhishvili, 2013, p. 22.

49 Interview with Saakashvili, 2013, p. 20-21.

50 D. Göksel, p. 5.

51 S. Djikia, 1947; D. Paychadze, 1989; etc.

52 http://caucasusbarometer.org/en/cross-country/

53 Interview with KobaTurmanidze, May 8, 2014, Tbilisi.

54 M. Çelikpala, 2007, p. 28.

55 Interview with Alexander Rondeli, 6 May 2014, Tbilisi.

56 Interview with Alexander Rondeli, 6 May 2014, Tbilisi.

57 Interview with Sergi Kapanadze, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.

58 Interview with Sergi Kapanadze, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.

59 http://www.geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&p_id=473&lang=eng

60 I. Menagarishvili, 2013, p. 107.

61 Ibid.

62 D. Aslamova, 2014.

63 I. Menagarishvili, 2013, p. 119.

64 Diyanet İşleri Başkanı Görmez, Gürcistan Ortodoks Kilisesi Patriğill. İlia’yı kabul etti, May 2, 2014, http://www.diyanet.gov.tr/tr/icerik/diyanet-isleri-baskani-gormez-gurcistan-ortodoks-kilisesi-patrigi-ll-ilia%E2%80%99yi-kabul-etti%E2%80%A6/15899

65 I. Menagarishvili, 2013, p. 122-123.

66 D. Aslamova, 2014.

67 I. Menagarishvili, 2013, p. 121.

68 Ibid, p. 128.

69 T. Liles, 2012, p. 2.

70 B. Mindiashvili, 2012.

71 Georgian Patriarchate Suggests Turkey Allow Services In Christian Churches In Return For Allowing A Mosque To Be Built In Georgia, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/60586.htm

72 Interview with Eka Tkeshelashvili, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.

73 Interview with Eka Tkeshelashvili, May 7, 2014, Tbilisi.

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Vahram Ter-Matevosyan, « Cooperation paradigms in the South Caucasus », Études arméniennes contemporaines, 4 | 2014, 103-125.

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Vahram Ter-Matevosyan, « Cooperation paradigms in the South Caucasus », Études arméniennes contemporaines [En ligne], 4 | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2015, consulté le 28 septembre 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/eac/689 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/eac.689

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Vahram Ter-Matevosyan

American University of Armenia, Yerevan

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