Could Abkhazia wind up easing Turkish-Russian tensions?
There are close ethnic ties between Abkhazia and Turkey. When relations were good and strong between Ankara and Moscow, this reflected favorably on Turkish-Abkhazian relations. Likewise, the recently spoiled relations between Ankara and Moscow have had a negative impact on Abkhazian-Turkish relations, despite the fact that Abkhazia had been preparing to become even closer to Turkey than before.
Concern about the way things are going now has spread from the Abkhazian leadership to include Abkhaz figures doing business in Turkey, as well as Turkish citizens living in Abkhazia. Most Turkish citizens residing in various spots in Abkhazia are engaged in small to mid-sized business ventures. Most also hold Abkhaz passports. Since the Nov. 24 downed jet crisis, there is fear that residence and work permits for Turkish citizens living in that part of the world may be at risk of cancellation.
In the wake of the Nov. 24 incident, the lights in the Abkhazian presidential palace have been burning through the night. It now appears that anyone from Turkey actually residing in Abkhazia is going to have a tough time finding a middle path in this all. This past Nov. 30, Abkhaz President Raul Khajimba took off for an unexpected meeting with Putin in Moscow. Some are now saying that Abkhazia has called for sanctions to be put in place against Turkey, though there has been no official statement on that front. In the meantime, the 7th World Abhaz-Abazin "Abaza" Congress, which was supposed to take place from Dec. 10-13, was postponed indefinitely at the last moment, with the official explanation being that this had to do with "transportation difficulties due to problems between countries." There are also serious expectations that Russia will attempt to stop the passage of Turkish ships headed for the Abkhazian ports of Sohum and Ocamcira, as they will be coming via Tuapse-Sochi. Turkish ships leaving from ystanbul headed for Abkhazia go via Sochi after Sinop so as not to get caught sailing through the international waters off Russia. In this way, their routes are now some 250 sea miles more than they used to be. The expectation post Nov. 24 is that Turkish ships will be bothered by naval forces from Georgia and the Russian Federation. If this situation materializes in full force, some believe the wisest idea would be for Turkish goods plying the route between Turkey and Abkhazia to depend on foreign flagged ships.
From Dec. 1 onwards, Russia police stationed at the border crossing between Russia and Abkhazia began harassing anyone with a Turkish passport. In fact, Turkish citizens are often set aside and treated as potential terrorists by the police, who conduct careful searches of bags and people using dogs and electronic devices. Often, people are made to wait for hours at border crossings, with no explanation given. Reports are that the Apstur buses, used by Turkish citizens in that area of the world, have been heavily fined at the border. On Dec. 1 alone, seven cars were searched so thoroughly at the border that they were essentially taken apart by security forces. There have also been reports of security forces breaking CDs of Turkish music at the border; these actions have been accompanied by warnings about how "This is not Turkey, why are you bringing in Turkish music?" For now, though, Turkish citizens in possession of the green Abkhazian passport are not being bothered.
It does appear likely that Moscow will succeed in ruining -- at least for now -- relations between Abkhazia and Turkey. Of course, rather than giving in to this, Abkhazia could actually help solve the crisis sparked by the downed jet. Turkey could also benefit by seeing its exported goods (textiles, fruits and vegetables, etc.) head into the Russian Federation via Abkhazia. Also, Abkhazia could conceivably be transformed into a production center for goods headed for Russia. In fact, Turkish companies based in Abkhazia have already started producing some 5,000 tons of tomatoes there. While tomatoes in Turkey sell for around 30 cents a kilo, Abkhazia sells tomatoes to Russia for around 2 dollars a kilo.
HASAN KANBOLAT [Cihan/Today's Zaman] CyHAN
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