Turkey and Georgia smoothing out rough edges
The Georgian Foreign Ministry has sent a note of protest to Ankara in connection with a visit by an official Turkish delegation to Abkhazia. According to the Abkhaz, Russian and Turkish media, including official sources in Sukhumi, a delegation from the Turkish province of Kocaeli, headed by Kocaeli mayor Ibrahim Karaosmanoğlu and the head of the administration of the city of Izmit, Nevzat Dogan, has recently arrived in Abkhazia. According to some reports, Mr. Karaosmanoğlu was named the governor. The guests from Turkey have often visited Abkhazia before, ignoring Georgian laws requiring entry to the partially-recognized republic exclusively through the territory of Georgia, not by sea or through the Russian border checkpoint on the River Psou. But in the latter case, the former Georgian autonomy was not visited by businessmen or public figures, but by the heads of a regional administration.
The Georgian authorities reacted instantly. According to the Georgian Ambassador to Ankara, Irakli Koplatadze, they sent a note to the Turkish Foreign Ministry. In addition, "they communicated" with the Turkish ambassador to Tbilisi. Mr. Koplatadze told journalists about 'communication' (in his terminology) with the Turkish diplomat, "The Turkish Ambassador assured me that Turkey unequivocally recognizes Georgia's territorial integrity at the state government level." Irakli Koplatadze reminded about the important, in terms of Georgia's interests, UN vote when Turkey voted in favor of the UN General Assembly's resolution on the return of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia.
The Turkish side (again, according to the Georgian ambassador) said that Ankara was not informed about the delegation's visit to Sukhumi, nor about the composition of this delegation. However, according to Koplatadze, the Georgian embassy knew about the upcoming visit and reported it to their Turkish counterparts in advance.
According to Vestnik Kavkaza, it was not difficult to foresee the visit of the Turkish delegation, because the local authorities did not hide anything and even announced it in the media. That is "the lack of awareness" of the Turkish authorities clearly has a "diplomatic nature": it is difficult to believe that the central authorities are worse informed about what is happening in the country than the Georgian Embassy.
Another thing is whether the government could have prevented the visit or interfered with it. There are nuances. Currently Turkey is going through a transition period – an election campaign is in full swing, a "technical government" has been formed, and the central government does not have a very large arsenal of tools to force regional governments to change their decisions if their actions do not affect the fundamental interests of the state, requiring the intervention of the security forces. But the fear of getting a note from Tbilisi is definitely not among such interests, so President Erdogan and his administration didn't have enough reasons to radically intervene in such a delicate situation.
Especially in the run-up to the elections, when every vote counts, and the Abkhaz diaspora, large and respected in the country, lives in the province of Kocaeli. The Turkish delegation included its representatives. Abkhazians live not only in Kocaeli, but also in many other regions of Turkey. They are descendants of émigrés who fled their homeland during and after the end of the Caucasian War in the 19th century.
Together with the diaspora of the related Adyghe people, respectful and influential Turkish Abkhazians traditionally play an important role in the political and public life of Turkey. The authorities cannot ignore the aspirations of the diaspora, with all their desire to maintain a partnership with Georgia. But, on the other hand, Georgia is also interested in maintaining partnerships, avoiding aggravation.
It is impossible not to react at all. But the reaction of Tbilisi was of a formal nature: Turkey does not recognize the independence of Abkhazia, supports Georgian diplomatic initiatives at the international level, and contacts with Abkhazia are clearly non-systemic and situational.
However, there were cases when the leaders of the neighboring country directly interfered in the process, when Georgian border guards arrested Turkish ships in neutral or Abkhaz waters and hauled them to the port of Poti. Vestnik Kavkaza knows at least three cases when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Mikheil Saakashvili, when he was the Georgian president, with "urgent requests" to immediately release arrested sailors and bulk passenger carriers. In all cases Saakashvili chose not to aggravate relations. Now such incidents are impossible, because according to the Russian-Abkhazian agreement, Moscow has committed itself to protect the marine waters of Abkhazia.
Nevertheless, the recent incident highlighted the complexity of the situation in which Georgia has found itself: the number of such visits in the future will not decrease (even after the elections in Turkey) and the Georgian authorities just have to work out a new formula of actions to respond adequately, without damaging relations with the neighboring state, which is "the number one trading partner" and a "gateway of Georgia to Europe."
According to Vestnik Kavkaza, it is possible that Tbilisi will propose legalizing some of the channels for the exchange of such visits. It's much better than each time sending a note of protest to the friendly state. And if the proposals will be approved by the Abkhaz authorities, a compromise, according to our sources in government circles, is possible.
Now the Georgian authorities are pragmatists and realists, who are well aware of the essence of the wise saying "a holy place is never empty."