ANKARA (Hurriyet)–The recent first-ever visit by a high-ranking Turkish diplomat to the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia has boosted the Russian-backed republic’s hopes for having its independence from Georgia recognized by Turkey.
“We certainly hope that Turkey will recognize Abkhazia. There are some positive signals but they have to be materialized. We’re waiting for a more active approach,” Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba told the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a phone interview.
Turkish Deputy Undersecretary Ambassador unal cevikoz visited Abkhazia on Thursday on the sidelines of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s official talks with Tbilisi. Georgian officials were informed in advance about Cevikoz’s meetings in Abkhazia, reaffirming that Turkey’s policy of protecting the territorial integrity and political unity of Georgia has not changed.
Abkhazia announced its independence in 1999. But what changed the landscape was Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia last year after the war with Georgia. Nicaragua and Venezuela followed Russia, increasing the hopes of this tiny breakaway state.
The foreign policy dilemma on the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict reemerged after a Turkish vessel called Buket was seized in international waters by Georgian coast guards with accusation of smuggling oil to Abkhazia. The captain, Mehmet Ozturk, was sentenced to 24 years in prison, but was released on Monday as a result of Davutoglu’s talks in Tbilisi.
“The main topic was about the captured ship and our bilateral relations,” Foreign Minister Shamba said in the wake of his talks with Ambassador Cevikoz.
Seeking alliance with Turkey
With hopes for building an alliance with Turkey, Shamba said, “we want Turkey to make its position clear that the capture of a Turkish ship in international waters is not admissible. It is in the interest of regional stability to prevent any escalation from taking place.”
“The talks were constructive,” he said, declining to give further details.
“We’d like to develop economic and humanitarian contact with Turkey. We request opening of communications and passenger transport. It is a big interest because we are neighbors and we have a big Abkhazian diaspora in Turkey,” he said.
Shamba complained about the lack of direct transportation links with Turkey, noting that the Abkhazian diaspora in Turkey are in deep need of access to Abkhazia.
Around 500,000 Turkish citizens consider themselves to be of Abkhazian origin. Ambassador Çeviköz’s visit gave hope to those who have been lobbying for recognition of the Abkhazia Republic.
Turkey, however, continues to supports the economic sanctions imposed against Abkhazia by the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Asked if he had been assured in meetings that Turkey had shifted its policy and might soon recognize Abkhazia, Shamba replied: “It is difficult to say now, but we’ll closely follow the situation and we’d like to maintain contacts with Turkish representatives.”
In response to Shamba’s remarks, Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin told Hurriyet that “there is no policy change in the Caucasus”
Help us to blockade the sea
Apart from recognition, the Abkhazian foreign minister also expects Turkey to mediate to stop the sea-blockade imposed on them.
Asked what measures they are considering to break the Georgian blockade, he hinted that armed actions are on the agenda, saying: “We are now counter-playing different forms of actions … The actions will be appropriate symmetrical actions with the Georgian side if needed – we will see. We hope that this incident is the last one.”
In the hopes of intensifying political contacts with Turkey, Shamba said he expects to have talks in Ankara in the future. “We have constant contacts at different levels. If it is needed we can visit. It is possible in the near future, but it’s not yet fixed on the agenda.”
Without hinting at a visit from Abkhazia to Ankara for talks, Ozugergin noted: “It is natural to pay attention to this case due to Turkey’s [geographical and political] position and Abkhazian origin population. Our main aim is to contribute to a permanent peaceful solution for the problem.”