Niceness is an excellent trait to have. In the final analysis, these characters have more dividends than jerkness. But the same quality may result in a perception of weakness on the geopolitical stage. Trust me, even the weakest country on the planet Earth does not want to be perceived as such. India is no different. It is now shedding its historical legacy of behaving nicely with Turkey, and it needs to be commended for choosing the perfect time.
Increasing India-Armenia ties
According to a report by News.am, an Armenian news agency based in Yerevan, the Armenian Cabinet has approved the memorandum of understanding between India and Armenia. The MoU is a government-to-government deal. According to the understanding, India will be providing grants for the development of Armenia.
India’s grants are civil in nature and will be used for effective community development projects in Armenia. The original MoU, which was approved by the Armenian Cabinet, was signed on July 4th, during the Eighth India-Armenia IGC Meeting in Yerevan.
The latest development comes at a crucial juncture of time. It came within weeks of Armenia and India signing defence deals. At the end of September, India signed a Rs 2,000 crore weapons export deal with Armenia. According to reports, a government-to-government route was used to sign a number of contracts for the supply of arms and ammunition. Quoting anonymous sources, the Economic Times reported that the order includes the first-ever export of the indigenous Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers, anti-tank rockets and a range of other ammunition.
The Significance of India’s role in Armenia
With one civil and one military deal, India has conveyed to Armenia that it would stand beside it in times of need. But the deals are nothing less than a jolt for Turkey, an indirect rival of Armenia. Turkey has been quite proactive in subjugating Armenian interests for decades now.
Actually, Armenia is involved in a bloody dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Officially, the region is under Azerbaijan, but in terms of demography, it is a Christian majority region. Both countries keep on fighting with each other from time to time.
While Azerbaijan is supported by Turkey, Armenia is supported by Russia. However, in the modern day crusade, more often than not, Armenia ends up being on the losing side. The reason is Turkey. It supplies Azerbaijan with defence products, enabling it to launch bloody offensives on Armenians.
The main reason behind Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan is a concept called Pan-Turkism. Though the term originated in the late 19th century in Russia, it now encompasses Erdogan’s dream of reestablishing the Ottoman Khalifa.
This is where India comes into the picture. India’s support for Armenia could play a decisive role in deciding the future course of action in the Muslim world. In fact, if Turkey does not mend its way towards India in the near future, India will just end up puncturing Erdogan’s dream. Frankly, India is not responsible for the damage caused to the India-Turkey relationship in the recent past. It is Turkey itself.
India and Turkey never really got along
Right from the time of India’s political independence, we have been trying to take Turkey on board. Interestingly, we did this despite our worldviews standing in stark contrast to each other. On one hand, India was hell-bent on not joining any group, while Turkey aligned with different groupings present on the global stage. To be honest, both countries have been quite successful in achieving their desired goals.
On its part, India successfully manoeuvred between Cold War era rivals, while Turkey largely remained attached to the capitalist bloc and yet managed to protect its own interests.
It was evident during the aftermath of the 2001 twin tower bombings as well. Despite being a member of NATO, Turkey refused to join the organisation in attacking Afghanistan. Turkey knows that western powers will return sour from the graveyard of empires and it has to stay on good terms with the power circles of Afghanistan.
Turkey has always hoped to gain access to Central Asia through Afghanistan. Apart from increasing trading prospects, its influence on Afghanistan, being a Muslim majority state, would also provide credence to the dream of reestablishing the Ottoman Empire. For exactly this reason, Turkey could never develop a stable relationship with India.
Turkey believes that India is a big hindrance to its dream. That is why it keeps supporting Pakistan in its anti-India initiative. Right from the days it was known as a “secular nation” in the 19th century, Turkey never accepted Kashmir as an integral part of India. India took the poison pill and kept developing bonds with Turkey. Cultural and trade ties did increase at a satisfactory pace. In the years 2021–22, bilateral trade between both countries clocked upto $ 10.70 billion.
India’s patience proved to be counterproductive
But six decades of India’s perseverance and increasing economic prospects with Turkey have not paid off. The results of this hardship are now becoming embarrassing for India. Time and again, Erdogan keeps toeing Pakistan’s line on Kashmir. But even a nationalistic Prime Minister like PM Modi decided to let it go. As a result, Turkey kept getting indirect incentives.
However, Turkey crossed its limits when Erdogan took the matter to the United Nations General Assembly in 2019. A few months after India decided to discontinue the application of the infamous Article 370 in Kashmir, Erdogan raised the Kashmir issue in the UNGA. It was done to support Pakistan’s attempts to internationalise India’s move to abrogate Article 370.
India on the offence
No wonder PM Modi decided to cancel his scheduled visit to Turkey. Not only that, India also condemned Turkey for its military offensive into north-eastern Syria. The message to Turkey was clear: “India won’t compromise on its territorial sovereignty.” But Turkey, which is an enabler of breaking Armenia’s sovereignty, refused to listen to the message. Erdogan repeated the same stunt in the 75th session of the U.N. General Assembly, only to be chided by India. But yet again, India’s talking points went unheard by Turkish ears. Turkey kept repeating the Pakistani script and India kept condemning it.
Soon, our foreign policy setup realised that condemning is not the answer Turkey needs. It was time to return the favour. If Turkey is daring to meddle in our internal affairs, it is time we needed to jump into their controversies. India’s increased strategic and moral weight on the global stage was also a big enabler of the shift. India decided to raise the Cyprus issue.
A few more steps
Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and divided the island nation into the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus (ROC) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). ROC has international recognition and is a member of the European Union, while TRNC is only recognised by Turkey. The flag bearers of the Ottoman Empire do not even abide by the UNSC resolution on the issue. India knew it all along but had refused to use the card.
In 2021, Turkey finally got the taste of its own medicine, when EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar said that it is important to respect UNSC resolutions on Cyprus. Jaishankar tweeted, “It is important that relevant UN Security Council resolutions in respect of Cyprus are adhered to by all.”
Cyprus pinches more
From then on, India has not let a single chance go in vain. In the 2022 UNGA, Erdogan repeated his bad habit of raising the Kashmir issue at the UNGA. A few hours after Erdoghan’s address, the charismatic S. Jaishankar raised the Cyprus issue in his one-to-one meeting with Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Not only that, he also tweeted about the same.
Met FM @MevlutCavusoglu of Türkiye on sidelines of #UNGA.
Wide ranging conversation that covered the Ukraine conflict, food security, G20 processes, global order, NAM and Cyprus. pic.twitter.com/AsEYO22tKn
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) September 21, 2022
The Cyprus issue pinches Turkey more because the region was once a part of the Ottoman Empire. In many ways, establishing dominance over the territory will mark the beginning of reclaiming their lost glory. No wonder why they are so obsessive about it. India’s raising the issue at multiple multilateral fora has the potential to put a halt to the journey even before it starts.
Turkey is paying for its own sins. It considered India’s strategic silence as its weakness. For some parts they were right, but for most parts they were not. Erdogan put a permanent break on India’s holding on to the weakness of Turkey. India is both happy and relieved to grant Turkey what it unintentionally wished for from India.
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