The foreign ministers of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey have signed the ‘Action Plan for Trilateral Sectoral Co-operation for 2017–2019’ in Baku, marking another step in the trilateral format initiated five years ago. The meetings passed without mention of either Afgan Mukhtarli, a journalist, abducted from Tbilisi to Baku, and school manager Mustafa Emre Çabuk, who is currently being deported on Turkey’s request.
At the sixth trilateral meeting on 6 September, ministers discussed mostly strategic and economic plans of further cooperation. According to the Georgia’s foreign ministry, they underlined the urgent ‘need of opening the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway’ and the ‘importance of implementing the Southern Gas Corridor project’, pledging to boost economic ties.
The railway will link two close allies, Azerbaijan and Turkey, through Georgia, while the Southern Corridor aims to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russia’s natural gas.
According to the ministry, Mikheil Janelidze, Elmar Mammadyarov, and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the foreign ministers of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, respectively, ‘exchanged views on the recent situation in the region’ and reiterated their ‘firm support’ to each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This follows the long-standing policy of Georgia and Azerbaijan not to recognise Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh as independent states.
According to Chinese state media Xinhua News, Çavuşoğlu noted the need for more efforts to solve issues in customs, logistics, and transport, and Janelidze said that Tbilisi is ready to expand cooperation with both Baku and Ankara ‘in a regional context’.
A journalist abducted
The trilateral format was officially launched in 2012 and has seen some success. As cooperation intensifies between the three countries, Georgia, once seen as an oasis for journalists and opposition figures from Azerbaijan and Turkey, has come under increasing scrutiny over claims it is no longer safe for Azerbaijani and Turkish dissidents.
It has been over three months since journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was abducted from Tbilisi and taken to Azerbaijan, and authorities in both Georgia and Azerbaijan have remained largely silent. Azerbaijan says he was detained on the border accused of ‘smuggling €10,000 ($11,200), border trespass, and disobeying border guards’.
[For details, read on OC Media: Tbilisi-based Azerbaijani journalist abducted to Azerbaijan]
Gozal Bayramli, deputy head of the Azerbaijani opposition Popular Front party, was also detained in May for allegedly smuggling €12,000 ($13,400) in cash at the Georgian–Azerbaijani border. Both claim the charges against them are fabricated and politically motivated.
Turks in Georgia seen as opposing Turkey’s government have also increasingly come under pressure. In May, Georgia arrested a manager at the Turkish Demirel College, Mustafa Emre Çabuk, after a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım to Georgia. He is accused of ‘supporting a terrorist organisation’ referring to the organisation of Fethullah Gülen, former Islamic Cleric and a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who Turkey claims was behind July 2016 coup attempt. Çabuk, citizen of Georgia, is now awaiting the final decision on his extradition to Turkey.
In August, Georgia’s Ministry of Education revoked the teaching authorisation of Demirel College, effectively shutting down the school.
[For details, read on OC Media: Georgia shuts down ‘Gülen-connected’ Demirel College in Tbilisi]