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Georgia, Turkey relations deteriorate

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BEIRUT, Lebanon – Turkish relations with neighboring Georgia, which is located in the strategically important Caucasus separating East from West, may be in for yet another jolt as Ankara seeks permission for a transportation corridor through one of Georgia’s breakaway provinces taken over by the Russians in the brief 2008 war, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

That five-day war saw the Russians invade Georgia and take over the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow then recognized those provinces as independent countries, a move that never received similar recognition from the international community.

Now Turkey wants to create a transportation corridor across Georgia to North Ossetia which is part of Russia and establish links with regions of southern Russia and the Central Asian states. The route would necessarily have to go through South Ossetia to link up with North Ossetia.

While Turkey sees it as a great opportunity for commerce and tourism, with Russia especially, Georgia may have a different outlook on the proposal.

The problem with Georgia is underscored by the fact that the incoming government in Tbilisi led by its new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the multi-billionaire who made his money in Russia, ran on a campaign of opposing the influx of Turkish influence in Georgia, especially along its resorts in the Black Sea area.

Turkey is the fifth largest investor in Georgia, and tens of thousands of Georgians bring in income from jobs in Turkey.

However, despite denying any support of xenophobia, Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream Party attempted to whip up anger along the sea coast against sitting President Mikheil Saakashvili’s then-ruling United National Movement Party, which allowed “Turkish expansionism” that threatened Georgian culture and Georgian jobs – and perhaps the sovereignty of the country itself.

To this day, Georgia remains sensitive to Turkish influence, going back to the days of the Ottoman Empire when the Turks controlled portions of western Georgia from the late 16th century until 1878. That’s when southwest Georgia was moved into the then-Russian Empire.

Because of Turkey’s historic occupation of the Achara region, the Muslim influence remains, with the prospect of Turkey wanting to build a major mosque there in the predominantly Eastern Orthodox country of Georgia.

The area also has seen a major influx of Turkish money, creation of jobs and the spread of Turkish culture, all of which have led to concern for the preservation of the Georgian culture in the area.

With Turkish construction plans for a land corridor through Georgia to Russia’s southern province of North Ossetia, concern about Turkish influence is on the rise.

It suggests that the North Caucasus has once again come up for grabs despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistence that the region remains under Russian influence.

And for Georgia, it will be a further threat to what leaders perceive as diluting Georgian culture by Islamic Turkey as Ankara continues its own quest to look eastward in what some critics call the reconstruction of the post-Ottoman Empire.

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