Azeri leader urges Turkey to stand firm on Armenia
ANKARA, April 13 (Reuters) – Azerbaijan expects Turkey to
keep its border with Armenia closed as long as a long-running
dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region remains unresolved, the
Azeri leader said in an interview published on Tuesday.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev begins a state visit to Turkey,
an old ally, later on Tuesday as Ankara comes under pressure
from some officials in the United States and the European Union
to lift its trade blockade of tiny, landlocked Armenia.
Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia because the
Christian ex-Soviet republic occupies Karabakh, a territory
populated by ethnic Armenians but assigned to Turkic-speaking,
mainly-Muslim Azerbaijan in Soviet times.
“Some big powers may try to achieve their interests by
putting pressure (on Turkey over opening its border),” Aliyev
told the Turkish daily Zaman. “Turkey is a big country. We
believe it will not give in to this pressure.”
About 35,000 people died in six years of fighting over
Karabakh which ended in a 1994 ceasefire. A decade of diplomatic
efforts by the United States, France and Russia to end the
deadlock have so far failed.
Turkey hopes soon to open talks on joining the EU.
There had been speculation of a thaw in Azeri-Armenian ties
after the death last December of Aliyev’s father Haydar Aliyev,
who had dominated Azeri politics for three decades.
But Ilham Aliyev, elected president last October, signalled
there would be no change in his Karabakh policy.
“We want the occupying Armenians to give back our lands
unconditionally. Then we can negotiate on the status of
Karabakh,” Aliyev told Zaman.
He added Azerbaijan would never accept Armenian demands for
Karabakh’s union with Armenia or for independence from Baku.
As well as international pressure, Ankara has faced lobbying
from Turkish business interests keen to trade freely with
Armenia. But Turkish diplomats say Ankara will not act without
the agreement of Azerbaijan.
Apart from close linguistic and cultural ties, Turkey and
Azerbaijan will be linked in the near future by an oil pipeline
pumping crude from the Caspian Sea to the Turkish Mediterranean
port of Ceyhan.
The 1,760-km (1,100 mile) Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, built by an
international consortium and strongly backed by the United
States, is worth around $3 billion.
“More than half of the oil pipeline has now been completed,”
Aliyev said, adding work was also progressing well on a natural
gas pipeline from the Caspian to Turkey and Greece.
Aliyev will meet Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Prime
Minister Tayyip Erdogan and other senior officials during his