BAKU: Turkey prepares to open Armenian border – Azeri paper

Turkey prepares to open Armenian border – Azeri paper

Zerkalo, Baku
17 Jun 04

The Turkish government has decided to open the border with Armenia
under pressure from Washington and the EU, the Azerbaijani newspaper
Zerkalo has reported. This decision runs counter to Ankara’s previous
pledges not to open the border without Azerbaijan’s consent, it
said. Relations between the two countries’ leaders are insincere, the
paper said, which is proved by the fact that the Azerbaijani leader
did not pay his first official visit to Turkey, while the Turkish
prime minister chose to go abroad during President Ilham Aliyev’s
subsequent visit. Tension between the two countries started running
particularly high after the Council of Europe vote on Northern
Cyprus which was ignored by the Azerbaijani delegation. The move
was described in the Turkish media as a “stab in the back” from
Azerbaijan. The following is an excerpt from R. Mirqadirov report by
Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo on 17 June headlined “Turkey is opening
the border with Armenia” and subheaded “Duty comes before friendship”.
Subheadings have been inserted editorially:

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has issued an instruction to relevant
government bodies to start preparations for the opening of the Ak Yaka
checkpoint on the Turkish-Armenian border, which has been closed for
10 years, in order to ensure the transportation of cargo from third
countries to Armenia through Turkish territory.

MPA reports quoting the Turkish NTV channel that after the opening
of the border checkpoint, cargo will proceed from Europe to Armenia
directly through Turkish territory bypassing Iran and Georgia.

Decision taken under pressure

Explaining the reasons for the decision, NTV reports that Ankara,
despite Azerbaijan’s objections, has to look for an acceptable way
out of the current situation and is under significant pressure from
Washington and the EU.

It is worth noting that Ankara is taking the step in the run-up to a
NATO meeting in Istanbul which is to be attended by representatives
of Armenia. Therefore, diplomatic sources are declining to make any
comments on the situation.

The Turkish administration has repeatedly stated earlier that Ankara
will not open the border with Armenia without the consent of Baku.

In principle, nothing extraordinary is taking place. Ankara could
have been expected to take the step long ago. The point is that Turkey
has been speculating for quite some time that it is not establishing
normal relations with Armenia due to the ongoing occupation of 20
per cent of Azerbaijani territory, while Azerbaijan was actively
following the lead as long as this policy was meeting the interests
of both sides. However, every “hoax” ends sooner or later and the
moment of truth eventually arrives.

Fraternity mere delusion

Zerkalo has repeatedly written that there is no point in deluding
ourselves and Azerbaijani society in general with false hopes
as regards fraternal relations with Turkey, even as far as the
Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict is concerned. Because anyone even
with basic knowledge of politics could see that the tension in
Armenian-Turkish relations had very little, if anything at all,
to do with the occupation of Azerbaijani territories. First of all,
Armenian-Turkish relations have their own and no less serious problems,
including the issue of the so-called “Armenian genocide” and Armenia’s
territorial claims to Turkey. But it wasn’t these issues that got in
Ankara’s way either. After all, there are no less serious problems
in Turkish-Greek relations, which does not stop Turkey and Greece
being members of the same military and political alliance, NATO,
and maintaining normal diplomatic relations at the level of embassies.

Second, by speculating on Armenian-Azerbaijani relations for over
10 years, Turkey was actually strengthening its positions and clout
in our country, which was far more important for Turkey than the
improvement of relations with Armenia.

And third, at last, Ankara could use this factor as a means for putting
pressure on Yerevan to contain Armenia’s anti-Turkish campaign in the
international arena, particularly as Armenia was much less attractive
for Turkey than Azerbaijan and Georgia.

[Passage omitted: details of Turkey-EU relations]

Insincere relations

Azerbaijan started “recovering its sight” early this year when
certain media outlets, including Zerkalo, quoted diplomatic sources
as saying that an east European capital was hosting unofficial
negotiations on the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border. Again,
there was nothing horrible in such a course of developments. It was
only necessary to develop a common line of behaviour so that both
fraternal countries could derive maximum benefit from the situation.
However, the subsequent developments showed that there was no sincerity
in bilateral relations at all. In the first half of this year the
sides repeatedly “framed” each other.

And the point here is not in finding out who is right and who is
wrong. It is much more important that the leaders of the two countries
do not seem to get along with each other.

We all remember that [Azerbaijani President] Ilham Aliyev, contrary
to expectation and traditions, did not pay his first official visit
as president to Turkey. Also, on the eve of his visit, certainly
not without the blessing of the Baku officials, a team of leading
Azerbaijani journalists went to Turkey to organize a campaign against
the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border. It is beyond doubt that
Prime Minister Erdogan saw the action as an attempt to put pressure
on him. And it was not by chance that he chose to go to Japan during
Ilham Aliyev’s visit.

Cyprus vote: “A stab in the back”

Subsequent and no less dramatic events showed that the Azerbaijani side
was not quite prepared for such a turn in bilateral relations. The
April session of PACE [Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of
Europe] discussed a resolution which would enable deputies from the
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to be represented in sessions
of the Parliamentary Assembly independently. Naturally, the deputies
representing two Greek states, Armenia, Russia and Serbia did their
best to prevent the resolution from being adopted in the proposed form.
And they succeeded. However, during the discussions on the resolution,
the Azerbaijani delegation was absent.

On the following day, almost all leading newspapers of Turkey,
including those close to the government, published editorials
describing the step by our delegation as nothing other than a stab in
the back on the part of “fraternal Azerbaijan”. The newspapers quoted
Azerbaijani MPs as saying that they were busy meeting Ilham Aliyev
who had come to Strasbourg. The head of the Azerbaijani delegation
to PACE, Samad Seyidov, could not conceal his disappointment with
Turkish deputies whom he accused of “washing dirty linen in public”.

“We can discuss all disputable issues with Turkish deputies ourselves,
without involving the press,” he said then.

Only a few days later, did Seyidov “come round” and say that the
Azerbaijani MPs did not join the PACE vote on Northern Cyprus because
of the Nagornyy Karabakh issue. According to Seyidov, this could have
set a precedent for the “recognition of self-styled structures”. He
said that the recognition of Northern Cyprus could indeed set a
“dangerous precedent” in terms of the possible recognition of the
separatist regime in Karabakh. The head of the Azerbaijani delegation
probably had to tell the truth as it was getting obvious that a row
was inevitable otherwise.

Under these circumstances, the Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan,
Ahmet Unal Cevikoz, tried to act as a mediator. He said that he did
not consider it appropriate to accuse the Azerbaijani MPs of failing
to take part in the Northern Cyprus vote. It is easy to understand
the Turkish envoy. Work has been done, hasn’t it? The Turkish side
has managed to trigger a public outrage both in Turkey and Azerbaijan,
and it was time to “wash hands”.

A little later the new Azerbaijani foreign minister said quite
logically that all countries, even the most friendly, may have
different interests, and that there are very serious problems in
Turkish-Armenian relations which have nothing to do with Azerbaijan.

All this testifies to the fact that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan
and the Azerbaijani president are not quite “fraternal” to each
other. Neither of them misses a chance “to punch” the other, sometimes
quite painfully.

[Passage omitted: Minor details]