Turkish-Azeri ties face new tensions after Armenia deal

Oct 25 2009

Current ArticleTurkish-Azeri ties face new tensions after Armenia deal

By Vasilije Gallak on Oct 25, 2009 in Featured, Turkey

Istanbul ` Officials in Turkey and Azerbaijan frequently refer to the
two countries ` bound together by language and culture and, more
recently, by oil and gas pipelines ` as `one nation-two states.’

But this slogan is being put to the test these days, following the
recent signing between Turkey and Armenia of protocols to restore
diplomatic relations and open up their borders, something Azerbaijan
is strongly opposed to.

Observers warn that the tension between Turkey and Azerbaijan could
not only undermine the two neighbors’ relations, but also jeopardize
some of the energy deals the two countries are involved in,
particularly the Nabucco pipeline project, which is designed to ease
Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

The historic protocols make no mention of Nagorno-Karabakh, a
mountainous Azeri territory occupied by Armenian forces since 1994.

Turkey first closed its border to Armenia in response to its
occupation of the territory and Azeri officials have said Ankara’s
relations with Yerevan should not be restored until the frozen
Nagorno-Karabakh issue is settled.

The reaction in Baku to the deal signed by Turkey and Armenia ` which
must still be ratified by the two countries’ parliaments to take
effect ` has been particularly strong. Turkish flags were taken down
at official buildings and monuments in the Azeri capital, Baku.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, speaking at a nationally televised
cabinet meeting on October 16, suggested his country might stop
selling Turkey natural gas at a discounted price.

`It is not a secret to anyone that for many years Azerbaijan has been
selling its gas to Turkey for one-third of market prices,’ Aliyev

`What state would agree to sell its natural resources for 30 percent
of world market prices, especially under current conditions? This is
illogical,’ Aliyev added.

`Azerbaijan is looking at the opening of the Turkey-Armenia border as
a betrayal.

`We are looking at Turkey as our main partner in the region and as
Armenia as our main enemy. The reaction is natural,’ says Vafa
Guluzade, former foreign affairs advisor to the previous Azeri
president, Haydar Aliyev.

`The situation right now is that the Turkish-Azeri relationship is
threatened by the threat of full destruction. I’m not talking on the
level of the people ` I’m talking on the level of the leadership,’ he

Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and some surrounding districts
today control some 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory. The United
Nation estimates that there are 690,000 internally displaced persons
from the territory in Azerbaijan.

Although Azerbaijan and Armenia are engaged in ongoing talks, co-
chaired by the United States, Russia and France, aimed it resolving
the issue, although they have made little progress.

Experts warn that without any movement on the Nagorno-Karabakh front,
the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border could lead to an even
stronger reaction from Baku, particularly on energy issues.

Azerbaijan sits on top of large oil and gas reserves and has emerged
in recent years a major player in the energy field. Turkey, meanwhile,
is positioning itself to become a major oil and gas transit country `
a plan that, to a large extent, depends on access to Azeri energy

`If those countries which are genuinely interested in the Nabucco
project influence Armenia so that it steps back from the occupied
territories and both Azerbaijan and Turkey will be satisfied, then
this will be remembered as only an episode in Turkey-Azerbaijan
relations,’ says Ilgar Mammadov, a political analyst based in Baku.

`If not, then the relationship between Turkey and Azerbaijan will
worsen and projects like Nabucco will be undermined.’

Turkish officials have been making efforts to appease Baku, making it
clear that they will not move forward on renewing ties with Armenia
until the Nagorno-Karabakh.

`Nothing can change the fact that Turkey will always stand by
Azerbaijan, and Turkey’s position on Azerbaijan’s territorial
integrity and its territories under occupation,’ Turkish Foreign
Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said during a Thursday visit to the Azeri

But Guluzade, the former Azeri foreign affairs advisor, says Baku is
looking for stronger reassurances on the issue.

`We need something more real in our hands. Armenia has signed
protocols under the auspices of The United States, Russia and France.
We only have words. That’s not enough,’ he says.

Some Turkish officials, though, have started to express frustration
with Azerbaijan’s strong response to Ankara’s budding détente with

`The Azeri reaction is very disappointing. We have a difficulty
understanding these reactions and the forms and ways in which they are
happening,’ says Suat Kiniklioglu, a member of the governing Justice
and Development Party (AKP) and spokesman for the parliament’s foreign
affairs committee.

Huseyin Bagci, a professor of international relations at Ankara’s
Middle East Technical University, says that in the long run the
opening of the Turkey-Armenia border will also facilitate the solving
of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

`Azerbaijan has to realize that discussion of the Nagorno- Karabakh
issue can only happen if the Turkey-Armenia border opens,’ he says.

In the meantime, without a resolution to the conflict betwee
Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ankara and Baku may find the `one nation-two
states’ slogan being further tested, Bagci says.

`It’s a nationalist slogan, it’s nice to hear, but it’s never been the
case. We have never been one nation,’ he says. (dpa)

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