A new honeymoon in Turkish – Azerbaijan relations

A new honeymoon in Turkish – Azerbaijan relations

Azerbaijan has more leverage on Turkey than Turkey has on Azerbaijan, Volkan Vural told me. Vural was Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow when the Soviet Union dissolved. He had advised Ankara to immediately recognize and establish diplomatic ties with all the new republics. That’s what Ankara did; except with Armenia. It recognized Armenia, but did not establish diplomatic ties. “It was a mistake and I had objected to it at that time,” Vural told me last week when I interviewed him.

Long gone are the days when Turkish missions abroad used to allocate offices for the diplomats of the young Azerbaijani republic. Azerbaijan is currently set to become the number one foreign direct investor in Turkey. It owns a TV station and a newspaper in Turkey. It has set up a huge think tank in Istanbul.

Azerbaijan provides gas to Turkey and it has wisely taken the step to initiate the Trans-Anatolia Natural Gas pipeline project to transport gas to Europe via Turkey. All this happened after Turkey’s attempt to normalize relations with Armenia in 2009 ended with failure. Baku, which was against the normalization of ties between Ankara and Yerevan prior to a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, took the “necessary” lessons from its part and devised a strategy to increase its weight in Turkey.  And it succeeded in consolidating its prevailing position over Turkey’s policies toward Armenia.

Ironically, what could have been considered Turkey’s unofficial lobby, namely the Gülen network, is being chased away from Azerbaijan upon the request of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Azerbaijan’s president İlham Aliyev, who was said to lack personal chemistry with Erdoğan due do his more secular and western type life style, seems to have become best friends with his Turkish counterpart, as the two most probably found common ground on their authoritarian ruling style.

Actually, Erdoğan became a favorite for Aliyev the moment he rushed to Baku just a few days after signing normalization protocols with Armenia. Despite Erdoğan’s assurances, Aliyev wanted to be better safe than sorry and speed up his strategy to increase his country’s presence in Turkey.

It is currently very difficult to convince Baku that Turkish-Armenian normalization could trigger a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. It also remains very difficult for Armenia to accept the depth of relations between Ankara and Baku and give a green light to start simultaneous talks to normalize ties with both Ankara and Baku.

Ankara had hoped to curb the Armenian diaspora’s efforts for the recognition of the World War 1 mass killings as genocide with the positive atmosphere that would have stemmed from reconciliation with Yerevan. This is no longer an option. It therefore needs to intensify its efforts to deepen its “soul searching,” as Vural put it in the interview, in facing its past and trying to find ways of communications with the Armenian diaspora.

Meanwhile, we need to raise a hat to Baku’s foreign policy successes, especially after we witness what has happened in Georgia and what is happening in Ukraine. With its energy resources, Baku remains a rival to Moscow. Yet, it has so far succeeded in “sailing its energy ship” without antagonizing Russia, although at the cost of losing Nagorno-Karabakh, since it is currently Russia that holds the key to the solution of this frozen conflict.