Azerbaijani interest in Turkish press might upset Ankara

Azerbaijani interest in Turkish press might upset Ankara

In the early days of Azerbaijani independence, the new artist-, engineer- and activist-turned-diplomats of the young country would use the offices of Turkey’s diplomatic missions. Long delays in the return of financial credits given to Azerbaijan would constitute a headache in the two countries’ relations.

I had this flashback about Azerbaijan upon the Hürriyet Daily News’ report that Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR, was looking for a possible partnership with Kanal 24 television and Star newspaper, owned by Star Media Group, in Turkey.

Long gone are of course those days when Baku would look to Ankara for financial assistance. As petrodollars started to flow into Azerbaijan, we have seen a steady increase in Azerbaijan’s investments in Turkey. SOCAR is ambitiously aiming to become the largest direct foreign investor in Turkey through two flagship projects: The expansion of the petrochemical holding Petkim and the construction of the Trans-Anatolia Gas Pipeline (TANAP).

It is only wise for Azerbaijan to wish to diversify its economy, which is largely based on the oil and gas sector. And where else should it look but Turkey, whose economic performance has been impressive when compared with other ailing economies which have been suffering from the global financial crisis. In addition to the economic “rationale,” there is also the “emotional” aspect: “one nation, two states” is a motto used to describe the affinity between the countries.

The Turkish press sector, however, is not known to be the most lucrative business area. I therefore seriously doubt Ankara will perceive SOCAR’s interest in the Turkish press as “profit-oriented.” In fact, this will be seen as part of Baku’s campaign to influence Turkish public opinion. Azerbaijan’s continuous efforts to shape public opinion in Turkey have not gone unnoticed in official circles and in fact it is being monitored with some uneasiness. Those familiar with the issue point to the huge rally that took place last year in Taksim to commemorate the Khojaly massacre.

Turkey’s efforts to mend fences with Yerevan and thus ease the Armenian diaspora’s pressure for the recognition of genocide claims remain a source of extreme anxiety for Azerbaijan. They have a bitter memory of the initiative in 2009 when Turkey and Armenia signed protocols to normalize their relations which were ultimately not sent to Parliament by the Turkish government, mostly due to Baku’s reaction.

While more Azerbaijani investment is welcome in Turkey, I don’t think Baku’s efforts to highjack Turkey’s Armenia policy by acquiring certain channels to influence public opinion will go unchecked. In view of the fact that the Star Media Group is owned by a businessman known to be close to the prime minister, I would be surprised if the purchase actually takes place at the end of the day.

Ironically, the news about SOCAR’s interest in the Turkish press sector made me recall the Russians’ presence in the same sector. Russians have set up a radio channel in Turkey and RSFM has been broadcasting for nearly two years. There are rumors that they would like to have a TV channel as well. Russians are said to be extremely careful about not antagonizing Turkey, even on subjects like the Syrian turmoil where Ankara and Moscow have differed seriously.

In view of Baku’s disproportionate reaction to President Abdullah Gül’s message to his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, over his successful re-election, it is difficult to expect a similar attitude from Azerbaijanis in the event they happen to start broadcasting in Turkey.