On November 5 and 6, after his reelection last month, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev visited Turkey, where he discussed the developments in the Caucasus, relations with Armenia, and deepening cooperation between the two countries.
On November 5 he attended a dinner given by his host President Abdullah Gul and attended by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other ministers (Anadolu Ajansi, November 6). On the second day of his visit Aliyev addressed a session of the Turkish Parliament (www.cnnturk.com, November 6). The two presidents emphasized the close friendship between their countries and the importance of Turkey-Azerbaijan cooperation for peace and stability in the Caucasus. The leaders repeated the oft-heard motto of “one nation, two states” and made references to historical and cultural ties between the two countries. Aliyev remarked that no other countries had such close relations as those between Turkey and Azerbaijan, and this must be seen as a great asset. Aliyev also thanked Turkey for supporting Azerbaijan in difficult times.
The main item on Aliyev’s agenda was the situation in the Caucasus. Having commended Turkey’s constructive efforts to solve problems in the region, Aliyev repeated Azerbaijan’s support for the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform (CSCP), initiated by Turkey (EDM, September 2). On the issue of Azerbaijan-Armenia relations, Aliyev made a firm statement of the Azerbaijani position that the current situation of the Karabakh conflict remains the main obstacle to peace in the Caucasus. He criticized Armenia’s occupation of 20 percent of Azeri lands and its policy of ethnic cleansing. He reiterated that a solution to the problem rests on the restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and Armenia’s compliance with the resolutions of international organizations including the United Nations (ANKA, November 6).
Aliyev’s visit comes in the wake of a meeting between Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian in Moscow on November 2, sponsored by Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev. Despite their pledge in a joint declaration to pursue a political settlement, the two leaders failed to specify any concrete steps with regard to confidence-building measures, which fell short of the Kremlin’s expectations (EDM, November 4). Nonetheless, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) welcomed this declaration and viewed it as a successful example of multiple parties working toward a common goal. Some Turkish observers interpreted Russia’s growing involvement in the resolution of the Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute as a loss of leverage for Ankara and criticized Turkey’s reactionary policy (www.asam.org.tr, ASAM Daily Brief, November 6).
A press release by the MFA emphasized that Turkey’s past efforts—such as the proposal for the CSCP and the trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia sponsored by Turkey—had paved the way for the Moscow talks (Press Release: 189, www.mfa.gov, November 5). In his meeting with Aliyev, Gul received first hand information about the Azeri-Armenian talks in Moscow. Gul praised the declaration as the beginning of a new era for bringing peace to the region (Anadolu Ajansi, November 5). It is a common practice for the leaders of Turkey and Azerbaijan to inform each other about any meetings with Armenia not involving the other party (Star, September 11).
The Turkish daily Zaman ran a story that maintained that Gul had proposed another trilateral summit in Istanbul, which would bring together Gul, Aliyev, and Sarkisian. Having received a positive response from Aliyev, Gul was reportedly going to extend an invitation to the Armenian side. Speaking to Zaman, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov also confirmed that such a proposal had been made (Zaman, November 7). The Turkish MFA spokesperson, however, issued a statement refuting the idea that it had proposed hosting a trilateral meeting (www.cnnturk.com, November 7). Zaman nonetheless insisted on its story and criticized the confusing information over the proposal coming out of the MFA (Zaman, November 8). The Turkish officials’ stance might have been a result of an attempt to achieve reconciliation with Armenia through secret diplomacy and their preference for keeping such a proposal confidential before all the details are worked out.
Another major issue on the agenda during Aliyev’s visit was the growing volume of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, in particular in the energy sector. Azerbaijan and Turkey have developed a partnership in energy transportation, which has led to the flourishing of economic ties in other fields. Turkish entrepreneurs have had a vibrant presence in Azerbaijan. The growing Azerbaijani wealth created by oil revenues, however, has altered the direction of investments. Recently, Azeri companies started investing in Turkey, especially in privatization projects. The CEO of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (Socar) announced the company’s plans for new investments of up to 10 billion dollars in Turkey (Yeni Safak, January 10). SOCAR and the Palmali Group recently bought 50 percent of Tekfen Insaat, one of Turkey’s largest construction firms, for $520 million (Ihlas News Agency, September 8). Aliyev emphasized that such investments reflected the growing self-confidence of the Azeri economy and gave indications that they would continue in the future. Aliyev also emphasized the high value his administration attaches to integrating Azerbaijan with the rest of the world. He noted, however, the importance of achieving full independence in the economy, which was a prerequisite for political independence (Cihan News Agency, November 6).
President Gul is due to visit Baku on November 14 to attend the forthcoming fourth international summit on energy, which will bring together several heads of state from the region as well as representatives from the European Union and the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza (Zaman, November 7; Azeri Press Agency, November 7). In the wake of the conflict in Georgia, discussions on the secure flow of energy from the region, as well as alternative pipelines carrying oil and gas, will be on the agenda of the summit.