Ankara and Baku Put Up United Front

Turkey and Azerbaijan seek to soothe anger over Armenia deal.

Ankara and Baku Put Up United Front

Turkey and Azerbaijan seek to soothe anger over Armenia deal.

Thursday, 29 October, 2009
Turkish and Azeri officials this week tried to calm anger sparked in both countries by Ankara’s decision to open diplomatic relations with Armenia.

The signing of protocols between the two countries last week enraged many Azeris, who had relied on Turkey to force Armenia to give up its hold on Nagorny Karabakh, which is internationally considered part of Azerbaijan.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 as a protest against the war in Karabakh, and has been one of Azerbaijan’s firmest supporters ever since.

The rift in relations between the two allies, whose populations are close ethnic kin, has been bitter. Observers are calling it the “flag crisis”, after Turkish authorities tried to stop fans waving the Azeri flag at a football match against Armenia on October 14.

The morning after the game, photos appeared on the internet of confiscated Azerbaijan flags thrown into rubbish bins, angering many Azeris.

The Azeris responded by removing the Turkish flags from Martyrs’ Alley, an avenue in Baku that commemorates those who died for the short-lived Azerbaijan Republic that was proclaimed after World War One, as well as those who died in Karabakh. They also removed the Turkish flag from in front of a Turkish embassy building.

The Turkish foreign ministry sent an official note of protest, a rare event in a normally close relationship.

Officially, there are no differences between the two sides over the Armenia-Turkey peace process, and Turkish president Abdullah Gul rang his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev to explain what was happening when parliament began to discuss it on October 21.

“The leaders of the two states agreed to eliminate emotional factors at this current difficult phase, and came to the joint opinion that the supposed difficulties in relations between Ankara and Baku do not actually exist,” said an official statement from the Turkish government quoted by the Anadolu news agency.

The Turkish and Azerbaijani foreign ministers also tried to calm the situation when they met in Baku for a meeting of the Organisation for the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said the pictures of flags in rubbish bins were staged.

“The Azerbaijan flag is not a foreign flag for us. It bears the blood of all of our martyrs,” he said. “What happened in Bursa during the Turkey-Armenia match was a provocation.”

He said the current tensions had been whipped up by whoever threw away the flags, and filmed them in the rubbish bins.

“Turkey will conduct an investigation and punish the guilty,” he said.

Azerbaijan officials also sought to assuage public anger, and on October 20, parliament speaker Oktay Asadov told deputies there was no anti-Turkish campaign in the country. But that did not calm ordinary Azeris, and two unofficial demonstrations protested against the removal of the Turkish flag from Martyrs’ Alley and the arrival of Armenian officials for the Black Sea summit.

On October 21, a group of young activists from the National Front tried to pass along Martyrs’ Alley with Turkish flags, but were blocked by police, who detained four of them. The next day, officers also blocked an unofficial protest by the Organisation for the Liberation of Karabakh against the arrival of Armenian deputy foreign minister Arman Kirokosian.

The protesters held placards with slogans “Davutoglu, you are on the Armenian side” and “Shame on those who invite Armenians to Baku”.

Ali Hasanov, head of the political department of the Azerbaijani presidential administration, said there was no scandal, and that the Turkish flags had been removed simply to comply with the law, which allows foreign flags to be displayed only outside buildings with diplomatic status.

But Eldar Namazov, head of the opposition forum For the Sake of Azerbaijan, said the removal of the flags had been a mistake.

“They need to step back. The Turkish authorities should have reacted more decisively to the disrespect shown to the Azerbaijan flag shown during the football match in Bursa.

“But even in this case, I think the reactions of the Azerbaijani authorities against Turkey are unacceptable. The flags must be restored to their places and steps must be taken to restore trust.

“Even if there is a difference in opinions on the Turkish-Armenian protocols, such errors must not be allowed.”

The two countries’ foreign ministers already tried to show they are united when, on the evening of October 22, they laid flowers at the soldiers’ graves on Martyrs’ Alley.

“There are no problems between Azerbaijan and Turkey. Relations between the two countries, as before, develop on the principle of ‘One Nation – two states’,” said Azerbaijan foreign minister Eldar Mammadyarov after the ceremony.

Kenan Guluzade, is editor of the website
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