Turkey's Caucasus Allies Ponder Armenia Deal

Azeris say Turkey’s border accord with Armenia is a betrayal of their alliance.

Turkey's Caucasus Allies Ponder Armenia Deal

Azeris say Turkey’s border accord with Armenia is a betrayal of their alliance.

Thursday, 22 October, 2009
The Turkey-Armenia peace deal has angered Azeris, who accuse Ankara of betraying them by not tying its signature to a resolution of the Karabakh conflict.

Turkey and Azerbaijan, whose people are close ethnic kin, have been allies since the end of the Soviet period, and Turkey broke off ties with Armenia in 1993 to support Azerbaijan over the Karabakh conflict.

Now, 15 years after the war ended with a ceasefire, Armenians still rule Nagorny Karabakh as a self-proclaimed state – in defiance of the international community, which considers it part of Azerbaijan – and Armenian forces hold around a seventh of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognised territory.

“Sometimes the opinion is expressed that the normalisation of Turkish-Armenian relations, the opening of the border, could in future help the regulation of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. I do not support these opinions,” said President Ilham Aliev on the eve of the signing ceremony.

“I think that if Turkish-Armenian relations normalise before the Karabakh problem is resolved, then the position of Armenia in the talks process will toughen. I am absolutely convinced that these two processes – the regulation of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict and the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border – should move in parallel. Maybe there is no official connection between these processes, but there is an unofficial one.”

The day after the October 10 signing ceremony, Azerbaijan’s newspaper headlines made clear the country’s reaction to the move. “Everyone agrees, except Azerbaijan,” said the Mirror. “The Armenian-Turkish protocols are signed. Will Turkey keep its promise to Azerbaijan?” asked the Echo.

On October 13, activists from the Organisation for the Liberation of Karabakh protested outside the Turkish embassy. The next day, they held another protests, with about 40 people taking part – a large number for an unsanctioned demonstration in Baku. The police broke up both protests, and detained several participants, but not before the protesters had shouted their slogans.

The protesters shouted “Shame on the Turkish government”, “No ratification” and “Turkey, don’t betray Azerbaijan” and burned portraits of the Turkish president, prime minister and foreign minister.

Analysts doubted the protest would change much, however.

“To hold this protest in Azerbaijan is ineffective. Only large protests in Turkey can affect the process. And we must act in solidarity with the Turkish opponents of the protocols’ ratification,” said Boyukaga Agayev, an expert on the South Caucasus.

Large protests in Turkey have not materialised, however, although opposition parties have pledged to disrupt the ratification process, and pro-Azerbaijan activists have distributed anti-Armenian stickers and Azerbaijani flags.

Not everyone in Azerbaijan thinks they should. Ilgar Mammadov, co-founder of the opposition Republican Alternative Civic Union movement, said he hoped Turkey and Armenia would sign their peace deal, thus giving Turkey a chance to counteract Russian influence in the South Caucasus. Armenia is currently a close Russian ally, and Moscow has military bases there.

“If the border is opened, over time Turkey and its western partners will be able to build a solid and legitimate economic and political presence in Armenia. That presence would allow them to drag Armenia out of the hands of the decision-makers in the Kremlin when Baku and Yerevan are close to a deal next time,” he said.

But his opinion is a rare one. Most opposition politicians in Azerbaijan, no matter how fierce their criticism of the government on other questions, line up behind Aliev when it comes to Karabakh.

“I think it is necessary to hold talks with the Turkish government and appeal to the Turkish people. In Turkey, the government cannot take a step on this without the support of the nation. The will of the Turkish nation could force the government to refrain from taking this step,” said Ali Kerimli, chairman of the opposition Party of the National Front of Azerbaijan.

Turkey’s parliament is due to vote on ratifying the deal on October 21, according to officials in Ankara, and Azeri politicians still hope the deal might be avoided.

“We hope that during the discussion of the protocols in the Turkish parliament, the deputies will unanimously tell Armenia and the world that ratification of these documents is possible only after the liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” said Ganira Pashayeva, who also singled out France, Russia and America, which attended the signing ceremony , as possible friends of Azerbaijan.

“First of all, they must put pressure on Yerevan, so Armenia frees the Azerbaijani lands. Peace and cooperation in the region are possible only after Armenia leaves the occupied territories.”

Kenan Guluzade is editor of www.analitika.az.
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