Turkey-Azerbaijan: Is the 'brotherhood' mentality becoming archaic?

After two decades of brotherly relations, some question whether the honeymoon is over.

By Alakbar Raufoglu for Southeast European Times -- 08/08/11

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by a large delegation of businessmen and cabinet members, travelled to Azerbaijan late last month, aiming to boost trade and political ties. However, Baku may be considered the only regional capital where Erdogan has been unable to achieve results.

Relations between the two Turkic countries have always been strong, often being described as "one nation with two states". Recently, however, the co-operation has been threatened due to tensions arising from the possible rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia. Baku fears this may mean the loss of key leverage in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The failure to reach a gas price and transit agreement has also been a major problem between Baku and Ankara over the past two years. Turkey hopes to maintain its transit role through the Nabucco pipeline project, which is competing with Russian gas projects for the European market. As long as Ankara and Baku can't come to an agreement, Baku remains largely reliant on Russia.

The Erdogan government's visa-free neighbourhood policy, which already consists of more than 60 states, has also run into difficulties with Azerbaijan.

"We are not ready for that [the visa-free regime]," President Ilham Aliyev said during a joint press conference with Erdogan.

"President Aliyev's 'no' to lifting visa requirements frustrates Turkey's present 'zero problems with neighbours' foreign policy outreach," US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute senior fellow Gerald Robbins said. He believes the challenges in the Azeri-Turk relationship reflect a change in respective outlooks.

"The post-Soviet era is now 20 years old and new policies and attitudes arise," he told SETimes. "The Turkic 'brother' mentality is becoming archaic; each nation has its own interests and prerogatives."

For Baku, he says, Turkey's verbal support in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute hasn't led to any discernible change on the ground, never mind the uncertainty Ankara's possible rapprochement with Armenia creates.

"The overriding factor however is the dispute over Caspian oil transit fees and the mutual sense that both sides are negotiating with less than 'brotherly' intentions," Robbins says.

In Baku, some politicians such as Isa Gambar, chairman of the Equality Party (Musavat), the largest opposition bloc in Azerbaijan, have deep concerns about the cooling of bilateral ties in recent years. "This is obvious in almost all spheres," he said.

"It happens because of the Azerbaijani government's initiative," he told SETimes. "As our government is interested in forming a closed society, it doesn't want people to spread outside the country, even to our closest neighbour, Turkey," he explained.

Azeri democrats expect Ankara to be more active and open in such spheres as democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan. "This is our right," Gambar said, adding that Turkey is the country's key door to Euro-Atlantic integration.

Arastun Oruclu, head of Baku based West-East Research Centre, highlights the Russia factor as a problem between Turkey and Azerbaijan.

"The fact that Moscow's influence grows stronger in Azerbaijan in recent years pressures Turkey out," he told SETimes.

Meanwhile, Ankara officials stay optimistic about the future. "We believe our countries can find a way to benefit from their brotherhood and regional opportunities," Mustafa Kabakci, MP from Erdogan's AKP and a chairman of the Turkey-Azerbaijan Friendship Group, said.

"It is impossible to imagine Azerbaijan not participating in Turkey's peacekeeping processes in the region," he told SETimes, referring to Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and gas politics.

Ankara understands Baku's regional sensitivity, he says. "We just want to assure them [Azerbaijan] that we have no intention to be a big brother for anybody in the region," he added.


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