Turkey, Azerbaijan discuss regional security, energy
After Wednesday's visit, a visa-free regime between Turkey and Azerbaijan remains elusive as energy co-operation moves forward.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 13/09/12
In the second High-Level Strategic Co-operation Council meeting on Tuesday (September 11th), chaired by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, the two countries signed eight technical documents including in the strategic energy sector, but key Turkish demands such as visa-free travel remain unresolved.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (right) speaks as Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev listens during a news conference following a signing ceremony in Istanbul on June 26th. [Reuters]
Relations between the two Turkic countries, often characterised as "one nation, two states," suffered a setback following the normalisation process between Turkey and Armenia, as Baku feared it would lose a key point of leverage in its dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
But with the Armenian peace process stalled, Baku and Ankara turned to each other again last year aiming to boost trade and political ties. During his visit this week, Erdogan reiterated that Turkey would not open its border with Armenia until the conflict in Nagorno-Karbakh is resolved.
The countries signed a $7 billion inter-governmental agreement earlier this year to build the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, which is envisioned to carry Azeri natural gas across Turkey to Europe. The pipeline could one day include gas from Turkmenistan, a prospect discussed at Tuesday's meeting.
But despite all the statements and documents signed, Rasim Musabayov, an independent MP from Azerbaijan, told SES Türkiye the "romantic and emotional periods" of the relationship are over.
"It is time to develop a mature partnership, which is not based on only ethnic unity, but a real policy," he said.
The technical documents signed between the two governments, Musabayov said, don't "correspond well to the high status of the meeting." Agreements were signed in non-strategic areas as meteorology, measurements and agricultural seeds.
"The official highlights of the visit are not important -- there are more significant results that are not being publicised," he said, adding that the two sides discussed issues such as regional threats, security, Iran and Syria.
For Mustafa Kabakci, a governing AKP deputy and former member of the Turkey-Azerbaijan friendship group, regional security and energy co-operation are the main issues on the agenda of Ankara and Baku.
"The two issues are all are connected," he told SES Türkiye. "The solidarity and unity between our countries are very important for boosting regional stability, which of course strenthens our economic relations, especially energy co-operation."
Yet Turkey continues to push for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens as Azerbaijan hesitates to abolish visa requirements with Turkey. "Gradually both sides intent on abolishing visas but technical preparations were not finalised yet," Aliyev sadi during the meeting with Erdogan, adding that his country would make it easier for businessmen, artists and academics to visit the country.
"The visa issue is taken so emotionally in Turkey. In each and every meeting that I attend on Azerbaijan this question is raised by Turkish academicians and experts," Hasan Selim Ozertem, Eurasia analyst at the International Strategic Research Organisation, told SES Türkiye.
But for Azerbaijan, the visa issue is complicated by regional politics and the territory of Nahcivan, a non-contiguous autonomous region wedged between Turkey, Iran and Armenia.
Azerbaijan requires visas from all countries, except some former Soviet states. Turkey and Iran, which have both lifted visas for citizens of Azerbaijan, are asking for reciprocity.
"The main problem here is the position of Iran," explained Musabayov.
As a secular, Shi'a country with ethnic brethren in Iran, Azerbaijan has reservations regarding Iran's regional policy, but also needs Iran to maintain indirect land access to Nahcivan. Granting visa-free access to Turkish citizens, would require a similar visa-free regime with Iran.
"If we sign an agreement with Ankara and not with Iran, then Iran could prevent access to Nahcivan through Iranian territory," Musabayov explained.
For Ozertem, "this is a fair reason," but not enough to convince Turkish citizens and businessesmen who would like easier access to Azerbaijan.