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Does Azerbaijan follow ’one nation-two states’ concept?

Political party leaders hold parliamentary group meetings on Tuesdays. Owing to the Political Parties Law, as one of the by-products of the Constitution prepared during the Sept. 12 military coup in Turkey, the parliamentarian system is being shaped by polemics among "little Führer" party leaders, so to speak. Tuesdays are usually considered "special days of tension" in "Turkish political life."

This Tuesday was not an exception. The Azerbaijan-Armenia issue was another topic of polemics. Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Deniz Baykal said ongoing Turkey-Armenian talks are the biggest diplomacy mistake of the Republic’s history. He made a call to President Abdullah Gül: "He should go to Baku immediately and meet İlham Aliyev. He should clear-up misunderstandings, if any. Turkey cannot hold back the attention shown to Somali and Bahrain from Azerbaijan."

It is debatable if "Turkey-Armenia talks are the biggest diplomacy mistake of the Republic’s history," but it is surely beyond dispute that Baykal’s remarks were "just a plain example of demagogy." Prime Minister and the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made some remarks on the subject. Since he has not criticized Azerbaijan to date, Erdoğan’s "new" remarks the other day were quite interesting.

"A very sensitive issue for Turkey is being turned into a matter of exploitation. Some people are trying to benefit out of it. Here, the Azeris’ attitude is also wrong. In every meeting we have attended so far, we have backed Azerbaijan. We have considered them more than they can consider themselves. We have never left them alone. People talking here and there are making a mistake. But this will not help anyone," said Erdoğan.

He was right.

***

The latest developments proved that I was right. Azeri President İlham Aliyev, turning his back to Turkey and not participating in the "Alliance of Civilization" forum in Istanbul on April 6, paid a visit to Moscow on April 16-17. The "natural gas" card is one of the most important strategic cards Azerbaijan has in hand.

And Azeris have shown that they could play it against Turkey and the West. Aliyev said in the joint news conference held April 17 with his Russian counterpart Demitry Medvedev that he didn’t see anything wrong with selling Azeri gas to Russia. Experts signal what Aliyev meant by that is the Shahdeniz-2 project with annual 14-16 billion cubic meter gas production capacity may be shifted to Russia. Aliyev also said Azerbaijan may increase the amount of crude oil being sent to the Baku-Novorossisk.

In advance of Aliyev’s Moscow trip, some Azeri commentators and strategy experts said if Turkey doesn’t consider Baku’s interest in Turkey-Armenia normalization talks, Aliyev can take steps to offset the "current geopolitical and economic balances" in the South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan is concerned about the possibility of Turkey lifting economic sanctions over Armenia; in other words opening the land border between Turkey and Armenia, which has been closed since 1993. In fact, Aliyev in his address at the Azeri National Security Council said that they were following possible geopolitical changes in the region and would take necessary measures. He also said Azeris are entitled to exercise their right to determine their own policy in the face of an emerging new condition in the region and that they wouldn’t hesitate to use this right.

A political analyst Rasim Musabekov in Baku stressed that Aliyev was not bluffing and Baku can make a radical turn. Musabekov was also quoted by the Turan News Agency on April 7 as saying Aliyev’s phone call to Medvedev was not a coincidence while U.S. President Barack Obama was in a meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gül. In the meantime, following the Aliyev-Medvedev meeting, the Turan news agency again quoted Nevruz Mammedov of the Azerbaijani presidential foreign policy department as saying selling Azeri natural gas to Russia and Iran may set an alternative to the Nabucco Project backed by the West. And if the countries partnered in Nabucco make no move, Azerbaijan would have left no chance but to consider its own interests.

No one can object any of these. Azerbaijan will surely protect its national interest. Then what is the point behind the "one nation, two states" slogan? If in the eyes of Azerbaijani administrators, the national interests of Azerbaijan do not overlap with those of Turkey, can we defend that Turkey has its own interests but they most certainly should be in line with Azeris’?

***

Turkey has always watched out Azerbaijan’s interests and adjusted its own interests accordingly, even if contradictions existed at times. Gül visited Baku immediately after visiting the Armenian capital of Yerevan on Sept. 6. You cannot count how many times Erdoğan made a trip to Baku and Aliyev to Turkey. That is to say there is nothing for the Azeri administration should necessarily know about Turkey-Armenian rapprochement that is surprising to them.

What happened then?

What happened was that Russia became involved in the equation. Azerbaijan has decided to flirt with Russia in order to make progress in its relations with Armenia.

That is possible. But this doesn’t mean Turkey has made a mistake against Azerbaijan. However, we can surely say the opposite.

It’s been claimed that Aliyev asked Russia to pressure Armenians to evacuate the Armenian-occupied Azeri territory in exchange of transferring Azeri gas to Russia, and this is the reason behind the close-up between Azerbaijan and Russia. If Azerbaijan succeeded at this, however, is doubtful. Russian columnist Rauf Mirkalov of the Zerkalo (Mirror), a Russian daily, wrote, in Karabakh Russia wants a solution completely under its control. Or in other words, Russia asks to have a Russian peace force in the region in dispute. But neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia is ready to accept this. According to Vefa Gülizade, who has been an adviser for many Azeri state heads, unless there is an agreement over the final status of Karabakh, any progress in this issue is unlikely.

Matt Bryza, U.S. representative in the Minsk group, announced that Aliyev and Armenian President Serge Sarkisian are examining this mutually painful agreement in order to make a progress in the Karabakh issue and that the "real" progress would be made a few weeks later, according to Voice of America on April 17.

On May 7, the Aliyev-Sarkisian summit will be held in the Czech capital Prague. Azeri and Armenian state heads will be getting together for the third time in a year. We’ll see the developments afterward.

To follow them without panicking is beneficial. And pressuring Turkey unfairly on the Azeri issue is useless.
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