As Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited the US on April 12 to discuss regional security matters, including the Turkish-Armenian protocols and the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, the Azeri government stepped up its efforts to lobby Ankara. On April 1, a large Azeri delegation, headed by the Chief of the Presidential Administration, Ramiz Mehtiyev, visited Ankara to hold meetings with Turkish officials. Mehtiyev, one of the most influential politicians in the country and simultaneously the Secretary of the National Security Council, rarely makes foreign visits. On April 2, the opposition daily, Yeni Musavat, suggested that the involvement of “such a heavy-weight actor,” in negotiations between Ankara and Baku really shows the intensity and urgency of the issue.
Mehtiyev met, among many other officials, Prime Minister Erdogan, the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, Ali Shahin, Chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee, Murad Merjan, Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, Secretary of National Security Council, Serdar Kilich, and delivered a presentation at the Gazi University (Azertaj News Agency, April 2). Both Azeri and Turkish officials stressed the importance of maintaining high-level strategic relations between the two countries and stressed the necessity to link the resolution of the Karabakh conflict to the ratification of the Turkish-Armenian protocols. “Perhaps the most important result of my visit is that Prime Minister Erdogan once again reinforced his promise that Turkey will not ratify the protocols prior to the liberation of occupied territories of Azerbaijan by Armenia,” said Mehtiyev in an interview with Azerbaijan Public TV on April 4. Coincidently, the visit took place during the same week that Azeris commemorated the occupation of the Kalbajar region in 1993 by Armenian military forces, after which Turkey closed the border with Armenia and refused to establish diplomatic relations with that country.
Meanwhile, various media outlets in Azerbaijan and Turkey have reported a possible breakthrough on the issue of the Turkish-Armenian protocols. As Armenian President, Serj Sargsyan, was also invited to Washington to attend the same conference as Prime Minister Erdogan, prompting speculation that the two leaders will meet in the US capital. Reportedly Washington is lobbying both countries hard in order to secure progress on the Zurich protocols. If this is achieved, the US Administration will have an excuse not to recognize the events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire as “genocide,” and thus avoid damaging the already difficult relations between the US and its key Middle East and NATO ally-Turkey.
Yeni Musavat reported on April 4 that the Washington-based Heritage Foundation analyst, Ariel Cohen, indicated that a new road map between Turkey and Armenia might be signed. Ali Hasanov, the Head of the Azeri Presidential Administration’s Political Department, confirmed that Prime Minister Erdogan will discuss the Karabakh conflict with the US leadership, including President, Barack Obama. “This is a game in which there are hidden powers, trying to pressure Turkey. The Turkish government is determined and we are standing together with them on this issue. Peace in the South Caucasus depends on the resolution of the Karabakh conflict and the restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity,” concluded Hasanov (www.day.az, April 4).
Prime Minister Erdogan, in his televised speech, expressed dissatisfaction with the recent resolutions in the US Congress and Swedish Parliament regarding the events of 1915 and evaluated them as attempts to pressurize Ankara. “Turkey is not the kind of country, which you can pressure with such acts,” said Erdogan. It is expected that the Turkish leadership will once again adhere to its original position to link the normalization of bilateral ties and the Turkish-Armenian protocols to achieving significant progress on the Karabakh conflict. Other media outlets in Baku suggested that Ankara might ask for a postponement of the parliamentary ratification of the protocols, citing the tense political situation in Turkey due to the constitutional reform attempts by the ruling party.
In any case, should Turkey withstand pressure from the Obama administration, its image in Azerbaijan will once again reach high and trustworthy levels. This, in turn, might affect the negotiations over the transit of Azeri gas to Turkey and afterwards to EU through the proposed Nabucco pipeline, a key factor in promoting European energy security. The time to make a decision on this pipeline is narrowing and some sort of breakthrough must be secured in 2010.