Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev visited Turkey on November 5 and 6 as his first official trip abroad since reelection, underscoring the two countries’ special relationship. While traditional, that relationship has evolved substantially during Ilham Aliyev’s presidency and is no longer asymmetrical. As he remarked during his visit to Ankara, “Turkey supported Azerbaijan during hard times, but in the meantime Azerbaijan has become stronger and is contributing fully to the bilateral relationship” (www.day.az via ANS-Press, November 6).
Aliyev and Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov synchronized watches with their Turkish counterparts with regard to accelerating talks on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and follow-up negotiations.
In statements issued during Aliyev’s visit, Turkish President Abdullah Gul and the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed, apparently without reservations, the Moscow Declaration of November 2 about a settlement of the Karabakh conflict signed by Aliyev, Armenian President Serge Sarkisian, and their host Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (see EDM, November 4). According to the two Turkish statements, the Moscow Declaration fits in well with Turkey’s vision about resolving that conflict peacefully, on the basis of international law and direct high-level dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia. As a member of the OSCE’s Minsk Group, which is mandated to provide a framework for negotiations in that conflict, Turkey will continue to work with both parties toward a solution. According to both Turkish statements, the “Platform for Security and Stability in the Caucasus”—a concept that Ankara outlined in mid-August, prompted in part by Russia’s invasion of Georgia—is consistent with the Moscow Declaration and can also be used as a basis for negotiations in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict (Anatolia News Agency, November 5; Turkish Daily News, November 6).
Aliyev’s comments on the Moscow Declaration were more nuanced but on the whole positive. He described it as a good basis for continuing negotiations, drawing attention to the document’s salient points from Azerbaijan’s perspective. The declaration makes reference to a stage-by-stage political settlement; and it endorses past and recent resolutions on that conflict by international organizations, adopted in compliance with international legal norms (an allusion to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and inviolability of its internationally recognized borders). Aliyev made clear, however, what stage-by-stage must signify: First, withdrawal of “occupation forces from Azerbaijani territories” and the return to their homes there of Azerbaijani citizens who were forced to flee. Afterward, the status of Karabakh should be discussed, proceeding in any case from Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
By the same token Aliyev underscored that “Implementation of any region-wide project, political or economic, is impossible without our participation and consent. Energy and transportation projects, important for the region and the world, are being implemented at our initiative.” This is an indirect answer to those who advise, urge, and occasionally pressure Azerbaijan to include Armenia in such project, while the occupation of Azerbaijani territories continues and the ethnic cleansing has yet to be reversed. Aliyev made these points in his address to Turkey’s Grand National Assembly (parliament) and in other remarks delivered during the visit (ANS, APA, November 6).
During Aliyev’s visit, Gul stated that “energy and transportation projects are open to the entire region and can bring peace and stability” (Anatolia News Agency, November 5; Turkish Daily News, November 6). At the public level it did not seem fully clear whether Gul had in mind a sequenced process, whereby Armenia could be included in those projects after, not before, meeting the criteria of a good-neighborly relationship with Azerbaijan and Turkey.
In its November 7 issue, the Ankara newspaper Today’s Zaman, which is close to circles in the governing AKP party, cited “diplomatic sources” as saying that Gul intended to host a tripartite summit with the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents, theoretically by early April. Other Turkish media sources added to that version. The agenda of such a summit would, like the Moscow summit of November 2, focus on the Karabakh conflict but would not be confined to that. The time and venue of such an event would be coordinated with Yerevan.
That same day, however, Sarkisian turned down the idea. He argued that Turkey could not be a mediator because it was not a co-chair of the 12-country Minsk Group. Under the Moscow Declaration, the Group’s co-chairs (Russia, the United States, and France), not the other member countries, shall act as mediators. Apparently backtracking, Turkey’s MFA announced through a spokesman that Turkey would welcome visits by the presidents of both Armenia and Azerbaijan but at this time was not trying to arrange a tripartite summit (Today’s Zaman, November 7; Arminfo, PanArmenianNet, Anatolia News Agency, November 7, 8).
On November 7 back in Baku, Aliyev received the Turkish Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Ilker Basbug, to discuss continuing military cooperation, building on the successes achieved (AzerTaj, November 7). Alluding to the Georgia crisis, Azerbaijan Defense Minister General Safar Abiyev noted during Basbug’s visit that ongoing developments in the region made bilateral Azerbaijan-Turkey relations even more necessary than before.