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August 22, 2011, Monday

Turkey-Azerbaijan: cooperation on a legal basis

A new era has begun for Turkish-Azerbaijani relations.

The agreement on strategic partnership and mutual assistance, signed during Turkish President Abdullah Gül's visit to Baku between Aug.16 and 17, 2010; the joint declaration by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at the 10th Summit of Turkic-Speaking Countries held between Sept. 15 and 16, 2010 concerning the establishment of a High Level Strategic Council between Turkey and Azerbaijan; and the mutual decision taken during Erdoğan's visit to Baku on July 27, 2011 to hold the first meeting of the Turkish-Azerbaijani High Level Strategic Council in Ankara can be seen as signs of the new era in Turkish-Azerbaijani relations. The council is expected to eliminate the chronic hitches between the two countries and take further steps.


Now, a legal basis of Turkish-Azerbaijani relationships needs to be established in line with European Union norms. The “one-nation-two-states” discourse should be supported with “legal partnership” policies. A Peruvian or a Chilean can acquire citizenship of Spain, which is an EU member, if he legally works in Spain for one year. The social security costs of an Australian or New Zealander who legally works in the UK is covered by the UK. However, an Azerbaijani is treated as an illegal worker even if he lives in Turkey for 20 years. This clearly does not fit in with the concept of brotherhood. Bringing together leaders and delivering speeches on brotherhood is not enough. Cooperation on a legal basis is needed, instead.


Although economic relations between the two countries have made some progress, it has still not reached the desirable level. Now, Turkey is Azerbaijan's sixth biggest foreign trade partner. The foreign trade volume between the two countries is $2.42 billion. Out of this figure, Turkey's imports amount to $1.551 billion while its exports are worth $ 865.1 million. In addition, Turkish citizens rank first among foreigners who make direct investments in Azerbaijan. Roughly 600 Turkish companies in Azerbaijan have made investments in Azerbaijan worth $3 billion. Adding the energy sector to this calculation, we get $6 billion worth of Turkish investments in Azerbaijan. Turkish companies in Azerbaijan provide employment opportunities for 50,000 Azerbaijanis and they are active in the telecommunications, banking/insurance, transportation, foodstuff, textiles, education, furniture and construction materials sectors. Out of the overall Azerbaijani investments across the world totaling $3 billion, Turkey grabs the lion's share with $2.5 billion.


The two countries are cooperating on major regional projects in the field of energy and transportation such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE) natural gas pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway project. Moreover, talks concerning the transfer of Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe via Turkey and the pricing of this natural gas are under way with the participation of related companies. There are about 15,000 Turkish citizens in Azerbaijan. Around 4,500 of them are students. The number of Azerbaijani citizens living in Turkey is estimated to be around 20,000. Azerbaijan is planning to open up its third consulate in İzmir after İstanbul and Kars. Another is expected to be built in Antalya.


With his positive and constructive personality, Azerbaijan's Ankara Embassy undersecretary, İtibar Memmedov, is one of the hidden heroes behind the improvement of Turkish-Azerbaijani ties. Memmedov is an experienced diplomat who has been serving in Ankara since the Soviet period; however he returned to Baku as of yesterday. He loves Turkey very much. Baku should be proud of this experienced diplomat. Ankara will miss him deeply.

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