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August 28, 2011, Sunday

The missing sixth flag at the Baku Turkish Martyrs’ Memorial

On Oct 10, 2009, at a meeting in Zurich, Turkey and Armenia agreed to a protocol that would normalize their bilateral relations. The process of normalization, known as soccer diplomacy, began four days after the Zurich accords at a soccer game between the Turkish and Armenian national squads in Bursa on Oct 14, 2009, and did not satisfy the parties involved, including Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Turkey and Azerbaijan couldn't entirely get past a crisis caused by the decision not to allow Azeri flags in the stadium during the game. The day after the game, the Turkish Martyrdom Mosque in Baku was shut down. The Turkish flags at the Baku Turkish Martyrs' Memorial were lowered by a decision of the governor of Baku. Ten of the original 12 flags at the memorial (six Turkish and six Azeri), representing the five burial sites of Turkish martyrs in Baku (Şeki, Şamahı, Maştafa, Göyçay and Neftçala), with the exception of the one representing the Turkish Martyrs' Memorial itself, were reinstated just prior to the official visit of the Turkish parliamentary commission chair Murat Mercan to Azerbaijan on Oct 27, 2009. However, the two flags (one Azeri and one Turkish) representing the Baku Turkish Martyrs' Memorial, remained down despite Ankara's efforts.

Azerbaijan has some expectations of Turkey. It wants Turkey not to establish diplomatic ties with Armenia as long as the Armenian occupation in Nagorno-Karabakh persists, not to open the border gates between Turkey and Armenia and not to ratify the protocols. In addition, Baku expects Turkey to stand against criticisms from the OSCE and the Council of Europe of the democratization efforts in Azerbaijan. The Azeri administration further wants Turkey's support for its campaign against Armenia, as part of which it claims that genocide has been committed against Azeri people in Hojali. Baku has asked the Turkish parliament to define the massacre in that city as a crime against humanity.

Turkey supports a solution for the Nagorno-Karabakh issue consistent with the preservation of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. To this end, it favors a peaceful resolution and settlement based on dialogue between the parties involved. Turkey also extends support to the negotiation process as a member of the Minsk Group set up under the auspices of the OSCE for the settlement of the dispute. It maintains close contact with the US, France and the Russian Federation, which serve as the co-chairs of the Minsk Group.

Ankara's current position suggests that resumption of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia and opening of the border gates depends on the withdrawal of the Armenian troops from Azeri territories. However, the unconditional support that Ankara extends to Azerbaijan is not appreciated by Baku. The Azeri administration fails to make a sufficient contribution to improving the relationship between the two countries. Baku does not care about the probable repercussions and costs associated with the recognition of their genocide allegations or the positive contribution the normalization of Turkey and Armenia's relationship would make to the attainment of its goals.

We need to point out the flaws in the approaches of both Ankara and Baku, but we cannot possibly devise new policies by blaming either Ankara or Baku. Even though they are both victimized by Yerevan's policies, Ankara and Baku did not draft a common policy on Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora. They have not considered the creation of a joint research institute focusing on the development of common policies and strategies. They have not held joint meetings or workshops on a periodical basis. No solution to the problems between Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia will be reached if all parties remain silent and inactive. We need movement toward a lasting peace in the South Caucasus.

It would be a good start to reinstate the missing sixth flag at the Baku Turkish Martyrs' Memorial, which was lowered prior to the initial meeting of the Turkish-Azeri High Level Strategic Council, as the first step toward a new era in the relationship between the two brother nations.

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