Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday for talks to further bolster bilateral relations, predominantly in economic ties and the natural gas trade, with Azerbaijan.
Speaking to reporters before his departure to Azerbaijan, Erdoğan said cooperation on energy was the most strategic dimension of the relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan, which he said were characterized by a shared culture, language and history.
“Turkey and Azerbaijan are two ethnic kin nations, two friendly countries. Our cooperation based on joint cultural, linguistic and historical relations will continue to strengthen due to cooperation through [bilateral and multilateral] energy projects,” Erdoğan said at the Ankara Esenboğa Airport.
Erdoğan is on a two-day visit to Azerbaijan upon the invitation of Azerbaijan's president to participate in the second meeting of the Turkey-Azerbaijan High Level Strategic Cooperation Council. Talks will focus on energy ties, particularly on the planned Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline. The two countries agreed in June to build the pipeline, transporting Azerbaijani gas through Turkey to Europe. The Trans-Anatolian pipeline, planned to have an initial capacity of 16 billion cubic meters a year, is expected to cost $7 billion. The construction is set to start in 2014, and is estimated to be completed by 2018.
The first meeting of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council between Turkey and Azerbaijan was held in İzmir on Oct. 25, 2011, a material and momentous move towards a Turkey-Azerbaijan strategic partnership and mutual assistance.
President Aliyev and his spouse, Mehriban Aliyeva, personally welcomed Erdoğan and his wife, Emine, and the accompanying delegation at the Gabala Airport in Azerbaijan.
Before the launch of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council, Turkish and Azerbaijani leaders came together in the city of Gabala to discuss bilateral relations at different levels. After the meeting, delegations from the two countries held a joint cabinet meeting to discuss ways to improve bilateral cooperation on political, military and defense areas.
Following the meetings of the delegations, cooperation agreements were signed in the energy, transportation, trade and media sectors between the two countries.
Erdoğan is accompanied by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communication Minister Binali Yıldırım, as well as Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group deputy chairman Mustafa Elitaş and AK Party Deputy Chairman Ömer Çelik on his visit to Azerbaijan.
Erdoğan's visit comes amid heightened tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia after Azerbaijan gave a hero's welcome last month to a soldier, Ramil Safarov, convicted of killing an Armenian during a NATO course in 2004.
Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia are already high over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Sporadic firefights have intensified along the frontline around the region, a mountainous enclave within Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus controlled by ethnic Armenians since a war in the early 1990s that killed about 30,000 people.
Azerbaijan has recently stepped up threats to take the region back and Armenia says it would not stand aside if the enclave it helped establish was attacked. Analysts warn a war could draw in Turkey and Russia as well. Armenia has a collective security agreement with its regional ally Russia, while Azerbaijan has one with Turkey, itself a member of NATO for which an attack on one member state is an attack on all 28.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of a "much broader conflict" when she visited Armenia in June and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Friday he was "deeply concerned" by the Azerbaijani soldier's pardon last month.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have more powerful weapons than two decades ago and if pipelines taking Azerbaijani oil and gas to Europe via Turkey or Armenia's nuclear power station are threatened, war could spread.
Relations between Turkey and Armenia were strained after Turkey closed its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Turkey also rejects Armenia's insistence that Ankara should recognize the killing of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey during World War I as genocide.
PM Erdoğan due to visit Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Following his visit to Azerbaijan, Erdoğan is also scheduled to visit Ukraine as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. Speaking in Ankara, Erdoğan said the people he is going to meet in Ukraine would focus on devising ways to boost relations further, adding that he would meet with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych during a session of the Turkey-Ukraine High Level Strategic Cooperation Council on Thursday.
The Turkish prime minister said he would also address the ninth edition of the Yalta European Strategy (YES) -- an international network that promotes Ukraine's European integration -- as the event's guest of honor.
Erdoğan will proceed to Bosnia and Herzegovina to receive an award granted in the name of Ottoman statesman Isa-Beg Ishakovic, and he will also meet with Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.