Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said on Tuesday that the development of relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan was not only important for the two countries but also for regional stability.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the end of a meeting of the Turkey-Azerbaijan High Level Strategic Cooperation Council in Gabala, Aliyev stressed that relations between the two countries have developed in all areas and will continue to advance further via new initiatives towards joint cooperation in the region.
“Today Turkish-Azerbaijani ties are not only necessary for bilateral relations but also important for the provision of peace, security and stability in the region,” Aliyev said, adding that Turkey’s support to Azerbaijan and vice versa will increase the reputation of both countries and their importance in the world.
Aliyev met with Erdoğan during his two-day visit to Azerbaijan to participate in the second meeting of the Turkey-Azerbaijan High Level Strategic Cooperation Council that aimed at bolstering bilateral relations.
Speaking about Turkey and Azerbaijan’s strategic partnership in the region, Farhad Mammadov, head of the Baku-based Strategic Research Center under the president of Azerbaijan, told Sunday’s Zaman that Turkey has always been active in the region, especially since the ‘90s after regional countries regained their independence from the Soviet Union.
“Turkey has played a fundamental role in the economic growth of Azerbaijan and Georgia and in strengthening their independent statehood. In addition, it had a key role in the realization of projects in the region,” Mammadov said, adding that those projects also fortified the bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Georgia is mainly cooperating with Azerbaijan through regional energy projects as it is of great significance in terms of Georgia’s energy security.
Echoing Mammadov, Elnur Soltanov, a political expert at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, also said Turkey is a major power and a very satisfied member of the international system in the South Caucasus.
According to Soltanov, Turkey has the most progressive political and economic institutions in the region so that “[it] is not guided by a clandestine agenda, and its foreign policy is not medieval, unlike the powers to the north and south.” In that sense, Turkey’s greater involvement cannot have a negative impact on the region, says Soltanov, even though close relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey might be considered as isolating Armenia.
“Armenia in the short term may feel a loss, but this perception will be superseded by strategic gains quite soon. … In the long run, Armenia could benefit from Turkey’s involvement in the region more than Azerbaijan and Georgia,” Soltanov told Sunday’s Zaman.
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 and relations between Turkey and Armenia became strained after Turkey closed its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. In Azerbaijan, Erdoğan once more reiterated Turkey’s position that the country will not open its borders with Armenia until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is peacefully settled.
TANAP to boost economic relations between Ankara and Baku
Bilateral economic relations and the natural gas trade, particularly the planned Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) between Turkey and Azerbaijan, were high on Erdoğan’s agenda during his two-day visit to Azerbaijan.
The two countries agreed in June to build the pipeline, transporting Azerbaijani gas to Europe via Turkey. 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.
“Economic cooperation and the trade volume between Turkey and Azerbaijan are on the rise. The Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline project has received high attention in the world,” Aliyev noted at the press conference, pointing to TANAP as an important step in reformulating the world’s energy politics.
Estimating TANAP’s role in the context of both countries’ relations, Soltanov says that to underestimate TANAP’s role in strengthening Turkish-Azerbaijan relations is impossible as “leading such a strategic and gargantuan project together will have immense positive spillover effects for decades to come.”
The TANAP project has recently opened the way for Turkmen gas to flow through the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline to Azerbaijan and later to Turkey and Europe, which not only targets to provide both Turkey’s and Europe’s energy supply but also to make Turkey a major transit hub in the region. However, analysts remain pessimistic about the actualization of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline as Turkmenistan’s involvement in the TANAP project, they agree, requires more support than Turkey and Azerbaijan can offer. Erdoğan’s visit comes only a week after senior officials from Turkey, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and the EU met in Ashgabat to discuss ways of involving the Turkmen gas into the TANAP project.