Ultranationalists concerned over fragile Turkish-Azerbaijani ties

A group affiliated with the Turkish Youth Union protested against US President Barack Obama's visit to Turkey at a demonstration in İstanbul's Taksim Square.

April 09, 2009, Thursday/ 17:30:00
Ultranationalist politicians and columnists have expressed concern that recent visits by US President Barack Obama and Armenian officials to Turkey may damage the historic ties between Turkey and Azerbaijan, after the president of Azerbaijan stated that he was disappointed by Turkey's moves to normalize its relations with Armenia.

The recent rift between Turkey and Azerbaijan became evident when Turkey invited Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian to the second forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) held in İstanbul earlier this week. Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev refused to attend the event and sent a low-level delegation instead. Ultranationalist circles in Turkey interpreted Azerbaijan's move as a harsh challenge, claiming that the Turkish government had made a historic mistake when it sided with Armenia and left its centuries-old ally, Azerbaijan, out in the cold.

"When we consider what we've experienced in the past few days, we'll see that the brotherhood between Turkey and Azerbaijan has received a serious blow. The refusal of Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev to attend the UNAOC meeting is the most concrete proof of it. Furthermore, [US President Barack] Obama passed the ball to Turkey when he advised us to solve our problems with Armenia ourselves [during his speech in Parliament on Monday]. Now, it's time to ask ourselves: What advantage did we gain from all this?" said Abdullah Özdoğan, a columnist from ultranationalist daily Yeniçağ.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in response to Armenia's occupation of the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. For years Ankara has insisted that normalization of relations depends on Armenia's withdrawal from Azerbaijani territory, as well as a reversal of Armenia's policy of supporting efforts to win international recognition of Armenian genocide claims. With growing signs of a thaw in the relations between Turkey and Armenia after years of hostility, the chances of Ankara reopening the border have significantly improved. Azerbaijan, however, does not welcome the prospect of the border being reopened.

Orhan Karataş, a columnist at another ultranationalist daily, Orta Doğu, accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of cooperating with Armenia with the ultimate purpose of recognizing the Armenian claims that incidents of 1915 constituted genocide.

"Will the recognition of Armenian claims be to the benefit of Turkey? ... Why are you hiding the fact that we are about to lose the brotherhood of Azerbaijan as you applaud Armenian smears?" Karataş asked.

Armenia claims that the killings of nearly 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 were genocide, while Turkey argues that hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Turks died during an upheaval during World War I, denying that the incidents constituted genocide.

A group affiliated with the Turkish Youth Union protested against US President Barack Obama's visit to Turkey at a demonstration in İstanbul's Taksim Square.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) officials expressed concern that Obama's visit to Turkey may have further deepened disappointment in Azerbaijan, which was already uneasy about the invitation of Nalbandian to the second forum of the UNAOC in İstanbul.

"Armenia, one of the greatest obstacles to regional peace, currently occupies nearly one-fifth of Azerbaijan territory. In addition, it is pursuing a graceless campaign in the international arena to declare Turkey guilty of genocide. Pretending as though such realities did not exist at all, the US president invited Turkey to face to its own history during his speech in Parliament. This is an act of disrespect that we cannot accept," stated MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli during his party's parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday.

Armenian officials, however, have assured Turkey on various occasions that ongoing talks to normalize relations with Turkey have no links to Armenia's conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, dropping hints that Azerbaijan need not be worried that the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia would damage its ties with its historic ally.

"The normalization of relations has no connection to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and has never been a subject of negotiations toward the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations," Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian said in a statement released last Sunday. The statement was a response to Turkish leaders' recent remarks that progress in the normalization of relations with Armenia also depended on progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

Some analysts, however, do not agree that the relationship between Turkey and Azerbaijan is so fragile as to be damaged by a visit by an Armenian or US official.

"I don't think ultranationalists are right to show a strong reaction against progress between Turkey and Armenia. The rift between Armenia and Azerbaijan was ignited by Russia, and several circles tried to drag Turkey into the crisis. With hostile comments on the thawing of the ice between Turkey and Armenia, ultranationalists are attempting to place Turkey in an even more difficult position, which will serve only to the benefit of Russia," stated Mahir Kaynak, a terror and intelligence specialist.

Sabah daily's Emre Aköz also argued that a strong reaction against visits by the US president and Armenian officials stemmed from the fact that those opposing these visits were against Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

"Who are the actors who are disturbed by Obama's speech? They are, of course, those who favor a nationalist discourse in politics. Among these are the Republican People's Party [CHP] administration, the whole of the MHP, the majority of the Felicity Party [SP] and the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] and a considerable portion of the National Intelligence Organization [MİT]. ... As Obama begins to implement his policies, these circles will make a great fuss and try to influence as many people as they can," Aköz remarked.

Milliyet daily's Taha Akyol expressed a strong desire to see the border between Turkey and Armenia reopened -- provided that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is resolved.

"I favor the idea of reopening the hearts, doors and windows between Turkey and Armenia. But the main condition for this is that all sides should reach a solution that Azerbaijan can accept. Otherwise, the current deadlock in the region will continue and the security and the energy strategy in the Caucasus will receive a serious blow, which will cause great damage to the United States," he noted.

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