Azerbaijan says visa-free regime with Turkey fell victim to Iranian pressure
A senior Azerbaijani official has said a visa-free travel regime proposed by Turkey in 2009 had fallen victim to Iranian pressure on Azerbaijan, prompting the last minute cancellation of the deal between Baku and Ankara.
Ali Hasanov, head of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration's Social and Political Department, told a group of Turkish reporters in Baku on Monday that Iran had threatened to cut off the critical supply line between Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic if Azerbaijan lifted visas requirements for Turks but not for Iranians.
“We do not have any concern with lifting visa requirements for Turks,” Hasanov said, adding, however, that “Iran strongly objected to that. They [Iranians] issued a threat to block the corridor linking Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan.”
Currently, the land transport connection to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with the rest of Azerbaijan is ensured only through the territory of Iran because of the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nakhchivan receives most supplies, including gas, trade and other services, from Azerbaijan via the Iranian route.
“If we waive the visas, we have to do it for both Turkey and Iran simultaneously. But I do not think the Azerbaijani government is prepared to undertake the visa-free regime with both countries at this time,” Hasanov explained. He said much of the concern focuses on the Iranian border, which, he said, is subject to heavy drug trafficking.
“About 300 tons of drugs make their way from Iran to Azerbaijan en route to Europe. We seize only five to 10 tons of these drugs, while the rest go undetected,” he said, complaining about the problems the illicit drugs create among Azerbaijani youth.
Last year Iran allowed visa-free travel for Azerbaijani citizens for one-month stays and began exerting pressure to get the same treatment for Iran. Azerbaijanis mostly travel to Iran for commerce with both Iranian merchants as well as their ethnic brethren in Nakhchivan.
Hasanov signaled that the national interests of Azerbaijan do not allow for an open-border policy with a big neighbor such as Iran.
“The political instability in Iran may trigger a huge influx of refugees to our side of the border. As you know, we are a small country, and we have to think of our national security,” he explained.
Thirty million ethnic Azeris live in Iran.
Although Hasanov did not mention them during the interview with Turkish reporters, other considerations may also play a factor in Azerbaijan's decision not to lift visa requirements for Iranians, analysts here in Baku argue.
The covert activity of Iranian intelligence services in Azerbaijan has been a source of concern for some time to Azerbaijanis, who suspect Iran of supporting radical Islamic political movements in Azerbaijan. According to intelligence gathering website STRATFOR, Iran has politically and financially supported the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (AIP), a pro-Iranian and religious Shiite opposition party officially banned by Baku. The leader of the AIP, Movsum Samadov, has called for the overthrow of the Azerbaijani government.
Tehran's close relations with landlocked Armenia and its continued business in supplying goods and energy needs upset Azerbaijanis as well, delaying any decisions to waive visa requirements for Iranian citizens.
The deal to lift the visas on a mutual basis with Turkey was almost finalized in 2009. The Turkish Foreign Ministry even announced that the official signing ceremony would be held during a December 2009 visit to Ankara by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. Despite widespread expectations, the visa exemption was not finalized during the visit. At the time, when asked for an explanation, Mammadyarov briefly said it was because the Azerbaijanis had yet to complete the relevant bureaucratic proceedings, although the Turkish side had.
Hasanov's disclosure of the behind-the-scenes politics concerning the last minute cancellation finally shed light on the main motivation for suspending the visa-free regime with Turkey. It appears Iran intervened in a last ditch attempt, asking for the same deal for Tehran and threatening to suffocate Nakhchivan if it was rejected. Azerbaijan had no choice at the time but to cave in to Iranian pressure.
- Berlin remains mostly silent about spying on Turkey
- CHP submits parliamentary question on German spying scandal
- Turkey may send floating power station to Gaza
- Palestinians fleeing Syria take shelter in Turkey
- CHP: AK Party should take UNSC decision on IS seriously
- CHP's Tanrıkulu says Turkey gave its Mosul consulate to IS
- IS seizes Turkmen towns in Syria, parades beheaded bodies in streets
- Wounded Palestinian transferred to Turkey for treatment dies
- No word on Turkish hostages, Davutoğlu eyes Prime Ministry
- Israel: Coup attempt in West Bank planned by Hamas official in Turkey
- Turkey seeks satisfactory explanation over Germany spying scandal
- Armenian man shoots at Turkish Embassy building in Moscow
- Fire at Syrian refugee residences in Ankara
- Fire breaks out at 3 Syrian refugee residences
- UN resolution a reminder for tougher action against IS
- Turkey to launch investigation of German eavesdropping scandal
- Long flight from militants leads Iraqi Turkmens to Baghdad
- Yazidis transferred to refugee camp in Turkey
- Syrian refugee crisis grows as protests continue in Gaziantep
- Erdoğan's ‘New Turkey' may move further from EU, say analysts
- German media says Berlin spies on NATO ally Turkey
- Turkmens frustrated with being left to help themselves
- 'Inner peace vital to spark int'l harmony'
- 7,800 Syrians in Gaziantep to be sent to camps, governor says
- Displaced Iraqi Turkmens escape fighting, but not hardship
- Erdoğan to pay first visit as president to Cyprus, Azerbaijan
- Davutoğlu calls Yazidi deputy, expresses Turkey's support
- CHP's Tanrıkulu: Government's silence means approval of IS massacre
- Turkey builds refugee camp for Yazidis in Iraq
- Erdoğan: Turkey to bring more Gazans if Israel allows
- 3 French citizens captured on Turkey's Syrian border
- Obama finally calls Erdoğan, praises his ‘unity' message on poll day
- FM says NY Times reporter injured in Iraq accident brought to Turkey
- Report: IS has Turkey to thank for its success
- Daily: Yazidi children without passport not allowed to enter Turkey
- Erdoğan and opposition in tense letter exchange with US
- Turkey condemns killing of 14 Yemeni soldiers
- 3 Turks kidnapped in Libya freed after more than 40 days in captivity
- 'Kurdish forces and others aiding refugee escape from Iraqi mountain'
- US notes OSCE's concerns on presidential election
- Report: Germany's CSU says Erdoğan's Turkey has no place in EU