Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is en route to Azerbaijan to reassure its leaders that Ankara will continue championing Baku’s interests at the negotiating table with Yerevan, reported the Tukish Hurriyet Daily Newspaper.
According to Hurriyet, Erdogan’s visit to Baku is aimed at “eradicating misunderstandings and misperceptions” over Turkey’s policies. The Prime Minister told reporters before his departure that Azeri interests remain a priority for Ankara. Turkish media has been reporting that the Yerevan-Ankara thaw has “disturbed” and “angered” Azerbaijan, which sees the opening of the border as a threat to its national interests.
Some reports have also suggested that Azerbaijan may halt sale of its natural gas to Turkey if a deal is signed without Azerbaijan’s interests represented. Armenia and Turkey began talks to establish diplomatic relations last September when Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian met with his Turkish Counterpart Abdullah Gul on the sidelines of a soccer match between their national teams in Yerevan. On April 22 they unexpectedly announced a “roadmap” to normalizing their ties and opening their borders.
The negotiations initially began with an understanding that the eventual normalization of relations would not hinge on any Turkish demands or preconditions on Armenia. But Ankara had made no secret of its hopes that the dramatic rapprochement with Yerevan would not only scuttle US recognition of the Armenian Genocide, but also earn Turkey a role in the Karabakh peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan and mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group.
The “roadmap” was announced just two days before US President Obama was expected to recognize the Armenian Genocide in a statement on the 94th anniversary of the crime. The US swiftly welcomed the announcement and Obama deferred US recognition, opting instead to support the ongoing Turkey-Armenia dialogue. Yerevan’s conduct in the talks is partly to blame for Obama reneging on his promise, according to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), which exited the Armenian government late April over Sarkisian’s conciliatory policy on Turkey.
The ARF, had repeatedly urged the President to be cautious in the rapprochement with Turkey, warning that Ankara was using the talks to influence the Karabakh peace process and scuttle international recognition of the Armenian genocide. Erdogan’s visit to Baku will comes less than a week after Sarkisian met with Gul in Prague, where he told reporters that Armenia and Turkey have agreed to honor their agreements and move toward normalizing relations “without preconditions and within reasonable time frames.”
The Turkish premier meanwhile sounded a different tune on Tuesday when speaking to reporters before his flight to Baku.”Nobody should have the slightest doubt that Turkey will continue to defend Azerbaijan’s interests as it has done so far,” he said, pledging to defend Azeri interests during negotiations with Armenia. “Our relations are strong and based on a culture of fraternity.” Sarkisian’s assurances that negotiations are proceeding without preconditions stand in contrast to Ankara’s continued insistence that relations are conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict favoring Azerbaijan and an end to the campaign for international recognition of the Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Turkish government between 1915-1923.
Erdogan, as well as Turkey’s powerful military and National Security Council have all repeatedly and forcefully stated in recent weeks that Ankara will not reopen the Armenian border as long as the Karabakh dispute remains unresolved. Another precondition, once thought abandoned, is to have Yerevan agree to a joint historical commission to address the Genocide. The Turkish Prime Minister will be accompanied on his trip by several ministers, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Energy Minister Taner Yildiz. He is scheduled to meet with President Ilham Aliyev and address the Azeri parliament on Wednesday.
After his visit to Baku, Erdogan will fly to Russia for talks Saturday with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.The Kremlin, which fought a war with Pro-NATO Georgia last August, has remained unusually quiet and supportive of the Armenia-Turkey negotiations. Russia, which serves as one of the three countries mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, is reportedly pushing for a new summit between Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian in June. According to Hurriyet, the meeting, which would follow recent talks in Prague between the two leaders, will seek to formally end the conflict.