ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–Critical remarks about Turkey by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev are likely to make relations between the two neighboring countries a lot less cozy. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that Aliyev is distrustful of Turkey and tried to condition energy deals on Ankara backing away from reconciliation with Yerevan.
The much-touted idea that Turkey and Azerbaijan are “one nation, two states” may be a casualty of classified documents released Sunday by the website WikiLeaks that show relations between the two neighbors are fraught with tension.
The leaked diplomatic cables reveal that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is resentful of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation efforts and distrustful of Turkey, a lack of confidence that is known within Turkish foreign policy circles.
In one cable, Turkish Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Feridun Sinirlioglu is asked about the prospect for progress on a natural gas deal between Turkey and Azerbaijan. In his response, the Turkish diplomat implies that Aliyev is holding an agreement hostage to Ankara’s handling of the protocols between Turkey and Armenia.
“He doesn’t trust us,” Sinirlioglu is quoted as saying in the cable sent from Ankara, which deals with talks between the Turkish undersecretary and U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns held on February 18.
A separate cable sent on February 25 from the embassy in Baku quotes Aliyev as saying that if the Turks demonstrate “constructive behavior” this year, then a gas transit deal can be made. “He was clear, however, that nothing would be signed before April 24,” the cable said. April 24 is the day Armenians commemorate the Genocide.
“Azerbaijan’s resentment of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation does not come as a surprise. We knew from open information that Aliyev reacted to the government’s opening to Armenia and that this would have negative implications on the energy cooperation between the two countries,” Necdet Pamir, an energy expert, told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
In the same February 25 cable, diplomats say Aliyev confided that the real reason for Azerbaijan to sell gas to Russia was to illustrate “to ‘our Turkish friends’ that they will not be allowed to create a gas distribution hub.”
The fact that Azerbaijan sold gas to Russia as a message to Turkey was well known, Pamir said. “In this sense, the information in the cable is consistent with facts.”
The transit deal with Turkey discussed in the February 25 cable was signed in June following the suspension of the ratification of the protocols with Armenia.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Aliyev denied the claims made in the leaks and told him during a bilateral meeting Wednesday in Astana that he was very saddened about them. “Why should he [Aliyev] be against the energy lines crossing through Turkey? I told him, ‘Don’t worry, we did not believe it,’” Gul told Turkish journalists in Kazakhstan, where he is attending an international conference.
Aliyev’s rhetoric against Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) became especially bitter after Turkey signed protocols with Armenia in August 2009 to normalize relations. Although the Azerbaijani president was always careful in his public statements, he made clear his discontent about the reconciliation process, something that was often downplayed by Ankara. The cable from Baku also shows Aliyev has a strong dislike of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Aliyev made clear his distaste for the Erdogan government in Turkey, underscoring the ‘naivete’ of their foreign policy and the failure of their initiatives,” the cable read.
“The Turkish leadership might already know Aliyev’s sentiments, but knowing about them is one thing; the fact that he talks about his dislike to others is another,” said Mensur Akgun from Istanbul’s Kultur University. Though he said he thought Turkish-Azerbaijani relations would not be strained by the leaks, it said they could cause resentment among Turkish officials.
Though Aliyev expressed anger with Turkey for moving ahead to normalize relations with Yerevan without seeing progress on Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani territory under Armenian occupation, the classified documents also show that Turkey conditioned its ratification of the protocols on progress on this issue.
During his meeting with Burns, Sinirlioglu appealed for “simultaneity” between the ratification of the Armenian protocols and the efforts to solve the Karabakh conflict. “He said if something acceptable to Azerbaijani President Aliyev can be found, then ‘we can move’ the protocols forward,” the cable quotes Sinirlioglu as saying.
It is unclear, however, whether this stance by Turkey was a result of Aliyev’s negative reaction or something Ankara had pursued since the beginning of the process.
Turkey’s precondition that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict be resolved favoring Azerbaijan “was not part of the agreement and [is] not a position the U.S. supports,” then-U.S. Ambassador to Ankara James Jeffrey wrote in a cable dated January 2010.