First published in September 6, 2008 Armenian Reporter
“Turkey is treating us like unloving step-mother”
Azerbaijan reacts to Gül’s coming visit to Armenia
WASHINGTON – Turkey’s blockade of Armenia is a centerpiece in Azerbaijani government’s effort to pressure Armenia. It is not surprising, therefore, that every time the subject of improved Armenia-Turkey relations comes up, Azerbaijan is irritated.
In recent years Azerbaijan has pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars toward the development of economically depressed eastern Turkey in order to diminish the urgency for Turkey of opening the Armenia-Turkey border. Paying for the Kars-Akhalkalaki rail bypass and airline flights between Baku and Kars have been part of this effort.
More sentimentally, Azerbaijan has tried to emulate its ethnic cousins and be a “little Turkey,” while painting Armenians as a common “evil.”
As Turkish president Abdullah Gül’s decision to accept the invitation from President Serge Sargsian to visit Yerevan became public, Turkish officials made an effort to assure Azerbaijan that the visit does not signify a change in Turkey’s Armenia policy. Under that policy, Turkey will not establish relations with Armenia unless Armenia agrees to concessions on the issues of Karabakh and the acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide.
Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov of Azerbaijan arrived in Ankara for consultations on August 29 and sought to downplay the extent of Azerbaijan’s anxiety, calling Mr. Gül’s decision “Turkey’s internal matter.” But reactions from most Baku pundits laid bare the Azerbaijani establishment’s true feelings.
Vafa Gulizade, a former Soviet diplomat who served, between 1991 and 1999, as the architect of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy under three of its four presidents, had in the past called for Azerbaijan to merge with Turkey into one state. Reacting to Mr. Gül’s upcoming visit, Mr. Gulizade complained, “Turkey is treating Azerbaijan as an unloving step-mother would treat her stepson, while Azerbaijan would want to see Turkey as our true mother,” Day.az reported on September 1. Mr. Gulizade expressed hope that the Turkish president would keep Azerbaijan’s concerns in mind while visiting Yerevan.
Ganira Pashayeva, a former TV anchor turned Majlis member who is close to the ruling Aliyev family, told APA.az on September 2 that “no Azerbaijani can agree to Turkish President’s visit to Armenia. This visit hurts us morally. That’s why I will await till the last minute that Abdullah Gul will refuse the visit.” Ms. Pashayeva also remained hopeful that Mr. Gül would make strong anti-Armenian statements if he were to arrive in Yerevan.
Another Majlis member, Anar Mammadkhanov, wrote on September 3 that Turks should not hope that they would be able to use the visit for public relations purposes, suggesting that “in terms of propaganda Armenians are clearly outplaying Turks.” A former comedian and also a friend of the Aliyev family, he warned in a caustic commentary for Day.az that Turkey is about to hand Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s only trump card – economic pressure – to the Armenians at the cost of cooling Turkish-Azerbaijani relations, “only getting in return, I hope, victory by the Turkish football team.”
Ilgar Mammadov, a commentator previously affiliated with a pro- Turkish nationalist party, offered a positive spin. He suggested that after the Russian-Georgian war, Armenia has become "even more isolated" and therefore willing to compromise with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
“Gul will try to explain to Armenians that were they to drop territorial demands against Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia would gain great advantages from economic and political cooperation.”
As in the past, a veteran of the Azerbaijani politics of the 1990s, Zardusht Alizade struck a contrarian note. “I welcome the decision of the Turkish president,” Mr. Alizade told Day.az. “Through this visit, Turkey will have more opportunities to influence the progressive, sober-minded part of the Armenian society which has long sought to normalize Armenian-Turkish relations... Meantime,
Azerbaijan should once and for all abandon illusions that anyone else, in this case Turkey, would be solving our problems on our behalf.”