It was obvious that nothing would be the same in the Caucasus, after the war in the region between Russia and Georgia in August of last year. During the war, the Georgian leader acted frantically with the backing of the US. Without asking anyone, including its neighbor Turkey, Georgia threw itself into Russia’s line of fire. As a result, Georgia was divided into three separate regions, whilst Azerbaijan and Armenia were almost left gasping for breath. When the pipeline flow was cut off, Azerbaijan felt Russia breathing down its neck, like some unseen monster in a nightmare. More importantly, Azerbaijan took note of the US and Turkey’s inaction. In other words, the US and Turkey could not protect Georgia from Russian invasion; thereby a strong message was sent to Baku.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s ill-timed suggestion regarding the establishment of a ‘Caucasus Platform’ was possibly the worst move the country could have made. Turkey suggested this to Moscow without comprehensive negotiation with either the US, or the regional states. It can be interpreted as a manifestation of Turkey’s fear of Russia. In fact, it is very normal to be afraid of a country which tries to solve its problems with hard action. In this regard, Turkey was relatively successful in overcoming the crisis in terms of Turkish-Russian relations, for it did not turn into a conflict as some people anticipated. However, in terms of the Caucasus, Turkey lost most of its public support in the region. Especially after the case of Georgia, which was separated into three parts, Azerbaijan would now seem to be thinking that following a foreign policy of just relying on the West is a mistake, and has even thought of transferring some of the energy lines to Russia and Iran.
Turkey could not properly respond to the concerns of Azerbaijan, or could not eliminate them. On the other hand, Russia did not stand by idly. They had found suitable grounds in Baku as well. Pro-Russian Azerbaijanis, effectively the remnants of Soviet Russia, were acting in a hostile fashion towards Turkey. These ‘secret’ groups would sometimes riot, but in the current climate they had difficulty in acting overtly. Hostility towards Turkey in Azerbaijan has been gradually increasing and has become much more visible in the past few months. The restrictions on Turkish TV series, the arguments that Turkish language would erase Azerbaijani language have been promoted as if they were solely innocent cultural arguments.
One more thing to remember is that Aliyev does not rule the country by himself. The major families in the country share the power and some of them do not take their power just from domestic sources, but have direct organic links with Moscow and receive its support. Some of them are even now in the highest posts of the Azerbaijani state.
According to the recent rumors rising from Azerbaijan, a pro-Russian person who is at the top of the state organs, made a secret meeting with governors and other high level people in the country and ordered them to take anti-Turkish actions. In line with these directions, the governors would close down Turkish firms, associations and schools in the country; eventually every firm will be closed down. In other words, Turkey would be gradually excluded from the country, without drawing anyone’s attention. Initially, I do not know whether the rumors are true or not. However, according to the phone calls and e-mails I have recently received from Azerbaijan, this campaign was started a long time ago. Indeed I have been receiving at least one e-mail almost every day from Azerbaijan, all of them adding up to the fact that the campaign is being conducted seriously.
In light of these conditions, it can be said that the Turkish-Armenian convergence was a golden opportunity for anti-Turkish people in the Azerbaijani society. Furthermore, Russia is closely monitoring all recent developments. Russia has one foot in Yerevan and the other in the diaspora. Russia seems to support the Turkish-Armenian convergence; because Russia is a country that knows very well the limits of the Dashnaks (ultra-nationalist Armenian party) and Armenia. Moreover, it is again Russia that holds Armenians’ puppet strings. In addition all news concerning the convergence between the US and Russia is exaggerated when it is transmitted to Azerbaijan. When the news reaches Baku, it is mixed with anti-Turkish comments and delivered in certain newspapers. Within the framework of these events, Turkey is accused of betrayal. In addition, the argument that Azerbaijan must look towards Russia is clearly advocated.
Russia tries to control Azerbaijan by utilizing a mix of hard and soft policies. While Russia makes attempts to monopolize Azerbaijani gas on the one hand, it also does not hesitate to openly threaten Baku.
One of the other striking developments regarding Baku is the assassination of General Rail Rzayev, commander of the Azerbaijani Air Force. According to the Russian media, Rzayev opposed the purchase of Russian-produced MIG military jets, and he convinced Aliyev to do the same. The commander was killed by one shot from a weapon of unknown brand. It has been proven that the assassination was carried out by a professional sniper. According to some of the news agencies, Rzavey was killed by the Armenian Secret Service, while others claim other secret services are responsible for the assassination. Moreover, some believe that this killing could be considered as Russia’s warning to Aliyev. It is said that “Now, Aliyev, who seems to forget how talented Russia is, more clearly understands the situation.” If it is taken into consideration that this is the most significant assassination since the Nagorno-Karabakh War, the timing gains importance. At a time when Armenia and Turkey are growing closer, a top level Azerbaijani general was assassinated by secret hands. All these developments can not be mere coincidence.
As stated above, Russia tries to control Azerbaijan with a mix of hard and soft policies. In this context it is also trying to create hostility between Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Some Azeri newspapers and politicians say that Turkey betrayed Azerbaijan. Therefore, Azerbaijan should not disregard Russia in the current climate. Moscow host Aliyev on 16 April. Although Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan clearly stated that “the borders will not be opened until Turkey and Azerbaijan reconcile”, criticism against Turkey is becoming more pointed day by day. Baku Government behave as if it knows nothing about Turkish-Armenian talks, although Turkey informs the Baku in detail in all steps of the negotiations. Turkey has given clear assurances to the Azeris that Turkey will not open the borders till Armenian withdrawal from the Azeri territories.
In this regard, why is Azerbaijan reacting harshly?
Why is Azerbaijan responding with harsh attacks instead of establishing a direct dialogue with Ankara?
What does Azerbaijan demand from Turkey, but does not receive?
Or, is Azerbaijan looking for an excuse to distance itself from Turkey?
Does Azerbaijan not want to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue?
I am afraid that all of these scenarios may be true. As I previously tried to explain, Russia is trying to tear Azerbaijan away from Turkey. In light of this, most Azerbaijani statesmen, including Aliyev, are uncertain of the current situation. Also, they are ambivalent about the problem solving process in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to one argument, it is not possible to save Karabakh and the occupied Azerbaijani territories via step by step improvements. Armenians must withdraw their forces at once, all other options cannot be considered as solution. Baku knows that a full withdrawal is not possible in near future and therefore tries to prevent any partial improvement in Karabakh issue. Azerbaijan can wait some more years while Armenia isolates itself by insisting on Karabakh and other occupied Azeri provinces. Occupation clearly prevents integration of Armenia with the rest of the world. Armenia as a result of the Karabakh occupation cannot join any regional integration projects and neither the U.S. nor the EU (even the Russians) can help Armenia in the way that they wish to be helped. Azerbaijan, as a victimized country in the region, gains diplomatic superiority and Armenia pushes back against energy-rich Azerbaijan. That’s why Azeri statesmen are not happy with Turkey’s efforts to solve Karabakh Issue. Azerbaijan needs some more time, they think Armenia will have to leave the occupied lands in less than 10 years. However Turkey does not want to lose time, and Turkey’s attempts to solve the problem anger the Azerbaijanis.
Actually, the signs are not very good for Turkey-Azerbaijan relations.
Azerbaijan is also going down the road of playing Russia against the other power, as do the Central Asian Republics, when faced with difficulties.
However, the road could be its end.
To open and close the land borders is easy for Turkey; such decisions do not have to be permanent. However, after moving away from Turkey and the West and relying on Russia, Azerbaijan could have a lot of trouble following a consistent foreign policy.
It is clear that Turkey and Azerbaijan are struggling to improve their relations and create a ‘win-win’ situation. In this direction, Turkey has never shied from giving. Turkey supported Azerbaijan when it was not rich and did not export energy; also Turkey still strongly supports Azerbaijan now. However, when Azerbaijan gives Russia the rights to its energy corridors, which are key to its independence, even Turkey cannot save Azerbaijan. Baku should take right lessons from the 2008 Georgia-Russia War.