Azerbaijan – Turkey: Caucasian Prisoner of Asia Minor

Azerbaijan – Turkey: Caucasian Prisoner of Asia Minor

There are no abrupt turns in Ankara-Baku relationship which is built on sound legal basis, including the Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Support signed in August 2010 for the duration of 10 years. It is to be expired on August 16, 2020 with an option to extend until 2030. Economic cooperation is on the rise. The political contacts are stable, security interaction is on the way. It all sounds great, but with all achievements, the road has pitfalls. 

The strategic relationship went under acid test in the fall of 2009. Those days Armenia and Turkey were close to normalization of relations. The border was about to be open and diplomatic relations were on the verge of restoration. Baku looked at the proceedings with a grudge. In 2009 it went as far as burning the Turkish national insignia on the streets of the Azeri capital. The government of Recep Erdogan moved back on the issue, but it also put forward some strong wishes for Baku to reckon with. Azerbaijan was to remain within the sphere of Turkey’s influence shying away from joining multilateral integration schemes. 

The Euro Atlantic and Eurasian integration processes have passed Azerbaijan leaving it on the sidelines. The Azeri call it the policy of «flexible alliances» or keeping at some distance from all other power centers except Turkey. Baku needs stability to deal with its business partners which in the case of the Absheron Peninsula are mainly represented by transnational corporations. Any real deviation from the «flexible alliances» course may affect Azerbaijan negatively. Energy supplies to the West are the basis of the country’s well-being. The US, UK and European energy companies have a large role to play here. Ankara has done its best to let the Caspian partner remain a raw energy supplier. Azerbaijan has recently become a large investor into the Turkish energy industry. Actually whatever is extracted in Azerbaijan is transited through Georgia and Turkey to be finally distributed among terminal consumers. Turkey has become a large energy hub on the way from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea to Europe. Since 4 June 2006 up to the July of 2014 $250 million of crude were exported through the Turkish Mediterranean port. Part of export income gets back to Turkey in the form of Azeri investments. Azerbaijan invests into the construction of Turkish Izmir oil refinery. SOCAR Turkey Enerji A.S. has signed several loan agreements with 23 financial institutions as part of a project to construct a new Star refinery of Azerbaijan's state energy company SOCAR in Izmir, Turkey. The total worth of the agreements which were signed in Istanbul on May 30 is $3.29 billion. SOCAR Turkey Enerji A.S., daughter company of State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), is the main contender for Turcas Petrol’s share in the project. Its Izmir investment is $5,7 billion. According to Turkish experts, the Azeri investments into the Turkish energy sector may grow up to $15 billion in comparison with only $3 billion invested by Turkish companies. The energy cooperation between the two countries is like a closed circle. Transporting «black gold» through Turkey entails investments of received assets into large projects on the territory of the partner. 

Turkey has no interest in Azerbaijan’s moving to any kind of integration. Turkey wants to be a bridge that Azerbaijan has to cross in order get to the old continent. The Eurasian integration would offer great prospects for Azerbaijan but Turkey is strongly against. It firmly opposes any cooperation of Azerbaijan with Russia or Iran. 

There are many ways Ankara could use its leverage to impact Baku… The Russia-Azerbaijan energy cooperation is insignificant and fickle. Only recently some progress has been achieved on the use of Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline, including transition costs. The supplies of Azeri gas to Russian Gasprom strongly vacillates, it’s much less than agreed (in 2013 Gasprom bought 1, 37 billion cubic meters instead of agreed 3 billion). Only recently Azerbaijan has reached some progress in cooperation with Iran. The parties agreed to launch accelerated construction of Qazvin-Rasht-Astara railway and the construction of two hydro power stations in the border area. All these ventures pale in comparison with multibillion contracts with Western partners. It should be noted Ankara has succeeded in convincing Azerbaijan to keep away from rapprochement with the southern and northern neighbors. Not a single meeting between Turkish and Azeri military and security services leaves out of agenda the issues of threats and challenges posed to Azerbaijan by Russia and Iran. 

The pattern of correlation of forces pitting Armenia and Russia against Turkey and Azerbaijan is the best way for Ankara to get Baku tied to it. The Nagorno-Karabakh stand-off has served well the interests of Turkey. It keeps Azerbaijan in the sphere of Ankara’s influence making the Baku top leaders constantly pledge allegiance to Turkey. It’s enough to recall the Nursist movement conspiracy in Azerbaijan disclosed by Turkish security services. The lists of Nursist activists in Azeri state structures were posted in Facebook by the user «İnci Azəri». Later it became known that the author of the list was Consul General of Azerbaijan in Turkey Mr. Hasan Zeynalov. 

Azeri media outlets have recently discussed the issue of Hizmet penetration. The Gülen movement is a transnational religious and social movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen. The movement has no official name, but it is usually called simply Hizmet ("the Service") by its followers and is known euphemistically as Cemaat ("the Community/Assembly") to the broader public in Turkey. The movement has attracted supporters and critics in Turkey, Central Asia, and increasingly in other parts of the world. The movement is active in education (with private and charter schools in over 140 countries) and self-described interfaith dialogue. It has substantial investments in media, finance, and for–profit health clinics. It has been described as pacifist and offering a modern perspective on in contrast to more extreme perspectives such as Salafism. Critics have worried about cult-like characteristics and have criticized its secretiveness and influence in Turkish politics. Fighting the Gülen movement home, Erdogan has decided to make the Azeri leadership go through the allegiance test. That’s how a rather complicated but generally speaking effective pattern of cooperation between Turkish security services, media outlets affiliated with the powers that be and Azeri diplomats in Turkey has emerged. 

Unlike Turkey, or even the United States and European partners, Russia does not put forward any conditions to Baku. No strings attached. Moscow needs a neighbor with stable economic growth located at the crossing of the Black Sea-the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. If Baku is not ready to discuss the Eurasian integration, Russia has no intention to press the issue. Unlike the US, the UK or Turkey, Russia will not send «energy envoys». The US is going to have a new ambassador in Baku soon who has great experience in energy problems. This August Robert Francis Sekuta is going to become Ambassador of Republic of Azerbaijan instead of Richard L. Morningstar. The new ambassador has experience in energy issues. 

The guests come from London too. The UK Energy Minister visited Azerbaijan on July 9. 

Like in the case of Turkey, the West needs Azeri oil and gas. The development of relations with Russia gives Azerbaijan something quite different, like diversification of relationship including non-energy spheres. Inter-regional relationship is one of the possible directions of progress. There are geographic, historic, humanitarian and other factors which make Russia the only state to convert the most disturbing hot spot of the region into an object of multiparty cooperation. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict may stop being an area filled with arms and constantly conducted combat operations at the dividing line, becoming instead an area for implementation of humanitarian initiatives, confidence building measures and ventures of public diplomacy.

Tags: Azerbaijan  Turkey