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Azerbaijan Report: January 10, 2003

10 January 2003
Turkey's Erdogan Pledges to Open Door Wider Between Two Countries
Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), visited Azerbaijan on 7-8 January. On 8 January Erdogan began with a visit to Martyr's Alley. Then he met with Murtuz Alesgerov, chairman of the Milli Majlis (Azerbaijani parliament). During the meeting, the parties exchanged views on development of bilateral relations. Erdogan, who showed an interest in deepening relations between the two countries, unexpectedly also touched upon the terrorism issue. He said that the terrorist Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) is active in Azerbaijan in cultural and other establishments.

Alesgerov brought up the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and said that Azerbaijan is content with Turkey's stand on the Karabakh issue. He also expressed regret that the negotiation process is still ineffectual. Alesgerov emphasized that should peaceful negotiations end with no result, Azerbaijan would have to use force to liberate its occupied territories. Erdogan again made clear Ankara's position on this issue, noting that his government will support any decision accepted by the people of Azerbaijan.

Erdogan also met with Turks doing business in Azerbaijan, during which he expressed concern about the drop in trade between the two countries.

Minister of Economic Development Ferhad Aliev, who was also present at the meeting, noted the government's economic reforms and conditions it has created for foreign investment in Azerbaijan. He also mentioned the favorable legal ground created for development of entrepreneurship in Azerbaijan.

However, the Turkish businessmen spoke about their difficulties, noting that the transit duties imposed on Turkish trucks traveling to Azerbaijan are too high. They also complained about problems acquiring a visa for Azerbaijan.

Local experts were quick to point out the visit's significance. Political scientist Zefer Shirvanli noted that he has no doubt that sooner or later Erdogan will assume the post of prime minister. Shirvanli pointed to Erdogan's statement: "Despite Turkey's brotherly status to Azerbaijan, it has not hitherto played an active role in processes taking place there." Shirvanli believes that the statement means that Ankara would toughen its stand on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

He also pointed out Erdogan's entourage, including a number of the government officials and more that 100 businessmen. The visit proves once again that Ankara considers Azerbaijan as "its closest ally," Shirvanli said.

Mubariz Ahmedoglu, the head of the nongovernmental Center for Innovation and Political Technologies, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the visit of Erdogan to Azerbaijan is a serious enough event. Erdogan began a visit to Turkic countries with Azerbaijan, which means that Turkey sees Azerbaijan as its chief ally among the Turkic republics. Erdogan, who expressed dissatisfaction concerning the current level of Azerbaijani-Turkish ties, pledged to strengthen them, but did not reveal what actions he intends to take. But Erdogan's position seems to be truthful and of course, after he becomes prime minister, the development of relations between the two countries should continue. By visiting Baku, Erdogan wanted to show that the new government in Ankara would continue to maintain a warm attitude toward Azerbaijan. Ahmedoglu also noted that after every change of government in Turkey, Armenia tries to form an opinion that a new government will reconsider relations with Azerbaijan. Thus, every new government begins its foreign visits with Azerbaijan, he said.

(Zerkhanim Ahmedli and Zhale Mutallimova)

Politicians Evaluate Erdogan's PKK Statement
Recep Erdogan at an 8 January meeting with Murtuz Alesgerov, speaker of the Azerbaijani parliament, announced that the PKK terrorist organization continues its activities in Azerbaijan under the name of cultural and other establishments.

The PKK issue has long been a delicate one in Azerbaijani-Turkish relations. In 1998 former Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey accused President Heidar Aliyev of helping the PKK. For his statement he was taken to court. Moreover, media that make similar accusations are often taken to court by government officials.

In the middle of 2002, deputies from the opposition presented the parliament a draft law on recognition of the PKK as a terrorist organization. But Umid (Hope) Party Chairman Igbal Agazade, one of the authors of the draft law, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the parliament leadership denies the existence of the PKK in Azerbaijan and does not want to submit the draft for parliamentary consideration.

Pro-governmental deputy Ismail Omerov said that there is no need for a special parliamentary decision to prove that the PKK is a terrorist organization. "Everyone in Azerbaijan, from children to adults, know that the PKK is a terrorist institution and foe of the Turkish people.... It is possible that some members of the PKK could come and go in Azerbaijan, but it does not mean that Azerbaijan supports the PKK."

Sulheddin Akber, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party and a former high-ranking officer of the National Security Ministry, noted that if Erdogan would only have made such a statement if he had received certain information from the special services. Akber said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that there are favorable conditions for the PKK's activities in Azerbaijan.

"Naturally if the Azerbaijani government does not take serious measures and stop or at least limit the PKK's activities following Ankara's statement, it could strain Azerbaijani-Turkish relations," Akber said, adding that in his opinion relations between the Azerbaijani government and the PKK have gone too far for the current government to limit the group's activities.

But Omerov insists that the PKK has no support in Azerbaijan. "There is no basis for the PKK's activities in Azerbaijan. But if such an allegation comes from such a high-ranking guest as Recep Erdogan, the Azerbaijani law-enforcement bodies will attempt to investigate this issue."

(Natig Zeinalli)

Azerbaijani newspapers give wide coverage of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's official visit to Baku held on 7-8 January.

Turkish deputy Sabah Dishli, the Justice and Development Party's deputy chairman for international relations, answered questions posed by the independent newspaper "525." Asked what he would like to see in future trade relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey, Dishli said that Turkish businessmen work in construction, food, banking, and other sectors. "The BTC [Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan] oil pipeline will still continue to promote the development of our relations. When Azerbaijani oil is delivered to Turkey, it will become an energy terminal for the region." Dishli also pointed out that the issue of resuming trade relations between Turkey and Armenia can be considered only after Armenia liberates occupied Azerbaijani lands. "We will coordinate our policy toward Armenia with Azerbaijan. We will not unilaterally reconsider our relations with Armenia. There are businessmen who are interested in building relations with Armenians. But that does not reflect the Turkey's true policy."

The independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that the current government must resign from power for the sake of Azerbaijan's national interests.

Elbrus Jafarli in an article entitled "Heidar Aliyev signed two more decrees that create wide opportunities for the media" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan," notes that on 9 January the Azerbaijani president signed a decree on postponing the media's debts to the state publishing house to 31 December 2005. Considering the economic and financial situation of the Azerbaijani media, the decree can be considered to be positive step directed at improving the material, technical, and financial basis of the mass media. Jafarli also writes that in past years, a number of decisions, such as a decree granting media with preferential loans, have been taken in the framework of increasing state assistance to the media.

Vugar Bairamov in the article "Gulf winds in the Caspian" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" recalls that deputy foreign ministers for the Caspian littoral states will gather in Baku in the near future. In the run-up to the meeting, only Iran has suggested a new system for dividing the Caspian: dividing the sea's resources equally among the littoral countries. Turkmenistan does not seem to bring any changes to the Caspian issue. Bairamov writes that although any success remains under question, Iranian officials seems to be determined to visit Baku. The Iranian media emphasized the importance of participation in such meetings from the standpoint of strengthening Tehran's position at the negotiation table. On the other hand, such meetings could present a chance for the Iranian government to put forth its desire to hold a presidential-level summit in Tehran. Therefore, it is not strange that Tehran suggests determining the time and agenda of the summit during the Baku meeting. Bairamov also points out that if Iran does not continue to participate in negotiations in the near future, it could find itself isolated from the process of determination of the Caspian's legal status.

Rasim Bairamov in an article entitled "Iran and Russia intend to widen their activities in the South Caucasus" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that powers that want to take the South Caucasus under their sphere of influence are attempting to interfere in existing conflicts. Iran, Russia, and the United States, which are competing with each other in the region, now intend to increase their roles. Russia Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov noted that in 2003 Moscow intends to take a "more creative and unusual" approach the conflicts in the Caucasus. Iran also plans to increase its influence in the Caucasus by benefiting from the regional conflicts. Bairamov cites the Iranian newspaper "Tehran Times" as saying that in 2003 Iran will increase its activities directed at promoting political dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The author writes that talking about the competition in the Caucasus, the role of Turkey and the United States should considered separately. He adds that both Ankara and Washington are realizing billions of dollars in energy projects within all Caucasus countries, except Armenia.

Zerdusht Alizade, cochairman of the opposition Social-Democrat Party (ASDP), in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" answered questions on the upcoming presidential elections. Alizade said that the outcome of the voting in Azerbaijan would depend on the presidential election in Armenia. In other words, if the West closes its eyes to voter falsifications in Armenia, it would encourage the Azerbaijani government to also falsify its election. Alizade noted that he would support the candidacy of Adalat (Justice) Party Chairman Ilyas Ismailov. Among the candidates Ismailov is worthier. He knows best how to manage Azerbaijan. Ismailov, unlike some candidates, has never flirted with Azerbaijani national interests or been involved in corruption. As for the candidacy of Araz Alizade, the other ASDP co-chairman, Alizade said that each citizen has a right to contest the elections.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)