By Rovshan Pashazadeh
Azerbaijan Today’s interview with Hulusi Kilic, the Turkish Ambassador to Azerbaijan
AT: How is the current state of Azerbaijani-Turkish relations?
At interstate level, Turkey and Azerbaijan relation dates back to 1918- the establishment of the First Republic of Azerbaijan. However, we know that there have always been interactions between two societies. Even during Galipoli War in 1915, Azerbaijanis fought under the flag of Ottoman Empire with their Turkish brothers and they collected and sent money to Istanbul in order to finance this war.
After the demise of the Trans-Caucasian Republic, Baku and other Azerbaijani territories were invaded by Russians and Armenians. When the invasion forces began to commit mass killings all over Azerbaijan, Azerbaijanis called for help from the Ottoman Empire. Nuri Pasha was appointed by Enver Pasha, the Minister of War, to organize an army to rescue Caucasus. He took a long way from Mosul and reached Gence on 25th of May 1918. Nuri Pasha established “Caucasus Islam Army” in a short while. The soldiers of this army fought in Goycay, Aksu, Kurdemir, Samah? and finally reached Baku on 15th of September 1918. Having lost about 1300 soldiers, this army liberated Baku and the paved way for the establishment of the first Republic of Azerbaijan.
Another understated incident about this army is that there were also many teachers in it. After the liberation of Baku, these teachers opened a school in Gence and made great contributions in the education of Azerbaijani children.
Unfortunately, these pages of Azerbaijani history were sometimes ignored or manipulated deliberately by some circles. However, awareness of history is a crucial part of national identity. If a nation does not write its history, other nations will write it down by manipulating the facts.
On 4th of June 1918, after the proclamation of the First Republic “A Friendship Agreement” was signed between The Ottoman Empire and The Republic of Azerbaijan guaranteeing that Ottoman Empire would provide military aid to Azerbaijan in case of demand.
Ali Merdan bey Topcubasov, the non-portfolio Minister of The Republic of Azerbaijan, was appointed as the first diplomatic representative of Azerbaijan to Ottoman Empire in August 1918. As an interesting historical anecdote, during his first visit to Sultan Vahdettin when he mentioned that Azerbaijanis had enemies but also had a strong ally/friend like Ottoman Empire. The Sultan interrupts him emphasizing that Ottoman Empire was “not an ally/friend but a brotherly country” of Azerbaijan. These ties have maintained also after the dissolution of the First Republic and during Liberation War in Turkey. Mustapha Kemal Pasha and Neriman Nerimanov have been in contact between 1920 and 1922 and both governments have appointed representatives in Ankara and Baku. Under the rule of Nerimanov, Azerbaijan provided military aid to Turkish government against invasion forces.
Turkey was the first country to recognize Azerbaijan on 9 November 1991. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established on 14 January 1992.
Turkey shares very close linguistic, cultural and historical relations with Azerbaijan. From the outset, Turkey has developed strong partnership with Azerbaijan and it has been a staunch supporter of this country in its efforts to overcome the difficulties it faced as a newly independent state. Consequently, Turkey attaches importance to the consolidation of Azerbaijan’s independence, the protection of its territorial integrity and the realization of its economic potential arising from natural resources of the Caspian Sea.
Turkish-Azerbaijani relations continue to develop not only in the political field but also in all spheres such as education, transportation, telecommunication, agriculture, social security, health, sports, culture, science, tourism etc. One of the most important aspects of this cooperation is economy and energy. The legal framework of bilateral relations is shaped by a number of agreements signed between the two countries. Frequent high-level contacts and mutual visits on all levels contribute to forge the Turkish-Azeri partnership. Today, the two countries have not only brotherly relations but also very important strategic cooperation. Together with Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan built Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines and construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is still underway. There are concrete ties binding us together.
AT: How would you assess Kazakhstan’s role in the implementation of the East-West energy corridor project?
As you are aware, the Intergovernmental Agreement which envisages the transportation of Kazakh oil via BTC was signed in June 2006. This agreement reflects a mutual understanding between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. In accordance with this agreement, oil resources of Kazakhstan will be carried, in the first stage, with tankers from the Port of Aktau to the Port of Baku.
The said Agreement was ratified on 24 April 2008 by the Senate of Kazakhstan and was put into effect by the President. First oil tanker departed from Aktau in November 2008 to Baku. As the production increases in the Kashagan field, it will be possible to carry 15-20 million tones of Kazakh oil annually.
On the other hand, if the Nabucco project gets real, Kazakh gas will be one of the main sources of the project along with the Azeri and Turkmen gases.
AT: If Kazakhstan pumped a significant part of its oil via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC), this would be good for the BTC and make it a more viable project. What stopts Kazakhstan from doing so?
In 2008, daily capacity of the BTC pipeline was increased from 1 million b/d to 1.2 million b/d through chemicals. This increase enabled Kazakh oil to be carried via the said pipeline.
Naturally, each and every country attaches particular importance to the diversification of both costumers and routes. Taking this in mind, we are of the opinion that in the next years more and more Kazakh oil will be transported via the BTC pipeline.
AT: Russia has a very strong influence in this Turkic country (Kazakhstan). What can be done to reduce this influence?
There are some historical reasons impelling the Russian Federation (RF) to be interested in the affairs pertaining to the countries of the region. Turkey does not see any country in the region as its rival. On the contrary, it pursues a diplomacy open to all kinds of cooperation in all fields, especially in the energy field. Relations with the RF have been developed in this context and the RF has become one of the major commercial partners of Turkey.
We believe that the countries of the region will make all the proper decisions with a view to carrying their energy resources to the European markets through the most favorable routes. Turkey, in this context, is ready to cooperation in this issue.
AT: In late March, Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR signed a memorandum of understanding with the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom. According to this MoU, Azerbaijan will sell part of its natural gas to Russia. Can this agreement undermine the Nabucco project?
As seen in the media, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between SOCAR and GAZPROM was signed on 27 March 2009 envisaging the selling of SOCAR’s “surplus” gas to the regions of the RF close to the Azerbaijani territories.
Bearing this in mind, it can be said that the Nabucco project will not be adversely affected by this MoU since it does not pertain to Shahdeniz Phase-2.
AT: Now let us speak about recent efforts to normalize Turkish-Armenian ties. How likely is the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border in the near future?
We should take up these issues within the context of the “big picture” which requests the understanding of processes underway in the world and in the Caucasus region. Up to 2008, “frozen conflicts” were regarded as a reality in the Caucasus and it was a region where “stability in conflict” was in force. However, the recent war between the RF and Georgia in August showed that this de facto situation can no longer be carried on. For that reason, we have been witnessing a very rapid progress in the region.
Taking your question in this “big picture”, one can say that, in the next future, the possibility of opening borders is just as strong as the possibility of the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan once again stressed this issue lastly at the end of April. Turkey will not take a step unless a solution is found to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I am sure all these issues will be clarified during the upcoming visit of Mr Erdogan.
AT: What is Turkey going to gain or lose from the reopening of the Armenian border? Armenians will certainly not give up their “genocide” claims against Turkey. Nor will they stops their territorial claims to Turkey.
Opening of the Turkish-Armenian border is a mere possibility and depends on the other components of the equation. Pursuing a “zero-conflict” policy with its neighboring countries, Turkey always endeavored to create “win-win” situations in the region. Naturally, we do not place on the agenda the opening of borders with a country who has some separatist ambitions toward Turkey and who invaded the territories of brotherly Azerbaijan. On the other hand, such a step will be taken if it will be to the benefit of the actors of the region. Undoubtedly, Turkey is capable of protecting its own interests as well as the interests of its allies. We attach particular importance to defending Azerbaijan’s interests in this issue. I would like to reiterate that Turkey will not proceed in the normalization process with Armenia unless a progress is recorded in the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.
AT: How can Ankara-Baku relations be affected by the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border? Baku does not hide its resentment at the prospect of the border being reopened.
President Gul, Prime Minister Erdogan and other Turkish high level officials made several statements to the press on various occasions to remove the unease of the Azerbaijani people emanating from some press distortions. Since Turkey has quite a privileged place in the hearts of the people of Azerbaijan, I can see it natural that the people of Azerbaijan gave reactions to news. Nevertheless, reactions should be moderate, balanced and well-considered. After a while, sharp and unrestrained reactions may harm the relations of the two brotherly countries and serve the interests of our common enemies.
All channels of communication between Turkey and Azerbaijan are open. Exchange of information in all issues continues. I would like to reaffirm that Turkey is able to guard its interest as well the interests of its allies. Turkey will not take a step to the detriment of Azerbaijan.