Turkish and Azerbaijani officials have defused a simmering bilateral dispute concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, jointly endorsing a "gradual approach" on a negotiated settlement of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The announcement came amid new international efforts to jump-start the peace process.
Turkey and Azerbaijan have long had a special relationship, and Ankara has been Baku's staunchest supporter in the effort to reach a political settlement to the Karabakh conflict. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. But in early 2004, bilateral ties became strained after Ankara indicated that it might re-open the Turkish-Armenian border to trade. Azerbaijani officials reacted furiously to the Turkish suggestion, warning that it might withdraw from the peace process if Ankara went through with the move. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The recent visit by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to Turkey appears to have restored a sense of equilibrium in relations. A joint statement issued April 14 by Aliyev and Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer emphasized bilateral unity concerning the Karabakh peace process. It reiterated a call for the "withdrawal of Armenia from Azerbaijani occupied territories," adding that a Karabakh settlement would have to based on "respect for territorial integrity and borders."
Addressing the Turkish Parliament, Aliyev expressed a desire to strengthen Azerbaijani-Turkish ties. "We believe that our countries will continue to support each other in the future," adding that "our power depends on our unity." Aliyev staked out a hard-line stance on the Karabakh question, saying Azerbaijan would not accept any peace deal that left the territory outside of Baku's jurisdiction. "Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan and will belong to us in the future," he said. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Karabakh peace talks have been stalled for years. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The United States recently attempted to build fresh momentum for negotiations by appointing Steven Mann as the new US co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, which oversees the peace process. Mann, the former US envoy to the Caspian for energy-related issues, replaced Rudolf Perina.
Azerbaijani media praised Mann's appointment. The appointment "shows that the United States will soon invest more effort to resolve" the Karabakh issue, political analyst Khaladdin Ibrahimli wrote in the Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq. Armenian leaders also cautiously welcomed the appointment.
Mann participated in a "fact-finding meeting" on April 16 in Prague between Azerbaijan's new foreign minister, Elmar Mammadyarov, and his Armenian counterpart Vardan Oskanian. Both foreign ministers confirmed that no new proposals were presented during the meeting. Oskanian indicated that his next meeting with Mammadyarov had been tentatively scheduled for mid May.
Mevlut Katik is a London-based correspondent and analyst. He is a former BBC correspondent and also worked for The Economist group.