Erdogan’s victory lap

Photo: Erdogan’s victory lap / Turkey

By Claude Salhani - Trend:
Turkey's newly elected president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will visit Azerbaijan Sept. 3, at the invitation of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for talks on Turkish-Azerbaijani relations. This will be Erdogan's second visit outside Turkey since his election last month. His first visit was earlier this week to the Northern Cyprus, or as it is officially called, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which only Turkey recognizes as an independent state.

President Aliyev was among the first to call Erdogan to congratulate him on his electoral victory. Erdogan won the Aug. 10 presidential election with 51.8 percent of the popular vote.
The two countries - and the two presidents - enjoy close relations. According to a statement released on the presidential website last week, Erdogan and Aliyev "will exchange views on cooperation between the two countries and discuss regional and international issues."
What does this mean in essence? It means they will discuss strategy on issues of importance to the two states and the two leaders.

In essence this visit and the one to Northern Cyprus constitute Erdogan's victory lap but under the current Turkish constitution, all state and government decisions rests with the prime minister and not the president. Under the current system, the role of the president in Turkey is mostly ceremonial. Of course this is something that Erdogan is expected to try and change, as it is unlikely that he would satisfy his political appetite and ambitions by retreating to the confines of the presidential palace in Ankara.

What this visit does demonstrate however, is the importance that Azerbaijan represents for Turkey and of course, what Turkey means to Azerbaijan.

Having lost his bid to bring Turkey into the European Union, an issue that figured at the center of Erdogan's early years as prime minister, and one into which he put a lot of sweat and tears, Erdogan has had to turn eastward, something he did not initially give much thought to, so sure was he of his ability to bring Turkey into the Brussels club. But Turkey saw itself overtaken by other countries, such as the former communist states of Eastern Europe and the Baltics, who had applied for membership years after Ankara, and got admitted, while Turkey continued to be placed on hold.

For Azerbaijan, Turkey's support in its quest to reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh -- an Azerbaijani territory and seven adjacent provinces in a seemingly intractable problem in the South Caucasus - is of vital importance. After Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory in the early 1990s, including Nagorno-Karabakh, diplomatic efforts to find a lasting solution to the conflict have failed. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan.

Turkey plays a very important role in supporting Azerbaijan in helping tighten the pressure on Yerevan.

Last month Erdogan called Aliyev and extended his condolences to the people of Azerbaijan for the Azerbaijani soldiers who died in a skirmish with Armenian soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh in early August.

Ankara has given great importance to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Ankara has frequently signaled that a solution to the conflict would allow for the reopening of its border with Armenia.

And Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's former foreign minister and new prime minister, who in principle now holds the real power in Turkey, declared shortly after his nomination that the liberation of occupied Azerbaijani lands is a strategic goal for Turkey.

Today, Erdogan finds himself at a crossroads. Having come up short on getting Turkey into the EU, he is now banking on securing relations with countries with which Turkey has closer historical and linguistic ties.

Claude Salhani is a political analyst and senior editor with Trend Agency.
Follow him at on Twitter @ClaudeSalhani

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