Azerbaijan , Baku /corr. Trend A. Gasimova / Trend's exclusive interview with Turkish Prime Minister Rejep Tayyib Erdogan
Question: How does Ankara estimate further changes in the apportionment of Forces in South Caucasus amid the implementation of energy and Transport projects, further strengthening Azerbaijan's position? What joint efforts can be made by two countries to intensify Azerbaijan's dominating role in the region?
Answer: Turkey and Azerbaijan enjoy excellent relations. Since Azerbaijan's independence, Turkey has displayed solidarity with Azerbaijan and will continue its endeavors in this perspective. The close relations that so happily exist between our two countries will be further reinforced by economic and trade partnerships.
Regional co-operation schemes are undoubtedly pivotal in order to improve the regional climate amongst the countries in the South Caucasus. Against this backdrop, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia have covered significant ground in advancing their trilateral co-operation, by accomplishing Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline projects and advancing the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad project. More of such projects, including rehabilitation of highways and modernization of border check points are under consideration.
Needless to say, these bilateral and regional cooperation schemes which we have long been designing and successfully implementing with Azerbaijan will not only strengthen to the economic and political role of Turkey and Azerbaijan, but also will assist the efforts directed to create a more favourable environment for ensuring peace, security and prosperity in our region.
Question: Armenia and different pro-Armenian factions are constantly aiming to taint the history of the Turkish people and raising the issue of the so-called "Armenian Genocide" of 1915. Simultaneously, the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan continues and Azerbaijan's territory is under Armenian occupation. What measure does Turkey intend to take to refute the Armenian propaganda.
Answer: The Armenian circles have significantly increased their activities so as to have their baseless claims regarding the events of 1915 recognized by the national parliaments of the third countries.
We are of the opinion that history should be left to the judgments of historians. In this context, I would like to mention that the documents in the Ottoman archives including the military ones are the primary source for the research of the historians and have been open for all researchers for a long time.
In 2005, Turkey proposed to Armenia the establishment of a joint commission composed of Turkish and Armenian historians and other experts to study the developments and events of 1915, in the archives of Turkey and Armenia and all other relevant archives in the third countries and to share their findings with the international community.
We have not received any positive reply from the Armenian side to our proposal, yet.
We expect the support of the friendly countries to this historical proposal.
Question: What further assistance is the Turkish Government prepared to offer in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Answer: Turkey believes that "frozen conflicts" in the South Caucasus undermine the efforts that are geared towards lasting peace and stability in the region. Resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied Azerbaijani territories are long overdue. It certainly is needless to emphasize that any solution in this vein must respect Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Return of the internally displaced persons is a pressing humanitarian issue, requiring our constant attention, and thus should also be urgently addressed.
Last year was viewed by the international community, including my country, as a window of opportunity in the resolution process. However, we regret to note that the efforts so far exerted have failed to yield a meaningful breakthrough that is acceptable to both sides. The international community, therefore, should urge Armenia to adopt forthcoming and constructive policies towards its neighbours, fully adhering to international law. Turkey, for its part, will sustain its efforts to facilitate a solution based on a compromise, and in any case acceptable for Azerbaijan.
Question: Several monuments have been built in Azerbaijan in the memory of Turkish soldiers who died for the independence of Azerbaijan. How do you feel about commemorating the Azerbaijani volunteers who died in the battle for Chanaggala?
Answer: Our ties of kinship with Azerbaijan are exceptionally strong. We share the same language, same religion and enjoy common cultural and historical bonds. The sacrifices of the Azerbaijani volunteers who died during the battle of Canakkale should come as no surprise for those who can appreciate the sentiments surrounding the relationship between our peoples.
In this respect, we consider the Azerbaijani martyrs no different than hundreds of thousands of Turkish men and women who have lost their lives while defending their homeland. They found their eternal resting place in Canakkale War Cemetery and in our hearts as the soldiers of the Caucasian Islamic Army, who were martyred in 1918 in Azerbaijan
Question: Is the Turkish Government satisfied with current amount of goods turnover between the two countries? How it could be boosted?
Answer: The Bilateral trade volume between Turkey and Azerbaijan has been growing steadily at an average rate of about %40 since 2003, reaching 1,025 billion Dollars in 2006. The increase in Turkey's imports of oil and its by-products, as well as other intermediate goods from Azerbaijan, played an important role in increasing the bilateral trade volume.
In spite of the fast growing pace of trade between Turkey and Azerbaijan, the level of bilateral trade is far from reflecting the true economic potential between the two countries.
I believe that Turkey will become the first trading partner of Azerbaijan within a few years. For this, further diversification of the products which are subject to trade, gradual liberalization of bilateral trade, improving the transport infrastructure and simplification of custom procedures are the necessary steps.
The Turkish-Azerbaijani Joint Economic Council, which is an important mechanism contributing to the development of our bilateral economic relations held its 4th session in Baku in July 2006.
The meeting produced an opportunity to adopt decisions that will enable the increase of the trade turnover.
We should intensify our joint efforts for increasing the volume of bilateral trade between our countries.
Question: Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia have been successfully cooperating over three huge regional projects - BTC, BTE and BTK. What additional efforts could these countries take for cooperation and implementation of the new projects? In what major directions should these countries unite efforts for more efficient use of these serious arguments in international policy?
Answer: The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline, being among the most important regional projects carried out by our countries, are success stories.
However, we should not stop here. Recent developments in the energy sector have once again demonstrated the importance of diversification of supply sources and routes. In this context, the contributions that Turkey and Azerbaijan could make for the global and regional energy supply security became more visible.
Following the recent developments, the Trans Caspian Natural Gas Project has gained importance and urgency. Together with Azerbaijan, we should strive for the realization of this project. This project which foresees the transportation of Turkmen and Kazakh gas to western markets will strengthen the roles of Turkey and Azerbaijan in the enhancement of energy supply security. Only after the realization of this project, the East-West Energy Corridor will have been completed.
On the other hand, The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars New Railway Connection (BTE) Project, together with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum energy pipeline projects are important not only for economic reasons but also because they constitute a cultural bridge between Asia and Europe.
The signing of the Intergovernmental Agreement between Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia on 7 February 2007 in Tbilisi was an important step towards realizing this important project. The foundations of the new railway line will be laid as early as summer of this year.
Realization of these significant projects will promote prosperity and thus contribute to stability in the whole of the region. Therefore, we should increase our efforts to convey this message to the world opinion.
Question: Does Turkey plan to increase investing in the development of non-oil sector of Azerbaijan and what areas are of your country's interest?
Answer: Since the early days of its independence, Turkish entrepreneurs have been active in Azerbaijan, establishing firms in various economic sectors and thus, contributing to the establishment of a competitive free market economy in Azerbaijan.
Today, the total value of Turkish investments in various sectors of Azerbaijan, excluding the petroleum sector, is estimated to be as high as 2.5 billion Dollars, making Turkey, with a 45% share, the most important foreign investor in that sector.
Our mutual aim is to increase the amount of direct investments of large scale Turkish companies in Azerbaijan. Reforms undertaken successfully towards improving the foreign investment climate in Azerbaijan will surely accelerate this process.
Turkish companies can play a vital role in diversifying Azerbaijan's economy, notably by investing in the agricultural and food processing sectors. Turkish companies can also contribute to the modernization of industrial facilities of Azerbaijan that were built during the Soviet era.
In this context, intensified dialogue between the business communities of the two countries will be instrumental in developing mutual investments. In this regard, Turkish-Azerbaijan Business Council is an important mechanism that should be rendered even more active.
I am convinced that both Turkish investments in Azerbaijan and Azeri investments in Turkey can be considerably increased in the near future, given that we provide the private sector necessary incentives, as well as, a convenient investment climate to operate in.