Mirza Khazar: Heydar Aliyev and Turkey (2001)
An attempt by several hundred supporters of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party to hold a protest
demonstration in the center of Baku on 21 April was the first opposition protest action since the Karabakh war invalids were forced to stop a month-long hunger- strike in February. Police resorted to brute force to prevent the ADP supporters from holding an unauthorized rally to demand the release of political prisoners, but that does not detract from the implications of the action for the political situation in Azerbaijan.
Isa Gambar, head of the main opposition Musavat party, expressed support for the ADP's protest action in an interview published in the newspaper "Azadliq" on April 24. Gambar added that the Musavat party too is preparing for mass actions of protest. Azerbaijan Democratic Party chairman Rasul Quliev in his interview with "Hurriyyet" on April 24, suggested that consecutive protest rallies will force the present government to resign. One can interpret this suggestion as wishful thinking. But it would be a mistake either to overestimate the strength of the opposition, mainly its ability to unite or to underestimate President Heydar Aliev's ability to deal with such a development.
But we should not forget that the situation in which Heydar Aliev is forced to operate today is different from similar situations in the past. Heydar Aliev is now 78 and he is not physically fit. He is in the middle of crucial peace talks with Armenia, and it is not clear what he will sign and how the public and political parties in Azerbaijan will react. He did not manage to convince the main players in Caucasus to support his son, Ilham as his successor. His foreign policy towards Turkey, Iran, Russia and the West is not ideal at the moment. Tensions are mounting between Azerbaijan and Iran. Aliev's recent attempts to restore "fraternal" relations with Russia will demand from him and from Azerbaijan as a state a very high price. Aliev's attempt (in an effort to strengthen his own position) to play a very complicated and contradictory game between Russia and the United States, and his desire to win this game, does not seem to be a very sophisticated and successful policy.
Aliev's relations with Turkey are an obvious example of the failure of such a "twisted policy." Some observers believe that President Aliev is intentionally creating problems in relations with Turkey in order to gain Russian "kindness." This opinion might prove to be wrong or right. Heydar Aliev will leave for Ankara on April 25 to attend a summit of heads of states of Turkic speaking countries in Istanbul the following day. Not the summit as such, but relations between the Aliev leadership and Ankara will dominate his meetings with Turkish officials. Relations between two countries are at the worst point since Suleyman Demirel left office as President of Turkey a year ago. It is not only official Baku that is to blame for the worsening of relations with Ankara. The failure of the Turkish side to accept Turcophone countries as equal partners is also partly to blame for the present coolness in relations with Baku.
The Azerbaijani press is unanimous that Aliev will face tough questions in Ankara during his visit there. But it is possible that the Turkish side might also face such tough questions from Azerbaijani president. Aliev with his rich political experience managed to overcome all obstacles and survive in the past 30 years. Will he at this crucial moment of his career be able to overcome not only external pressures but the infighting expected to erupt within his immediate circle in the near future over who is best qualified to succeed him as president?
(Mirza Khazar - 24 April 2001)
RFE/RL Azerbaijan Report
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