Candidates promote better ties with Turkey in Azerbaijan polls


President Abdullah Gül and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, shake hands in Ankara in this 2008 file photo. The top Azerbaijani candidates and parties say better Turkish-Azerbaijani relations should be made a priority.

Candidates promote better ties with Turkey in Azerbaijan polls.

All Azerbaijani challenging and incumbent candidates have vowed to continue friendly relations with neighboring Turkey ahead of key parliamentary elections, slated for Sunday, in this oil-rich post-Soviet republic. Nearly 40,000 international and local election observers will make sure the elections are conducted freely, fairly and in line with international standards in this small South Caucasian state. Nearly 700 candidates will run on Sunday for the 125-seat parliament, which is set to face tough challenges in the forthcoming five years, including managing a huge influx of oil and gas money and the possibility of resuming war with its arch-foe Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is the fourth time that Azerbaijan, which declared independence from the now-defunct Soviet Union in the early 1990s, is running headlong into the polls to elect their representatives for the national assembly. The campaigns have been a showcase for previously unseen original method, which are being used by young, Western-educated candidates. One of them is the independent candidate Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, a graduate of a Turkish school in Baku, who has also recently earned a degree from the prestigious Harvard University. He was pretty successful in garnering many youth around him, some of whom have been volunteering for him since the inception of his 23-day long campaign. According to Hajiyev, his district has 42,000 electorates — one of the largest and most competitive districts with 14 candidates — and he says a mere 23 days of campaigning is not really enough to disseminate a candidate’s platform. Hajiyev says that as a Turkish school graduate he feels self-confident and espouses certain values while campaigning. “While communicating with the public you can feel that voters are able to distinguish energetic, faithful, hopeful and conscientious candidates,” Hajiyev said. Turnout in Azerbaijan has been strikingly low in past elections, despite decades of high turnout under Soviet rule. On average, the turnout rate was barely above 50 percent. Hajiyev’s slogan is “positive change,” which, according to him, means displaying a political will to stand by citizens and protect their interests. Asim Mollazade, who is an incumbent deputy in Parliament from opposition Democratic Reforms Party and and who is running from Baku, told Today’s Zaman that he felt strong support for his party’s platform in his meetings with thousands of voters. According to Mollazade, increasing the level of education, health services, economic reforms and social security constitute major part of the program, adding that income must be directed to human capital. According to the deputy, no actions by governments or politicians in both countries can pull apart Azerbaijan and Turkey, including external pressures. “Both states share the same values and these values make [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk’s republic and Azerbaijan as one,” Mollazade said. Speaking about relations with Armenia, he said Azerbaijan and Turkey are ready to build normal relations with Armenia, if the country withdraws its troops from occupied territories. Hajiyev defines cold relations with Turkey that were experienced during the early period of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process as a “communication problem.” He said the sides had baselessly mistrusted each other and thus unproductive tensions rose. “Turkey had seen the role of Azerbaijan in the process as smaller than in reality and Azerbaijan had made incompatible steps. I will be favoring open dialogue and mutual trust,” he added. Ali Karimli, leader of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AXCP) told Today’s Zaman that Turkish-Azerbaijani relations are always “special” and “unprecedented.” He said during the so-called “flag crisis,” when Azerbaijan re-furled Turkish flags in the Turkish cemetery and the religious undersecretary of the Turkish diplomatic mission in Baku, that his party strongly criticized the government and visited the cemetery to display their respect for slain Turkish soldiers who died for Azerbaijan. Karimli said Turkish-Azerbaijan relations are a supra-governmental affair and no one can damage this brotherhood. ?sa Gambar, leader of Azerbaijan’s oldest party, Müsavat, accused the Azerbaijani government of causing the crisis between Turkey and Azerbaijan. He suggested that Turkey and Azerbaijan should have worked together in the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process. Gambar said that if Turkish-Armenian reconciliation had completed, the growing Russian presence in Armenia would not be a reality today. Deputy executive secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), Mubariz Qurbanl?, told Today’s Zaman that there is no problem between Turkey and Azerbaijan and that the two countries are “natural and strategic allies.” He said ties between the two countries are operating under the principle, initiated by former late president Haydar Aliyev’s “one nation, two states” formula. The ruling party representative said numerous visits, many signed agreements and treaties are notable examples that the ties between the two brotherly countries run high. Qurbanl? said although there might be different opinions both in Turkey and Azerbaijan on the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process, the two countries are able to bring their position closer. “The New Azerbaijan Party has always favored and will always be a supporter of Turkish-Azerbaijani friendship,” Qurbanl? stressed. Qurbanl? also criticized the opposition parties for accusing the government for being too suppressive of the opposition. Both Karimli and Gambar, whose parties are running in the elections as a coalition, leveled harsh criticism against the government for creating unfavorable conditions for fair campaigning and both said they expect more than 30 candidates to be elected out of their 38 joint candidates. Qurbanl? dismissed opposition’s claims and said the level of welfare increases and the society values it, adding that the opposition has been unable to develop alternative programs to government policies.

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