Ersin Tatar became the first president of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) to be formally received by an Azerbaijani head of state.
The Turkish Cypriot leader met with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev at the Zuğulba Presidential Palace in Baku earlier today, marking an historic upgrade in ties between the Turkish Cypriot state and its Caucasian Turkic relation.
The meeting between the two leaders lasted for 40 minutes, according to a statement by the TRNC Presidency. Discussions encompassed the need to continue expanding relations for people of the Turkic world by encouraging humanitarian, social and cultural activities through the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), where the TRNC currently has Observer status.
President Aliyev emphasised that Azerbaijan has always contributed to the unity of the Turkic world and will remain committed to these ideals.
The TRNC leader gifted a framed moon and crescent artwork, which included the TRNC flag, to President Aliyev before the met sat down to discuss state-to-state co-operation in the fields of tourism, science, education and student exchange.
— KKTC Cumhurbaşkanlığı (@KKTCCB) October 14, 2023
Following the meeting, President Tatar told a press conference: “Our visit to Azerbaijan is an important note in the history of the TRNC.”
The TRNC President had travelled to Azerbaijan with his wife, First Lady Sibel Tatar, on Thursday, 12 October. The pair headed a delegation of 200 people from the TRNC on a mission to deepen economic and cultural ties with Azerbaijan, which has a population of 10 million.
“Children of the same nation”
Speaking at a gala dinner at the Hilton Hotel, Baku, for ‘TRNC Cultural and Promotion Days’, President Tatar said that Turkish Cypriots are an “inseparable part of the great Turkish nation.”
The dinner, which was attended by Azerbaijani parliamentarians, government officials and many other dignitaries, started with the observation of a minute’s silence and the playing of the national anthems of the two countries. This was followed by the screening of a promotional film about the TRNC.
Cumhurbaşkanı @ErsinrTatar, Bakü’deki Ada Üniversitesi’nde konferans verdi
“Kıbrıs Türk halkı ve KKTC çok daha farklı bir konuma gelecek”
— KKTC Cumhurbaşkanlığı (@KKTCCB) October 13, 2023
Addressing guests, President Tatar said he “is delighted and honoured” to be in Azerbaijan, adding that, “As children of the same nation with one destiny, one past and one heart, we have always accepted Azerbaijan as a brother country, alongside our motherland, the Republic of Türkiye. We share the same traditions, culture, national and spiritual values.”
The president spoke of his hope that the TRNC’s “historic visit to the Republic of Azerbaijan” would result in “the deepening of ties in the diplomatic, political, economic, tourism, educational and cultural fields between the TRNC and our brother country, Azerbaijan.”
During his four-day visit to the Azerbaijani capital, the TRNC President also paid his respects by visiting the mausoleum of Azerbaijan’s iconic leader Haydar Aliyev and the Eternal Fire Monument dedicated to Azerbaijani martyrs. He also gave a keynote address to students and academics at a special conference organised by ADA University.
— KKTC Cumhurbaşkanlığı (@KKTCCB) October 13, 2023
Although Azerbaijan does not politically recognise the TRNC, the two Turkish-speaking countries have enjoyed warm relations for years.
Just months into his first term as President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev made clear his support for Turkish Cypriots when he announced in the run-up to the Annan Plan referendum of April 2004 that if Turkish Cypriots voted ‘yes’ and Greek Cypriots ‘no’, Azerbaijan would consider recognising the TRNC.
The following year, the Azerbaijan government said it would recognise TRNC passports as valid travel documents and also sent a delegation to attend the annual 20 July ‘Peace and Freedom’ events in North Cyprus.
A week later, a delegation of 100 Azerbaijani businesspeople flew direct from Baku to Ercan Airport on an Imair Airways flight. The airline had intended to make the flights regularly but Greek Cypriots, using their new European Union member status, threatened to veto the airline’s licence to fly in EU airspace if it continued with its direct flights to Ercan Airport, which subsequently killed off plans for the embargo-busting enterprise.
Over the years, relations between the TRNC and Azerbaijan have become deeper and naturally many wondered why there has been no recognition of the TRNC by Baku. The reason was laid bare by Ali Hasanov, an Azerbaijani official who headed the Department of Political and Communal Affairs, when he met with Turkish journalists who had travelled to Baku in 2011.
Responding to a journalist’s question on why Azerbaijan didn’t recognise the TRNC, Mr Hasanov said: “Turkiye has the right to expect us to recognise North Cyprus. We understand this. “Do not think that Cyprus is less important to us than you. Those who govern your state know very well that should Azerbaijan recognise North Cyprus today 15 states will recognise Nagorno-Karabakh. If you weigh this up. Turkiye does not want it.”
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but, up until recently, the territory had remained under the control of Armenian separatists, who had seized the region in the in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in mid-90s following a bitter six-year war with Azerbaijan.
In 2020, a new conflict that lasted 44 days saw Azerbaijan, with the help of Turkiye, regain control most of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenians call Artsakh, leaving the Armenian separatists holed up in the mountainous part of the region, virtually surrounded by Azerbaijan bar the Lachin Corridor.
Last month, a battle lasting just 24 hours saw the separatists totally defeated, allowing Azerbaijan to regain full control of all its territory. By overcoming this critical hurdle now clears the way for Azerbaijan to recognise the TRNC.
President Aliyev has previously met with President Tatar, notably in Konya, Turkiye, in August 2022 where both leaders posed for pictures and confirmed they had held a meeting having arrived for the opening of the Islamic Games being held in the city.
Azerbaycan Cumhurbaşkanı İlham Aliyev’den #KKTC’ye Anlamlı Destek!
Azerbaycan Cumhurbaşkanı İlham Aliyev, Bakü’de düzenlenen Türk Devletleri Teşkilatı AFAD yönetimi toplantısı öncesi ilgili kurumların bağlı olduğu bakanları kabul etti.
KKTC temsilcisini de heyette gören… pic.twitter.com/kJgumkQlCo
— TRT Azerbaycan (@TRTAzerbaycan) September 7, 2023
In September during a meeting of the OTS state officials responsible for disasters and emergencies (AFAD) hosted in Baku. When President Aliyev spotted the TRNC official, he said: “The flag of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus should and will always fly in Azerbaijan; we will be by each other’s side on the right path.”
In 2021, a delegation of Azerbaijani Parliamentarians made an official visit to North Cyprus, during which they also met with President Tatar at the TRNC White House.
The Turkish Cypriot leader has regularly and publicly made clear his affection for and support of Azerbaijan. This was especially well received during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, when Tatar was TRNC Prime Minister, helping to elevate his profile among ordinary Azerbaijanis.