Pro-government media outlets in Azerbaijan are doubling down on cheerleading for the reelection of the incumbent, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Turkey’s presidential election on May 14. Such partisanship, however, can potentially complicate Azerbaijan’s strategic partnership with Turkey if the election results don’t go Baku’s way.
Erdogan has steadily solidified his grip on power over his past two decades in power, but he’s now facing his most serious electoral race since 2003. Public opinion polls in Turkey show him trailing his leading challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who heads a six-party opposition bloc, and who promises to make a radical break from Erdogan’s strongman leadership style, if elected.
Pro-government media in Azerbaijan began attacking Kilicdaroglu after he released a video on Twitter on May 7. In the video, he said he would shift the focus of the “Middle Corridor” trade route, diverting it through Iran while bypassing Azerbaijan. “We will revive the historical Silk Road. That is, we will connect Turkey to China,” Kilicdaroglu said, showing his promised route on a map.
State-controlled outlets in Azerbaijan have been lauding Erdogan for weeks already. Now, they are pillorying Kilicdaroglu for his perceived willingness to give Baku the cold shoulder. In one instance, a prominent Azerbaijani news agency, Report.az, ran an op-ed suggesting Kilicdaroglu was ready to betray the concept of Turkic solidarity.
“The fact that Azerbaijan is not included in the video … clearly shows what [interests] he will serve if he wins the elections,” the piece reads. “The idiosyncratic, nonsensical project serves to weaken the Turkic world by making it dependent on Iran and China, as well as destroying the Zangezur Corridor project.”
The Zangezur Corridor is a planned route to connect Azerbaijan to Turkey via Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave and southern Armenia. Baku had been pressing to turn the plan into reality since the Azerbaijani military decisively defeated Armenian forces in 2020, although recently officials have toned down their rhetoric.
Another news outlet, Musavat.com, published an article that painted a dire scenario for Azerbaijan’s strategic interests if Erdogan loses. The article warns, without providing substantiating evidence, that Kilicdaroglu might “open the border with Armenia unconditionally” or renounce the bilateral alliance signed by Erdogan and Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev in 2021, known as the Shusha Declaration.
Meanwhile, some independent analysts cast Baku’s media stance as a high-risk, low-reward position. Pro-government coverage in Azerbaijan is unlikely to sway opinion among Turkish voters, but it could possibly antagonize Turkish opposition leaders and do damage to bilateral ties if Kilicdaroglu emerges as the election winner.
Erdogan has been a staunch supporter of Azerbaijan, and his brand of authoritarian democracy is much admired in Baku’s governing circles. Kilicdaroglu’s views on the future of Turkish-Azerbaijani ties are not well defined, but a political ally in his opposition coalition has pledged that bilateral relations will become stronger than ever with new political leadership in Ankara.
Political analyst Anar Mammadli characterized the shrill reaction to Kilicdaroglu’s Middle Corridor comments as an “indicator of a national incompleteness complex” in Baku. He pointed out that the historical or modern-day territories of Azerbaijan only had a tenuous connection to major Silk Road trade routes. He indicated that Azerbaijan’s leadership should demonstrate a greater degree of self-confidence.
“The fate of Azerbaijan is not decided by the citizens of this country [Turkey],” Mammadli wrote in a Facebook commentary. “Asking questions, such as "Why doesn't Kılıcdaroğlu mention Azerbaijan?" is incompatible with the concept of national will and national sovereignty.”