Azerbaijan's pro-government media have been loudly and prominently supporting incumbent strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of the Turkish presidential election on May 14.
Turkey is Azerbaijan's most important strategic partner by far, so on the one hand it's surprising that Baku would so blatantly take sides and risk antagonizing a post-Erdogan regime.
On the other hand, it seems natural that there would be an affinity between Erdogan, who has been in a top executive position continuously for over 20 years, and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, who similarly has been president since 2003 and is part of a dynasty that has in one way or another led Azerbaijan for 43 of the past 54 years.
One major Azerbaijani news agency, Report.az, published a fawning op-ed last week that highlighted Baku's fondness for continuity. Headlined "Erdogan's leadership: Turkey enters its centennial with the Right Man" it praised Erdogan's government as the "longest-lived and most decisive" in the 100-year history of the modern Republic of Turkey. "From 1991 to 2002, the government changed seven times in Turkey. Before that, Turkey was known as a country where military coups took place," the piece read. "In 21 years, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has turned from a regional power into a state with a global voice."
The piece went on to tout achievements of the Erdogan regime such as Turkey's pivotal support to Azerbaijan in the Second Karabakh War with Armenia in 2020, the fight against "terrorist" groups like the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Islamic State group (ISIS), and the sheltering of 3 million refugees from Iraq and Syria.
Azerbaijani Public TV (ITV) -- which like all channels broadcasting inside the country supports the Aliyev regime -- on April 14 posted an unedited six-minute clip from Erdogan's campaign speech without narration in which he badmouthed and belittled his chief opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who is standing as the candidate of a six-party opposition coalition.
In Turkey itself, the Azerbaijani-owned Haber Global TV network is similarly singing Erdogan's praises and denigrating his opponent. In one recent panel discussion, a commentator claimed that the "deep state" in the U.S. is pushing Kilicdaroglu to reverse course on aspects of Erdogan's foreign policy if he is elected.
Azerbaijan's president has not explicitly endorsed Erdogan himself, though members of his rubber-stamp parliament have.
"Every Azerbaijani hopes that Recep Tayyip Erdogan will win this election," MP and head of Azerbaijan-Turkey parliamentary working group Ahliman Amiraslanov told the Izmir mayor while on an official trip to Turkey on April 13. "I am sure that the people of our brotherly country will express their support for the leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who makes Turkey strong and leads it to a successful future."
The Azerbaijani media's glorification of the Erdogan government isn't new, but it is "ridiculous" to do it ahead of elections as it has no way of influencing Turkish public opinion, Baku-based analyst Shahin Jafarli told Eurasianet.
But it is unsurprising, he said. "Working with Erdogan's government is comfortable for the Azerbaijani government, given that both have been in power for a long time and they have built close relations. This concerns not only political relations but also relations on the personal level -- friendships and business partnerships. […] Naturally, the Azerbaijani government doesn't want to lose this closeness."
At the same time, Jafarli doesn't believe a change of government in Turkey would change too much for Azerbaijan, including its backing of Baku in the Azerbaijan-Armenia peace process.
"Turkey's role in this process has been exaggerated in Azerbaijani pro-government circles. Of course, we know of Turkey's contribution to Azerbaijani victory in the 2020 war, but the post-war process, on Azerbaijan's part, has been led by President Ilham Aliyev," he said.
"We should also note that the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement process has seen more successes than the Armenia-Azerbaijan process, including the repeal of the ban on air cargo and steps taken towards opening the border. And all this happened under Erdogan's leadership."