Ufuk Uras speaking about his visit to Karabakh. Image grab from Habertürk TV program.
Ufuk Uras speaking about his visit to Karabakh. Image grab from Habertürk TV program.

The Azerbaijani government reacted angrily to a recent visit to Stepanakert by several Turkish political and intellectual figures. Former member of parliament Ufuk Uras, academics and writers Ali Bayramoglu, Sait Çetinoğlu, and Erol Katırcıoğlu, went to Karabakh after attending the Armenia-Diaspora conference held in Yerevan from September 18-21. The four are supporters of Armenia-Turkey normalization and opening of the border.

The Azerbaijani prosecutor general’s office demanded that the four be arrested and extradited to Azerbaijan. In its response, the Turkish government was non-committal. The foreign ministry spokesman said that Turkey supported Azerbaijan on Karabakh, but sidestepped the issue of criminal charges or extradition.

Azerbaijani state-controlled media cited a few Turkish politicians, who condemned the visit. Atila Kaya, who is affiliated with the nationalist MHP and is originally from Kars that has a substantial Azerbaijani population, said that there are “crypto-Armenians” in Turkey who “act treacherously.” Dursun Çiçek, a former military officer previously imprisoned for allegedly plotting against the government and now with opposition CHP party, called the visitors “problem people” that “should not be taken seriously.”

Turkish visitors in Karabakh are rare. In September 2009, at the time of Armenia-Turkey talks on normalization of relations, Turkish NTV and Milliyet newspaper’s reporting from Karabakh also caused anger in Baku. The journalists who reported from Karabakh were blacklisted and NTV denied accreditation in Azerbaijan. According to its staff, NTV leadership eventually managed to smooth out relations with Azerbaijan by preparing a flattering program about its ambassador in Ankara.

In April 2011, Kutlay Erk, a former mayor, and Emine Çolak, a former lawyer, both from Turkish Cyprus visited Karabakh for an international conference. Azerbaijan blacklisted them too.

The most recent iteration of the “black list” updated by Azerbaijani foreign ministry on September 22 had grown to 690 names and includes three members of U.S. Congress. By country, citizens of Russia comprise the largest portion – 170, followed by Germany – 65, U.S. – 52, Italy – 50, France -44, Belgium – 32 and UK – 24.  There were three Turkish citizens, including journalist Aris Nalci.

Update 10/5/2017: On October 4, the Turkish foreign ministry issued a statement urging Turkish citizens not to visit Karabakh, citing – in part – lack of consular support. While noting that visitors might be held liable by Azerbaijan, the statement did not indicate that visitors might be held responsible under Turkish law.

Update 10/17/2017: On October 16, Elman Nasirov, member of Azerbaijan’s Milli Majlis associated with the presidential administration, warned that “impunity of those who illegally visited Karabakh may negatively affect Azerbaijan-Turkey relations,” suggesting that Azerbaijani officials were dissatisfied with the Turkish government’s reaction to the visit so far.