The armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has escalated over the past week to all-out war. Military casualties are reportedly in the thousands after the worst episode of violence since the end of a war 26 years ago. Civilians are among the dead and towns are coming under heavy artillery fire. Warplanes are being shot down on both sides.
In a joint statement issued this week, the presidents of Russia, the United States and France called for an immediate ceasefire and for both sides to engage in dialogue to resolve the long-running dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Both South Caucasus nations lay claim to the highland area.
Previously, the dispute has erupted in violent clashes periodically since the end of a six-year war in 1994. But this week, the frozen conflict has exploded, and there is sinister potential for a protracted war because of outside interference from Turkey. How damnable too that Turkey is a member of NATO, an organization which claims to be about peace and security.
Russia, the U.S. and France are co-chairs of the Minsk Group assigned in 1992 by the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) to maintain peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The United Nations Security Council also called this week for a cessation in military operations and for a negotiated resolution. The quick diplomatic coordination between Moscow, Washington and Paris is a sign of how grave the conflict is turning. And that coordination is a reminder of how important cooperative multilateral relations are for international security. (Shame on those who promote Russophobia and poisoning of relations; for the emerging crisis in the Caucasus is reason why strong working relations are vital for maintaining peace and security.)
The Armenian authorities reportedly signaled Friday that they are willing to reestablish a ceasefire through the OSCE. It remains to be seen if the Azerbaijani side will reciprocate.
Turkey’s pernicious role in the conflict needs to be called out and condemned.
Ankara has become a direct participant in the war, although Turkey dissembles cynically by claiming it is not involved. That claim is negated by several facts:
Turkey has recruited and dispatched thousands of mercenary fighters from northern Syria to fight on the side of Azerbaijan. That these militants are mainly associated with proscribed terror groups such as Islamic State (Daesh) points to a potentially dirtier and longer war akin to what has happened in Syria over the past decade.
Turkey is supplying F-16 fighter jets to Azerbaijan which have been involved in offensive operations, and in all probability flown by Turkish pilots. That means Ankara is a de facto belligerent in this conflict, albeit without having officially declared war. There are credible reports that Azerbaijan’s air force and military are in effect being commanded by Ankara.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has over the past week made incendiary statements proclaiming Azerbaijan’s right to take control of Nagorno-Karabakh by force. Erdogan has vowed Turkey’s support in this endeavor, declaring “brotherly” relations with Azerbaijan as “one nation, two states”.
In short, Turkey is fueling this war. It should be borne in mind that Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar is on record admitting that Turkish military have been building up forces in Azerbaijan over recent months. The dispatch of thousands of mercenaries from Syria to Azerbaijan under Turkey’s auspices is not a spontaneous development. It would have required months of planning and logistics.
All this indicates that the eruption of violence this week has been orchestrated by Ankara. It seems to be part of Erdogan’s geopolitical gaming to enlarge Turkey’s regional power and influence. His Neo-Ottoman ambitions have been manifest elsewhere in the covert war Turkey fomented against Syria with disastrous consequences, as well as in Ankara’s involvement in Libya’s civil war and the recent flare-up of tensions with Greece over East Mediterranean hydrocarbon resources. The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh fits into this Machiavellian power play by Turkey. Turkey has historic cultural relations with Azerbaijan going back to the Ottoman Empire. The Armenian genocide carried out by Turkey in 1915-16 in which 1.5 million people were slaughtered is a painful reminder of Ankara’s shameful and nefarious role in today’s resurgence of conflict.
Azerbaijani authorities would do well to recognize that their country is being manipulated by Ankara to satiate Erdogan’s political ambitions. Baku must tell Ankara to back off, as should the international community. Further entanglement can only lead to greater violence and catastrophe for all the people of the South Caucasus.
Azerbaijan claims that Nagorno-Karabakh represents about 2o per cent of its territory which has been illegally occupied by separatist ethnic Armenians supported by neighboring Armenia. It is a complicated dispute going back at least a century. The area is predominantly populated by Christian Armenians, while Azerbaijan is majority Muslim. The Armenians claim the enclave to be part of Armenia and they point out that it was arbitrarily assigned to the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic by Stalin in the 1920s. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh wanted to rejoin Armenia. There is an analogy here to the complicating Soviet legacy with regard to Ukraine and Crimea and how the latter was arbitrarily assigned to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by Khrushchev in the 1950s only for it to later secede in 2014 and rejoin Russia.
In any case, the only acceptable way forward is for both sides to immediately engage in negotiations to resolve the conflict and to avoid further confrontation. That means Turkey desisting from fomenting aggression and abiding by international law.
Erdogan’s deleterious conniving in Nagorno-Karabakh is a disgraceful continuation of his regime’s dirty war in Syria. That’s not just an indictment of Turkey alone. For it is also a member of the NATO alliance which proclaims to uphold peace and security and which is seeking to expand its membership in the Caucasus region. Turkey must back off, and so must NATO.