I'm pretty sure that all of you know about what is happening in Nagorno-Karabakh, how the Armenian-Azeri conflict developed in the last few months and what the outcome was. Azerbaijan won the war, while Armenia has been defeated. But what are the perspectives and the main subject of today's post is what is the role of Turkey in all of this?
Ankara sent troops on the battlefield and helped Baku to win. Not just troops, but also weapons, money, specialists and so on. Now the question is what is Turkey trying to achieve or better said what is Erdogan expecting in return?
I'm remembering a defining moment that happened almost 9 years ago, in 2011. While I was till studying frozen conflicts, I came across with a statement from the International Crisis Group. Then, it was said that there is a huge possibility that Turkey to be involved in a potential conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, if such a war will break out. One of the reasons of the Turkish involvement in support of Baku could be public pressure, even if Turkey's foreign policy might be focused somewhere else. Due to this, I also read at that time that the Turkish authorities were trying to persuade Baku to not start a war with Armenia.
After almost 9 years of a relative peace with small episodic military outbursts, the conflict evolved at its maximum potential. On the other hand, we've also seen how Turkey's foreign policy changed. Instead of being just a minor combatant in the war, like Ankara wished to be in 2011, now Turkey got involved at its full in the conflict that recently ended and lasted 44 days. Turkey didn't care about anything and became part of the conflict and showed more than obvious what its interests really are in the region.
How it came to the current violence in Nagorno-Karabakh
Stalin's territorial and ethnic policy in the 1930s created an autonomous republic with a majority Armenian population in the territory of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. When the USSR collapsed, Armenia claimed this territory, and the Armenian people here demanded secession from Azerbaijan. Thus, began the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and, after the ceasefire, all that remained was a conflict still unresolved three decades later.
The current resumption of violence is not a surprise, the resurgence of the conflict has always been not only a possibility, but also an anticipated action. Nor could it be otherwise, since:
The Minsk Group, in which negotiations are taking place between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has been working on a "negative peace" solution for the past three decades - concerned with restraint and not conflict resolution. The goals have always been negative - not to start the war again, not to be a loss of life. None of the Group's co-chairs (the US, Russia and France) pushed for a "positive peace" - building a permanent solution to the conflict, involving both the Azerbaijani and Armenian people for peace and openness to compromise.
Domestic political pressures both in Armenia and especially in Azerbaijan have increased as a result of the current economic crisis. Azerbaijan is facing an economic crisis due to falling oil prices, on which the Azerbaijani economy, based exclusively on hydrocarbon exports, is dependent. President Alyiev needs to maintain his image and authority through actions welcomed by the public - and Nagorno Karabach remains a priority for the Azerbaijani population (as, for the Armenian population, attitudes generously fueled by politicians over the past 30 years of conflict).
And in the South Caucasus, as well as globally, the isolation of the United States and its strategic disengagement have created a vacuum and affected the geopolitical balance, however fragile. The United States had a privileged relationship with Azerbaijan and thus some influence over it, being also co-chair of the Minsk Group.
Why is this violent episode different from the previous ones
Small-scale armed conflicts have taken place regularly along the 243 km border between Azerbaijan and the Artsakh Republic (a self-proclaimed republic that also includes Nagorno Karabach) over the past three decades. However, this is different both in the intensity of the fighting (which has already claimed more than 240 victims) and, especially, in the direct involvement of an external actor - in this case, Turkey. Although Turkey has always supported Azerbaijan, with which it shares Turkish origins, it has never been directly involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This time, Erdogan is doing so, not only through unequivocal statements of support, but also by bringing fighters from Syria to Azerbaijan.
Such direct involvement is unprecedented and fuels the conflict.
What is the short-term stake?
Azerbaijan seeks to change the situation on the ground so that it can re-enter negotiations on this new position. It is the tactic of “salami”, when a country conquers a territory piece by piece, each time consecrating its new position through an official re-entry into negotiations with a status quo thus modified. Given the geography of Nagorno Karabakh, its total conquest, in one piece, would involve a military effort, including high human costs, which Azerbaijan cannot afford.
Apart from Turkey, there is another very visible external actor in this conflict - Russia. Having good relations with both sides in the conflict, although a privileged relationship with Armenia, Russia has so far played a role in balancing relations. Its direct, military involvement in favor of Armenia is, however, hard to believe. If this, however, were to happen, we would witness a war between Turkey and Russia, through intermediaries, a war in which no one she wants him.
But the most important geopolitical implication is the strategic expansion of the Black Sea region - from the Caspian Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean. We cannot longer talk about the security of the region without referring to this whole area, and we cannot longer talk in isolation about the conflicts in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. The actors involved (Russia, Turkey, the EU and, when they return, the US) are the same, the threats are the same and the vulnerabilities are similar. Both NATO and the EU will need to embrace this concept and adapt their strategies and policies accordingly.
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