Turkey has close links with the Republic of Azerbaijan and tries to engage in negotiations for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict and establishment of peace through the Moscow initiative; yet, Ankara’s interest in this conflict is of political and economic nature more than brotherly and racial motivations. Azerbaijan is significant for Turkey as it can provide energy security and act as the main source of energy for a country who is energy hungry and whose economy is sick. The import of gas to Turkey from Azerbaijan increased by 23 percent in the first half of the 2020. SOCAR, the state oil company of the Republic of Azerbaijan, has now turned into the largest foreign investor in Turkey.
In the political domain, Turkey intends to become an influential regional power in the South Caucasus region; and for this to realize, it needs to realize its political and military potentials in action in the Karabakh conflict and is therefore seeking more participation and involvement in the future political settlement of the Karabakh issue. In this respect, even through Turkey has not been named in the recent 10-point ceasefire agreement, it insists that it should be engaged in any way in patrolling operations in areas and corridors such as Lachin and in particular Zangezur; however, Russia has not permitted Turkey yet to control the Zangezur corridor. And based on the request of the Azerbaijan government, Turkey decides to send military forces and if approved by the Azerbaijan’s parliament even set up military bases in the territories of Azerbaijan.
In the meantime, a review of the formation of military operations in the region could expose another dimension of Ankara’s objective in the South Caucasus region. The Army of the Azerbaijan Republic had planned, under direction from Turkish generals, to take the southern part of Karabakh out of the control of Armenian forces. In fact, they wanted to attack the northern part and advance until Susa and then initiate an operation to enter the soil of Armenia and open the necessary land route to Nakhichevan parallel to Meghri-Zangezur corridor. In this way, they could have taken the full control of Karabakh. Notwithstanding, Russia issues necessary warnings that it will take military action should borders of Armenia are compromised. Therefore, both parties began necessary measures to establish ceasefire.
Most analysts and experts believe that the absolute support provided by Turkey to the Republic of Azerbaijan in this round of the Karabakh conflict led significant to the intensification of the conflict which was unprecedented this time since the 1990s. The Republic of Azerbaijan has been trying during the past years to re-capture occupied territories; however, it has been under the influence of Turkey in the past years as Ankara has been trying to expand its influence in the region through strengthening its military infrastructure.
It is remarkable to mention that during the presidency of Abdullah Gul in Turkey, relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan Republic went strain as Turkey was seeking the policy of peace and reconciliation with Armenia; however, in the past 10 years, Ankara-Baku relations have remarkable deepened. Azerbaijan is rich in oil and gas and pays more to attain military supremacy over its poorer neighbor Armenia. Additionally, Turkish officers are training Azerbaijani forces. Turkey is Azerbaijan’s third biggest supplier of weapons after Israel and Russia. On these days, the depth of strategic unity between Russia and Turkey over many issues of mutual interest especially energy caused Moscow and Ankara to adopt a joint approach towards the Karabakh conflict in spite of differences on other issues. In this respect, Sergei Lavrov talked, in a meeting in September 2020 with a number of representatives from the Azerbaijan Parliament, about Moscow’s support for re-capturing five of the seven occupied areas in Karabakh. This coincided with the 60-day military drills between Azerbaijan and Turkey in June and August.
In fact, it could be said that the start of the violation of ceasefire by Armenia in Nakhichevan in June was the beginning of the movements to end the Karabakh conflict in favor of Azerbaijan and in line with the objectives of Turkey.
Noteworthy to emphasize that as of 2015, nationalist figures in Turkey aligned and formed a coalition with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to increase activities in the Baku front in cooperation with the Jumhuriyat coalition with the National Movement Party led by Devlet Bahçeli. Many members of this coalition in Turkey are supporting Azerbaijan and consider as their main priorities the geopolitical conditions towards the European Union and the Black Sea.
The outcome and consequences of the Turkish involvement in the Karabakh conflict could be outlined in the following manner:
- Turkey has acted realistically in Karabakh conflict and has tried to increase its influence in the region with the help of the government of Azerbaijan without undermining Russia’s influence aimed at obtaining leverage over Russia in Syria or Libya.
- Turkey is confident that the public opinion and political climate would never be inclined towards Russian interests and that Ankara’s absolute support for Azerbaijan would encourage Baku to consider Turkey’s interests in its future decisions.
- Increasing influence of Turkey in Azerbaijan Republic would gradually weaken geopolitical conditions and Russia’s long-term domination in the region.
- The declaration of Ankara’s wishes and wants through Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev would prevent Ankara’s direct exposure to political criticism and diplomatic rhetoric.
- The military presence of Turkey in the process of the enforcement of ceasefire would pave the grounds for the continue involvement of Turkey in regional affairs. Therefore, Turkey, given the geostrategic position of the Caucasus, will want to direct equations in its own favor and exert tangible impact on the future economic and commercial as well as North-South transit decision makings over which Iran has long-term plans.
In conclusion, the status quo of Karabakh coupled with the military activities and role-playing by Turkey in the Caucasus could lead to disadvantages for Iran if they are not properly monitored and smartly managed.