Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made the controversial but unsurprising decision to stand beside Azerbaijan’s military actions in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, often referred to as Artsakh by Armenians. In a statement he gave addressing the United Nations (UN) General Assembly he stated:
“It is now widely recognised that Karabakh rightfully belongs to Azerbaijan. Any attempt to impose a different status will not be accepted. We stand by Azerbaijan, with which we share the motto of ‘one nation, two states’, in the protection of its territorial integrity”.
These statements come amid chaos in Nagorno-Karabakh. Following a blockade established in December 2022 on the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting 120,000 Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, Azerbaijan conducted a large-scale attack, which they called a ‘counter-terrorism operation’ on the region, resulting in dozens of civilian fatalities and even more wounded. On the following day, 20 September, a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement was reached.
In choosing to stand beside Ilham Aliyev, current president of Azerbaijan, Erdoğan has crossed the aisle leaving behind many of his nominal Western allies who have taken strong stances in opposition of Aliyev’s actions in Nagorno-Karabakh, which have been named as ‘mass displacement’ and ‘demographic manipulation’.
US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, released a press statement on 19 September strongly condemning Azerbaijan’s aggression and recognising the disastrous humanitarian situation created by Aliyev’s hand. Blinken said:
“The United States is deeply concerned by Azerbaijan’s military actions in Nagorno-Karabakh and calls on Azerbaijan to cease these actions immediately. These actions are worsening an already dire humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and undermine prospects for peace. As we have previously made clear to Azerbaijan, the use of force to resolve disputes is unacceptable and runs counter to efforts to create conditions for a just and dignified peace in the region. We call for an immediate end to hostilities and for respectful dialogue between Baku and representatives of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Two days later, the European Union (EU) joined the United States’ sentiments, calling for an end to military action and even asking Azerbaijan to “reaffirm its unequivocal commitment to the territorial integrity of Armenia, in line with the 1991 Almaty Declaration”.
Turkey has done more than simply verbally contradict the United States and the European Union, Erdoğan’s actions directly support what they have condemned. Turkey has supplied the military of Azerbaijan with equipment such as combat drones, and assisted them in retaking areas of the breakaway region during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020.
As I said, it is unsurprising that Turkey condones the violent tactics of Aliyev as they are very similar to his own. On 18 September, the Syrians for Truth and Justice organisation published a report detailing Turkey’s severe mistreatment of Syrian refugees, and their (at times) forcible deportation to the Kurdish-majority area of Afrin in Northern Syria.
Much of the original Kurdish population of Afrin was driven away and displaced during Operation Olive Branch in 2018, when Turkish Armed Forces and Turkish-backed mercenary groups attacked and occupied the city in North and East Syria. Since then, Erdoğan has been bringing in Syrian refugees who had fled the Syrian Civil War and settled in Turkey, and putting them in settlements in Afrin. The fact that most of the people resettling Afrin have been of Arab or Turkmen ethnicity has sparked concern that Erdoğan is conducting ‘demographic engineering’ and using refugees as pawns to ‘clean’ his southern border of any presence of Kurdish people.
Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have a history of mistreating ethnic and religious minorities, such as Kurds and Armenian Christians targeted by Turkey in the Armenian genocide of 1915-1916, and again targeted by Aliyev today. Both have a reoccurring habit of referring to blind and senseless violence against civilian populations as ‘counter-terrorism’.
So no, I am not surprised that the Turkish state is happy to see Aliyev is attending to ‘unfinished business’. What does continue to surprise and disappoint me is that NATO member and hopeful EU member Turkey is allowed to support loudly and actively what the US and EU have condemned as a humanitarian disaster. That so little accountability exists for Turkey, who opposes its own allies while holding the rest of NATO hostage over Sweden and Finland’s ascension process. I am still waiting for the answer to a question I have been asking myself for years – will the West ever hold Turkey accountable or is Erdoğan simply allowed to play by rules of his own choosing?