Turkey achieves better influence than China with involvement in Nagorno-Karabakh – scholar

Ankara’s heavy-handed military involvement in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh has changed “the geopolitical rules of the game in the South Caucasus,” while allowing Turkey to project more influence in Central Asia, scholar Michaël Tanchum wrote for Turkey Analyst.

The conflict that broke out in late September in Nagorno-Karabakh resulted in a military victory for Azerbaijan, while Turkey elevated itself “from a transit state to one of the principal agenda-setters of Eurasian connectivity,” Tanchum said.

Following weeks of fighting, a Russia-brokered ceasefire went into effect on Nov. 10, creating a corridor through Armenia between Nakhchivan and thus connecting Turkey directly to Azerbaijan and the rest of the Turkic states in Central Asia.

Turkey’s increased connections to Turkic countries have been a concern for China as such pan-Turkic solidarity could extend to the Uighur minority in Xinjiang, the scholar said.

Ankara’s support for the Uighurs has waxed and waned in proportion to its relations with Beijing, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling the treatment of the Muslim minority a “genocide” in 2009, while July saw the country being accused of repatriating Uighurs via third countries and sending refugees back to China.

“In addition to its enhanced ability to influence commercial flows in the south Caucasus and Central Asia,” Tanchum said, “Turkey's empowerment of Azerbaijan to regain lost territory has increased Turkey's clout and bolstered its capacity to deploy pan-Turkic, soft power cultural instruments.”

Turkey's contribution to Azerbaijan's battlefield victory has also boosted Ankara's hard power outreach in Central Asia, according to the scholar, with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan increasing military ties with Ankara in October and November.

Ankara “is likely to capitalize on its new position and prestige,” and “may have outfoxed China in Azerbaijan to become a rising Eurasian power,” he said.