Turkish influence in Nagorno-Karabakh overestimated, expert says

Turkish influence in the Caucasus following the recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has been overestimated, Carnegie Europe Senior Fellow Thomas de Waal said on Thursday.

Turkey provided Azerbaijan significant military support during the clashes, including armed drones credited with giving Azeri forces the decisive edge over their Armenian counterparts.

Ankara has trumpeted the military success as a sign of its rising power in a region traditionally dominated by Russia.

But speaking to regional media platform JAMnews, de Waal said Turkish rhetoric had not been matched by substantive changes on the ground.

“During the conflict, (Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) made a lot of statements about how he wanted to dissolve the Minsk Group; how he wanted Turkey to be one of the mediators… None of that happened,” de Waal said.

Chaired by France, Russia and the United States, the Minsk Group of OSCE countries, has provided the main multilateral forum seeking to resolve the future of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Although a member of the group, Turkey has sought to secure a more independent role in the region, including a permanent military presence in cooperation with Russia.

However, de Waal played down the significance of the Turkish forces. “We’ve ended up with the Russian peacekeeping force and 50 symbolic Turkish monitors outside, a long distance from the Karabakh Armenians.”

“It is more of a symbolic gesture towards (Erdoğan’s) big ally Azerbaijan,” he told JAMnews. 

Turkey shares close cultural and linguistic links with Azerbaijan, but relations with Armenia have long been overshadowed by the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. 

The United States is expected to shortly recognise the killings as a genocide, a term Turkey strongly rejects.  De Waal welcomed the move, but said he hoped it would be the start of a wider discussion “about justice and memory for the Armenians and reconciliation with Turks”.

He also warned there could be repercussions for today’s Armenian community in Turkey.

”It is important to remember that the coalition partner of the current government in Turkey is the very nationalist MHP (Nationalist Movement Party)”, he said.

Organisations linked to the MHP were accused in October of a spate of attacks targeting Armenians in France. The French government has since moved to ban the group.