Nagorno-Karabakh conflict backs Erdoğan’s push for power at home – analyst

Turkey’s involvement in the three-decades-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan appears to be a move to consolidate power inside the country for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, columnist and scholar Walter Russell Mead wrote on Monday.

Erdoğan is simultaneously “transforming his country’s status in the region,” Mead said in the Wall Street Journal .

According to the foreign relations scholar, Turkey is betting that Azerbaijan can prevail in its fight before Armenia convinces Russia and Western powers to “force an end to the conflict.”

Azerbaijan has superior military resources, including armed drones it has been purchasing from Turkey. The country has invested heavily in its military since the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a ceasefire over the disputed region in 1994.

Nagorno-Karabakh saw the majority of its Azeri population flee or be driven out in the 1990s, and currently has an Armenian-majority population that have a de facto government in the region while it is officially part of Azerbaijan still.

Turkey maintains that Armenia is an occupying force in Azeri territory. United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions adopted in 1993 also identify the region as “occupied Azerbaijani territory.”

Meanwhile, Russia wants to maintain its good relations with both countries at the heart of the conflict, and in the south Caucasus as the most sensitive place on its frontiers, he said.

“Its nightmare scenario is conflict … that spreads to Russia,” the analyst wrote, where there are several Muslim ethnic minorities “who chafe under Moscow’s rule.”

As Russia struggles with a second wave in the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Erdoğan “might pull of his gamble,” Mead said.

Armenia’s regional ally Iran is reeling from U.S. sanctions, and stretched to the breaking point supporting various sides in several regional conflicts, the scholar added. Iran also has a 15-million strong Azeri minority, the largest in the country, who resent any sign of a pro-Armenian stance.

The United States is also unlikely to jump in with a hot-blooded response, as it is dealing with the ongoing pandemic as well on top of an upcoming election in less than 30 days. Despite the active Armenian diaspora in the country and in France, and the memory of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the European Union will also likely limit its response to symbolic sanctions, “hand-wringing and the eloquent expression of noble ideas,” he continued.

Although the majority of Azeris are from a different sect, they are still Muslim, and fighting against a Christian nation that Turkey has its own issues with. As such, a victory in the Caucasus “would be a personal triumph” for Erdoğan, Mead said. It would also make Russia take Turkey more seriously, and increase Erdoğan’s independence from the United States.

“In an increasingly disorderly world, middle powers like Turkey must take their opportunities where they find them,” Mead said, adding that the coming winter would likely not see a peaceful time for civilians.