Turkey is fueling a war. Why would Ankara get involved in the conflict in Karabakh?
This post was published in Lenta. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
MOSCOW, (BM) – Turkish policy under President Erdogan is increasingly perplexing neighbors and allies every year. Ankara began to allow itself liberties, which it had never dreamed of in the old days: it conducts a military operation in Syria at its own discretion; goes against Russia, while buying from it, in spite of the United States, S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems; waging a proxy war in Libya; bravely threatens Cyprus, Greece and Israel.
And now Turkey, in fact, is becoming a participant in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. “Lenta.ru” found out what “Turkish dream” Erdogan is trying to fulfill and what Ankara gets from interfering in other people’s conflicts.
High stakes game
“It was a deliberate attack on Azerbaijan,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a day after the aggravation of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey, as is often the case in recent years, has taken a clear and rather formidable position. The country’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, announced full support for Baku in the situation of military escalation, once again pointing to Armenia as the culprit.
It would seem that such support is unlikely to go beyond words – Yerevan is connected with Russia by a military agreement in the CSTO, so the risks of unnecessary escalation are very high. However, two weeks later, large-scale exercises began in Azerbaijan together with the Turkish military.
Formally, the parties explain that the maneuvers were planned long ago, but it is impossible to consider them outside the context of recent events, especially after Baku called the aggravation in Karabakh a prelude to war.
The exercises involved armored vehicles, artillery installations, combat and transport helicopters, air defense forces and anti-aircraft missile units of the two armies. It is obvious that such a concentration of military power does not at least contribute to de-escalation. But what are Turkey’s motives to act so actively in a region that has long been considered a zone of Russian influence?
Vladimir Avatkov, Senior Researcher at IMEMO RAS, Associate Professor of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, emphasizes that Turkey as a whole is pursuing an extremely active, offensive foreign policy line. “It is fundamentally important for her to demonstrate her soft and hard power in three worlds: the former Ottoman world [neo-Ottomanism], the Islamic world and the Turkic world,” Avatkov said. “That is why Turkey, regardless of the circumstances, is in solidarity with the Turkic states of the post-Soviet space, demonstrating itself as the center of the Turkic world.” This is exactly what Ankara does in the conflict between Baku and Yerevan, conducting military exercises with Azerbaijan.
Russia, unlike Turkey, is trying to act as a buffer between the parties to the conflict, to separate them on different sides – as it has been for a long history. And Turkey, according to Avatkov, in order to create an image of a power that is capable of influencing not only regional, but also world processes, seeks to participate in these conflicts, including using military force.
At the same time, Avatkov recalls that Ankara’s independent foreign policy, independent of the same NATO partners, is extremely important for Moscow. At the same time, an aggressive approach to some foreign policy issues is fraught with many risks, one of which is the escalation of the conflict in the South Caucasus, in which Russia is not at all interested.
According to Amur Hajiyev, a researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Erdogan is unlikely to resort to the real use of military means in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. As an example of a possible scenario, he cites clashes in the Eastern Mediterranean with Greece, when Turkey began to conduct exploration work on the shelves. “There were also threats from both sides, including the possibility of resorting to a military settlement of the dispute,” he recalled. “But the European Union intervened, and through its mediation we managed to defuse the situation.”
A similar situation has developed in Libya. “There, too, it seemed that Turkey was about to bring in troops, and a war would begin with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. As a result, there are proxy forces, military advisers and drones, but this is not a military intervention in the classical sense,” the orientalist concludes.
Hajiyev believes that Turkey has already realized its capabilities in the conflict in the South Caucasus and is now more inclined towards dialogue. Given the fact that she is trying to avoid a harsh international reaction after the transformation of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque, she can be content with the role of mediator.
“The likelihood that Turkey will take part in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict against Armenia is not high. It is simply not in its interests” Amur Hajiyev, researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences said.
“Of course, Azerbaijan is their [the Turks] closest ally, they have the motto“ one nation – two states. “But demonstration of force does not mean readiness to use it,” Hajiyev said.
According to this logic, it is more profitable for Ankara to maintain the status of a mediator, including in the OSCE Minsk Group, which is engaged in the settlement of the conflict in Karabakh, than to be a direct participant in it.
Obviously, Nagorno-Karabakh is far from the first region where Ankara’s interests overlap to one degree or another with Russia’s. In Syria, with a frequency of about once a quarter: suffice it to recall the infamous incident with the downed Russian plane or the “Spring Shield” operation directed against the government forces supported by Russia.
whether to take the situation in Libya, where, according to local authorities and the United States, Moscow is helping the rebellious field marshal Haftar in the confrontation with government forces through PMCs. Erdogan, on the contrary, does not hide his dislike of the rebels and, of course, provides full support to the internationally recognized Government of National Accord.
Sultan was born
However, what are the goals pursued by Ankara through such a policy? Of course, it is striking that in almost all conflicts in which Turkey takes a tough stance, the same rhetoric sounds about protecting peoples close to her by blood and faith from terrorists and insurgents.
It should be noted that under the current president and in the domestic agenda, the Islamic factor began to play a key role for the first time in more than 100 years. For this Erdogan is often criticized, because to this day the official ideology of Turkey – Kemalism, coming from the founder of the modern state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, contains the principle of laicism (secularism).
“The Muslim factor, of course, runs counter to Kemalism,” says Hajiyev. – It was based on both secularism and the movement towards Europeanization in terms of culture and mentality. Then Turkey moved away from the Middle East, considering these countries to be somewhat backward. And in 1952 Turkey joined NATO, which further strengthened its pro-Western vector. “
But over the years of his rule, Erdogan has taught the world that he loves to play, as much as possible, by his own rules. And it does it very successfully. Experts emphasize that the president knows how to sit on two chairs, balancing very competently – even his opponents admit this. On the one hand, strengthening in the Islamic world is the request of half of the Turkish society (the other half is for secular Turkey).
“On the other hand, there are personal ambitions of Erdogan. This is clearly seen in the example of the transformation of Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque, in loud statements about Palestine and the reaction to the transfer of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Hajiyev explains the president’s motivation for the policy of protecting fellow believers.
According to him, Erdogan’s main goal is to achieve the status of a regional superpower in the Muslim world. “This is an expansion of influence, rather, to the south, southeast, where the Ottoman Empire once was. But I would not call it neo-Ottomanism – some elements of this ideology are more likely to be present in Erdogan’s policy,” the expert noted.
In addition to the policy of protecting Muslims, Turkey is always closely linked with the ideology of Pan-Turkism – the idea of the need to consolidate the Turkic peoples (most of the Central Asian states, some republics of the Russian Federation, for example, Tatarstan and Bashkiria) on the basis of ethnic, cultural and linguistic commonality. And here not only hard, but also “soft power” of Ankara is manifested.
Vladimir Avatkov believes that in fact the Turkic states and, to an even greater extent, the Russian Turkic regions are much more “Turkic” than Turkey itself: they have preserved more traditions and customs. In this regard, it makes no sense for them to focus on Ankara as a cultural and ideological leader, the expert said.
“Turkey is trying to force them to follow its only correct logic, (…) is trying to form more manageable mechanisms of influence in the Turkic states – in particular, in Azerbaijan” Vladimir Avatkov said.
The political scientist noted that for this Ankara is trying to use all available means – both “soft power” (education and science), and Turkish business, and the formation of lobbyist groups.
Amur Hajiyev, in turn, is not inclined to associate Ankara’s activity with the ideology of Pan-Turkism. “In the 1990s, this was indeed a topical area of Turkish foreign policy. Under Erdogan, this went far into the background. Firstly, Turkey realized that the Turkic world is not homogeneous. Secondly, there is no boundless space, plus economically Ankara will not pull leadership in the Turkic world. And the Turkic states themselves have lost their enthusiasm for the idea of accepting Turkey as their “big brother” the expert says.
According to him, Kazakhstan is in any case closer to Russia and China, while Turkmenistan has declared neutrality. With Uzbekistan, Turkey only recently began to develop relations after a long period of tension, while with Kyrgyzstan, on the contrary, they are deteriorating – because of the supporters of the preacher Fethullah Gulen hiding in the country, whom Ankara considers to be involved in the coup attempt.
At the same time, the current President of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, meets every year with Erdogan, who calls the Russian just “my brother”, and the Russian Turkic republics still have observer status in the International Organization of Turkic Culture (TURKSOY).
And this despite the fact that in 2015 the then Minister of Culture of Russia Vladimir Medinsky sent a telegram to the heads of six republics (Altai, Bashkortostan, Sakha, Tatarstan, Tyva, Khakassia) about the need to immediately stop contacts with the organization. Exit – exited, but not completely.
“The successes of Turkey’s soft power are still more visible in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Yes, in the same Tatarstan there are a number of sympathizers, but there are no supporters of real Turkization,” Hajiyev said. Indeed, it seems that the United States has been much more successful in educating the peoples of Russia for ethnic radicalism, which finances the divisions of Radio Liberty in Tatar and Bashkir languages with appropriate propaganda content.
Indirectly, the fact that Ankara is not omnipotent in the unification of the Turks is also indicated by the situation with the Uighurs in China. Turkey – one of the only Muslim states – reacted extremely harshly to the tightening of Beijing’s policy towards this people immediately after the terrorist attacks of 2009, directly calling what was happening genocide. In addition, the country hosted Uyghur refugees.
However, when the situation with the rights of the Turks in China became even more complicated, Erdogan suddenly felt that the Uighurs only became happier from this. Apparently, in such cases, the Turkish president is still not ready to go against his economic interests – in particular, to lose the flow of Chinese investments.
Turkey under Erdogan began to pursue a much more active foreign policy. In addition, nothing prevents the president from reviving the country as an independent Muslim center of power. Ankara’s ideas about a just world may not like neighboring states and world leaders, but this does not in the least affect the plans of the bright head of state. Erdogan does not care much about long-defunct international law.
At the same time, he, like any ruler, is undoubtedly concerned about the problem of his popularity within the country. This is one of the reasons why the President does not close his eyes to the situation of peoples close to the Turks in language, history, religion and culture, only because of the abstract “principle of non-interference in internal affairs.”
Only restrictions that inevitably arise in big politics – possible military conflicts with nuclear powers or the threat of loss of large investments – really affect Erdogan. At the same time, he receives a country that gradually not only becomes independent from others, but also takes on a leading role in the region. And every one who has interests in the Greater Middle East, one way or another, will have to reckon with the fruits of this policy.
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