Recent fighting in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia has reignited a territorial clash that has been ongoing for much of the past 40 years, including a major military conflict that concluded in 1994. As of Tuesday, a ceasefire between the two countries is holding.
The conflict broke out when Azerbaijan attempted to seize a group of heights in the small enclave. Over the course of the past few decades, diplomatic ties between Turkey and Azerbaijan have grown increasingly close, extending to treaties of military cooperation. Shortly following the initial reports that the conflict had reignited after 22 years of relative stability, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan contacted Azeri President Illham Aliyev and pledged Turkish diplomatic and military support for Azerbaijan’s interests in Nagorno-Karabakh. Though Turkey and Azerbaijan enjoy close and generally friendly relations, Armenia’s history with Azerbaijan has been one defined by frequent conflict. Armenia is also closely allied to Russia, whose relations with Turkey broke down almost completely after a Russian warplane was shot down over the Turkish-Syrian border during operations in the Syrian Civil War.
Though Moscow has officially stated that it does not blame Turkey for the new violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, it is relatively easy to see how Turkey could have used such a move to hamper Russian interests. Armenia, as a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, is tied to a mutual defense agreement with Russia. Azerbaijan, too, once counted itself as a member of the CSTO, but passively dropped out by failing to renew the treaty terms in 1999. A general war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, such as that which occurred over Nagorno-Karabakh between 1988 and 1994, would therefore force Russia to provide at least some military support to Armenia as one of the other members of the treaty organization, turning the renewed war over the territory into a proxy war between Russia and one of its least friendly Middle Eastern counterparts.
Russia, thus far, has sought to avoid such a potential proxy war, pushing both Armenia and Azerbaijan to renew their ceasefire and to seek diplomatic solutions. “Russia has in this case once again took the initiative, and with the mediation of the Russian side a ceasefire has been agreed to,” said Aliyev, speaking of Russia’s role in the reaching of a ceasefire agreement between his country and Armenia. Meetings regarding the ceasefire were held in Moscow with Russia acting as a mediator between the two nations.
Meanwhile, Erdogan has accused Russia of taking sides in the conflict by brokering a peace agreement that leaves the enclave in the possession of its ally, Armenia. “If we are looking for someone who is taking sides, it is Russia,” said the Turkish president of the matter. In related comments, Erdogan once again voiced his disagreement with Russian intervention in Ukraine and in the Syrian Civil War, in which Russia backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who Erdogan has long labeled as an enemy of Turkey.
The ceasefire agreed upon by Azerbaijan and Armenia is currently holding pending more substantial measures to resolve the conflict and to calm the military tensions on the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey, however, has continued to support Azerbaijan’s claim on the enclave, with Mr. Erdogan even going so far as to say that “Karabakh will one day return to its original owner”. The Turkish president has also maintained that Armenia has not held to the terms of the ceasefire, despite the fact that no significant fighting has been reported since it took effect. While there is no definitive method to determine whether or not Turkey had a hand in prompting the re-ignition of violence in this obscure corner of Central Asia, it is at least the tentative opinion of your correspondent that Turkey has exploited and aggravated the situation so as to show its continued opposition to Russia and to divert Russian military focus away from other areas of import.
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