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What is the position of Turkey in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

Turkey is one of the countries that fully support the position of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkey recognizes that it is an interstate conflict and that Armenia is an aggressor state, which occupied 20% of Azerbaijani territories.[1] In the international arena, top Turkish officials often express and promote the Azerbaijani view of the conflict and call upon the international community to contribute to settling the dispute.[2] Furthermore, together with Azerbaijan, Turkey also placed an embargo on Armenia and did not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[3]

In the early days of the conflict, Turkey carried out a neutrality policy and was able to get the issue included on the agenda of the OSCE.[4] Turkey established normal relations with Armenia and was one of the countries that recognized its independence earlier than many states. In 1993, Turkey invited Armenia to be a member of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. Moreover, Turkey provided energy and donated hundreds of tons of wheat to Armenia when this country was faced with serious shortages.[5]

However, Turkey’s neutrality policy in the conflict did not last long, because the massacre of Azerbaijani civilians in Khojali and Armenian military advances on Azerbaijani territories led to it reconsidering its position in the dispute. Public opinion and domestic pressure were other factors that made it impossible for Turkey to preserve its neutrality.[6] Indeed, by closing the border with Armenia after the occupation of Kalbajar, Turkey adopted more radical decisions towards its neighbor.[7] Additionally, Turkish officials said that Turkey would strengthen its military relations with Azerbaijan.[8] When Armenian aggression continued, Turkey cancelled all humanitarian deals that had been signed with Armenia to facilitate its basic demands.[9] However, despite Turkey’s constant support for Azerbaijan, it did not express any intention to intervene militarily in the conflict.[10] Azerbaijan also never officially asked Turkey to intervene.

Although, Turkey is a member of the OCSE Minsk group, its pro-Azerbaijan position in the conflict restricted its direct involvement in the settlement process. However, after the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, Turkey tried to play a more active role in the South Caucasus and produced a “Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform” (CSCP). The document aimed to establish stability, peace and cooperation among South Caucasus states, including Turkey and Russia. Under the principles of this pact, Turkey initiated a rapprochement with Armenia, which resulted in the signing of protocols between the two states about normalizing relations.[11] Turkish officials believed that the normalization of relations with Armenia would have a positive effect on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[12] However, when the Armenian Constitutional Court refused to ratify the protocols, the normalization process between the countries failed and relations between the states were unchanged.[13]

The Turkish position in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has not changed. Turkish officials still state that the borders with Armenia will remain closed and that diplomatic relations will not be established until Armenian troops are withdrawn from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

[1] Abilov, Shamkhal, “The Discourse “One Nation Two State”: The Position of Turkey in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict”, Journal of Caspian Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2015.

[2] Cornell, Svante E., The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict (Report no. 46, Department of East European Studies, Uppsala University, 1999), p. 66.

[3] Cornell, Svante E., “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh: A Delicate Balance”, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 34, No. 1, 1998, p. 51.

[4] Cornell, Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, p. 68.

[5] Mustafa, Gökçe, “Yukari Karabağ Sorunu ve Türkiye-Ermenistan İlişkileri Üzerine bir Değerlendirme”, Turkish Studies – International Periodical For The Languages, Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2011, p. 1119.

[6] Cornell, “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh”, pp. 60-61.

[7] De Waal, Thomas, Black Garden (New York University Press, 2003), p. 205.

[8] Abilov, “The Discourse “One Nation Two State”.

[9] Mustafa, “Yukari Karabağ Sorunu ve Türkiye-Ermenistan İlişkileri”, p.1120.

[10] Cornell, “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh”, p. 51.

[11] Welt, Cory, “Turkish-Armenian Normalisation and the Karabakh Conflict”, Perceptions, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2013, p. 208.

[12] Davutoglu, Ahmet, “Turkey’s Zero-Problems Foreign Policy”, Foreign Policy, May 20, 2010; https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/05/20/turkeys-zero-problems-foreign-policy/. Accessed on October 5, 2020.

[13] Welt, “Turkish-Armenian Normalisation and the Karabakh Conflict”, p. 209.