When a conflict in the south Caucasus burst into open warfare a month ago, Turkey’s President Erdogan was the first world leader to jump into the fray.
He did not try and calm tensions between the warring parties, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Instead, he declared unconditional support for the Azerbaijanis who are close Turkic allies, and accused Armenia of ignoring efforts to negotiate a resolution. He also demanded that Armenia withdraw from lands it occupied 30 years ago.
“I condemn Armenia once again for attacking Azerbaijani lands,” he said. “Turkey continues to stand with the friendly and brotherly Azerbaijan with all its facilities and heart.”
This is the worst violence in the region since a six-year war over the territory ended with a ceasefire in 1994.
Dozens have been killed in four days of fighting since Azerbaijan and Armenia began missile strikes against each other’s positions along a front line that has been frozen since a territorial war between the former Soviet republics in the 1990s. On Thursday, the American, Russian and French presidents together called on both sides to cease hostilities.
The Russians brokered a cease-fire on Saturday that lasted 2 minutes. “The enemy fired artillery shells in the northern direction from 00:04 to 02:45, (20:04 to 22:45 GMT Saturday) and fired rockets in the southern direction from 02:20 to 02:45,” Armenian defense ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said on Twitter.
Both nations confirmed the humanitarian truce, although few other details were given.
Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said the decision was based on statements by the presidents of the US, France, and Russia, representing the OSCE Minsk Group – a body set up in 1992 and chaired by the three countries to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh – key facts
A mountainous region of about 4,400 sq km (1,700 sq miles)
Traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks
In Soviet times, it became an autonomous region within the Republic of Azerbaijan
Internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but the majority of the population is ethnic Armenian
An estimated one million people displaced by war in 1988-1994, and about 30,000 killed
Separatist forces captured some extra territory around the enclave in Azerbaijan in the 1990s war
Stalemate has largely prevailed since a 1994 ceasefire
Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan
Russia has military bases in Armenia
Is not obvious that President Erdogan is seeking that once Glorious empire between the 14th and 20th century. Currently intervened in Syria and Libya now fighting against Armenia. Trying to take over Greece’s territory for oil and Gas and announced that Jerusalem is theirs.
He converted another former Byzantine church, the fourth-century Chora church, one of Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine structures. The day after that he announced the largest ever natural gas depository in the Black Sea.
All of these moves project Erdogan’s vision of Islamist strength into the world. Standing up for Islam at home goes hand in hand with securing natural resources and imposing Turkey’s power abroad. It also goes hand in hand with domestic repression. The Islamic New Year saw Erdogan further tighten his grip on social media freedom and consider pulling Turkey out of what is known, now farcically, as the 2011 Istanbul Convention, a treaty of the Council of Europe that commits countries to protecting women from domestic violence. Democratic peoples in Turkey, the Middle East, and around the world should worry.
We should be wary of Erdogan’s embrace of Selim’s exclusionary vision of Turkish political power. It represents a historical example of strongman politics that led to regional wars, the attempted annihilation of religious minorities, and the monopolization of global economic resources. In addition to his attempts to monopolize natural gas reserves around Turkey, today this takes the form of Erdogan’s foreign military ventures in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. At home, he has gone after Turkey’s Shiite community, Kurds, intellectuals, Christians, journalists, women, and leftists. Erdogan cultivates his own Sunni religiosity to position Islam at the center of Turkey’s domestic agenda, with the church conversions the most potent recent symbols of this. Erdogan’s represents a political logic of zero-sum competition that pits Turkey against Saudi Arabia and Iran for control of the region and over claims of global Islamic leadership.