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Ally supports Azerbaijan with the goal of ‘Making Turkey Great Again’



Nearly two decades ago, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political party came to power, he developed a foreign policy that was summed up in a short phrase: “Zero problems with neighbors.”

But these days, it is difficult to find a conflict anywhere in Turkey’s expanding neighborhood – the Middle East, North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean – where Erdogan’s government does not.

Turkey is now a driving force behind the fight against Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave located within Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey. Since the latest clash erupted on September 27, the Erdogan government has delighted the “Turkic brothers”

; and brusquely rejected appeals from European allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, urging a settlement negotiation.

It may seem like a strange time for Erdogan, whose personal popularity has waned as he adds to the steps with authority to ensure his hold on power, to fall into another ugly and complex clash of the region. But the 66-year-old leader and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, have a long history of playing nationalist cards whenever dissatisfaction grows at home.

“It fits in with the domestic rhetoric of Erdogan and the AKP, to ‘make Turkey better again,'” said Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar with a Carnegie Europe tank.

In some ways, the conflict was a welcome move for Erdogan. Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Turkey’s economy grew, and as elsewhere, the public health crisis exacerbated the financial crisis. As the pandemic worsens, with nearly 10,000 deaths in the country, the unorganized response of COVID-19 is not well received even by a traditional business community support.

At a time like this, Azerbaijan, with close linguistic and ethnic ties to Turkey, has created a perfect celebre cause, said Alan Makovsky of the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank – just like neighboring Armenia. , with whom relationships are historically contradictory, makes for a perfect foil.

“When you look at the polls which countries the Turks consider their friends, Azerbaijan is always at the top,” Makovsky said.

Turkish media, more loyal to the government after years of official attacks on independent outlets, glorified Azerbaijan’s exploits in the fight for Nagorno-Karabakh, which ethnic Armenians call the Republic of Artsakh .

As the battle intensifies, many analysts point to the culmination of a military partnership that has been going on for decades.

Turkey has a big role to play in helping to build Azerbaijan’s military. The Caucasus nation was at war with Armenia when the two fought in their last major battle, in the years before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Svante Cornell, director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, said Azerbaijan has learned that “learning that failure to organize the proper military force is the reason why they disappeared.” That conflict ended in a trembling 1994 repeal of the law.

Assisted in recent years by a windfall of energy revenue, Azerbaijan has set about the systematic development of its military strength. Turkey has stepped up with structural support, sophisticated training and a raft of arms sales, to dramatic impact.

“There is a clear imprint of the Turkish military on Azerbaijan,” Cornell said.

As in Libya and Syria, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has become a proxy ground for Turkey’s long-standing rivalry with Russia, which has an alliance with defense in Armenia and a military base in the country. Some analysts see authorities as Erdogan taking a moment of weakening US and European influence to act.

“Obviously Erdogan has the ambition to position Turkey as a regional leader, and he has not yet reached the wall,” said Nicu Popescu, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He likened Turkey’s call for influence in the southern Caucasus, behind Russia, to Moscow’s uprisings in Syria and Libya, which were largely in Turkey’s immediate territory.

“It’s a mentality that rushes to gold,” Popescu said. “You go, you move fast, you mark your territory. If you have to punch some noses in the process, you do it, but you get as much land as possible.”

Despite decades of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the latest fighting certainly did not take place voluntarily, said Ezgi Yazici, who studied the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for the Institute for the Study of War based in Washington.

Turkey and the government of the Azerbaijani capital Baku, “are likely to prepare and coordinate for a potential Azerbaijani intervention to counter Armenia’s claim to Nagorno-Karabakh for months in Turkish sales drone, joint military drill, and reported the mobilization of the Syrian proxy in Azerbaijan, “Yazici wrote in an email. “Although Azerbaijan has decided on its own to launch an offensive, Erdogan’s actions have certainly facilitated and likely driven Azerbaijani action.”

The Turkish leader has made little secret of a broader agenda, recognizing his government’s stance as a declaration of “appropriate place in world order.” Both by supporting Azerbaijan in the current struggle and by claiming a role in providing any lasting peace, the Turkish leader sees an opportunity to enhance his prestige, Ulgen said.

“It allows Turkey to make a case to the international community that it has become more influential, more important,” he said.

In battle zones, of course, the question of regional jockeying is far from theoretical. With the increase in civilian casualties, Armenia on Thursday accused Turkey of blocking aircraft carrying emergency aid from flying over its territory, and aid groups warned of an impending humanitarian crisis.

Popescu predicted that eventually Armenia would be willing to relinquish some territory around Nagorno-Karabakh. But any settlement is unlikely to comply with the maximum demands made by Azerbaijani leaders, along with Turkish support, along with calls for Armenian forces to leave the enclave, Ulgen said.

“That is not very realistic,” he said. “The goal for Turkey is to reposition, to prepare for political negotiations – to have a seat at the table.”




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