Erdogan and Aliyev meeting in Nakhichevan

Turkey’s Erdogan meets Azerbaijan’s Aliyev as Armenians Flee Nagorno-Karabakh


By Amberin Zaman

ISTANBUL (Al-Monitor) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on September 25 met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Nakhichevan, an Azerbaijani exclave bordering Turkey, as thousands of ethnic Armenians continued to flee Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia proper in the wake of a fresh Azerbaijani assault on the majority Armenian enclave that has been the scene of bloody conflicts since the early 1990s.

In a 44-day-long war in 2020, Turkey’s military support proved key in helping Azerbaijan wrest back all of its territories occupied by Armenia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it is backing the oil-rich Turkic nation’s current drive to seize all of Nagorno-Karabakh. The mountainous region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but its population is 95% Armenian.

On September 20, the self-declared Republic of Artsakh, the Armenian name for the enclave, effectively capitulated after Azerbaijan launched a wave of attacks targeting what it called separatist “terrorists” — a reference to the local Armenian force defending some 120,000 ethnic Armenians who have inhabited the area for millennia.

Erdogan said it was “a matter of pride” that Azerbaijan’s latest “victory” was “successfully completed in a short period of time, with utmost sensitivity to the rights of civilians.” Even as he uttered those words, fresh allegations of abuses continued to flow from Armenian sources on the ground, with searing images shared online of women and children said to be wounded by Azerbaijani shelling.

Azerbaijan said it launched the operation to uphold a 2020 trilateral peace agreement with Russia and Armenia. Russian peacekeepers deployed in keeping with the agreement put up little resistance, prompting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to accuse the Kremlin of failing to honor its commitments. Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led bloc consisting of five other post-Soviet states under which members rise to the defense of others when under attack from outside forces.

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The timing of Erdogan’s visit to Nakhichevan, where the two leaders took part in a groundbreaking ceremony of a military logistics center and a natural gas pipeline running from Nakhichevan to Turkey’s Igdir province, was provocative, observers say. This is because of Baku’s demands that Armenia allow the establishment of the Zangezur transport corridor connecting Nakhichevan to the Azerbaijani mainland and providing unfettered access; in other words, there would be no border controls at either end. Armenia has rejected those terms, saying this would amount to an effective occupation of Armenian territory that would separate the country from its borders with Iran, its sole ally in the region. (The plan was not mentioned during the joint news conference.)

Iran has repeatedly declared any such effort a red line and has carried out military exercises along the border. Israel, alongside Turkey, provided weapons and military advisers to Azerbaijan in the 2020 war, and Iran believes that the Jewish state is using Azerbaijan as a staging post to destabilize the Islamic Republic.

Iran sees the retaking of Karabakh by Azerbaijan as the most serious step in the establishment of the Zangezur corridor, said Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “That corridor as perceived in Iran is going to deprive Iran of a very serious geopolitical advantage, which is direct land access to Armenia and also the leverage it had over Azerbaijan over its access to Nakhichevan,” Azizi told Al-Monitor. “In that sense, there is a lot at stake.”

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