At first glance, due to its instantaneous support from Azerbaijan in the recent clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey has been recognized as a prime actor of ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In contrary to common belief, because of the serious internal and external challenges that faces in its southern borders, Turkey was unable to open new front in the south caucuses where Russia has defined its own strategic assets. So, how Turkey’s behavior in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to be explained? Among geopolitical objectives in the Turkey’s South Caucasus doctrine, Moral obligation, diversification of energy inputs, and Armenian genocide issue are the most prominent variables determine Turkish approaches logic towards ongoing conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh.
For historic, cultural, linguistic and ethnic reasons, Turkey and Azerbaijan have close ties in which Turkey morally and ethnically has bound itself to support all Turkic throughout the world; in this regard, Erdogan said that, “Surely, Karabakh will one day return to its rightful owner, Azerbaijan, and Turkey will be along with its brother”. For Turkey, there is no distinction between Armenian issue and Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Turkish policy makers look at this issue as an opportunity to appease Armenian Diaspora’s critics against recognition of Armenian genocide by Turkish leaders. By repeatedly emphasizing on Khojaly Massacre during the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1992) and linking it to ongoing Armenian movements, President Erdogan is trying to highlight Azeri’s genocide in order to ignore recognition of Armenian genocide. Turkey and Armenia relations are understandably frosty as it is, in part because of Turkey's continued reluctance to recognize the massacres and deportations of ethnic Armenians that took place a century ago as genocide. In this context, In the midst of the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Erdogan stated that, “The violence in Karabakh, the massacres that are taking place there are also burning our hearts in Turkey.”
The last variable in determining Tukey’s consideration towards recent Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes is pertinent to securitize energy transit from the Azerbaijan. By increasing tensions between Turkey and Russia relations especially in the Syrian crises, Turkey in order to provide its demanded energy resources and reduce its dependence on Russian sources is pursuing diversification policy. Azerbaijan’s energy reserves are the prominent alternative to transfer energy from the south caucuses. To that end, Turkey needs to exert proactive foreign policy in the political and geopolitical developments of the mentioned region.
In the current circumstances, due to critical constrains, there are some factors show that Turkey is not looking for adventures and escalation of the crises in the Nagorno-Karabakh:
1) The first one is pertinent to constraints that Turkey encounters from its western alliance’s side, especially NATO. Turkey’s western alliances while in some cases tacitly supporting Armenia, exerted pressure on Turkey not to involve itself on this conflict because of NATO’s strategy which wanted to be out of the conflict in south caucuses. Furthermore, Turkey’s western partners generally believe that Turkish military involvement would enhance the risks of an escalation the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and leads to direct confrontation between Russia and Turkey. Accordingly, Turkey as a NATO member is not autonomous to exert its ambitious policies in the south caucuses.
2) In lines with the first factor, the second factor originates from Turkey’s quest for full membership in the European Union. Turkey has recently been criticized by EU members due to its arbitrary approaches in the Middle East’s ongoing developments. To compensate these deviation in the EU’s general Middle Eastern policies and to enjoy the chances that have emerged in the Refugee crises to close the EU, it is clear that any Turkish adventurism in the south caucuses would not serve its long term interests on the Western Front. Moreover, Turkey’s balanced foreign policy throughout the region and normalization of relations with Armenia could provide Turkey’s critical international objectives by highlighting its importance as a stabilizing factor in the Eurasia and a bridge between the EU and Caucasus. It is worth noting that The EU after imposing the sanctions against Russia especially in the energy sector, considers Turkey as a key player to transit Caucuses’ energy reserves to Europe.
3) The third factor which has internationally limited Turkey’s behavior in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the legacy of Armenian genocide that has been perusing by Armenian Diasporas. Erdogan concerned that any Ankara’s move to actively advocate Azerbaijan would be inflamed by the influential Armenian Diaspora in the western countries so that Turkey would be portrayed as planning new atrocities against Armenians.
4) The last one is concerned with Turkey’s historical rivalry relations with the Russia in the south caucuses where Russia has defined its strategic interests in controlling this region. Because of the ongoing war in the Syria that has led to intensity tensions between Moscow and Ankara, Turkey due to Lack of material capabilities to open a new front against Russia in the Caucasus is reluctant to escalate Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Therefore, Ankara has been unwilling to confront with Moscow for the sake of unilateral adventurous and support for Azerbaijan in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war.
Taking into account all these factors, under such harsh circumstances that Turkey is already faced with in the Middle East, it is obvious that heavy pressures has been exerted on Ankara not to involve itself too deeply and adventuresome in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Because of the refugee crises and security threats that Turkey internally faced with as well as external terrorist challenges that destabilize the southern borders, Erdogan can do nothing more than rhetorical support from Azerbaijan at least in short term. In this context, Turkey is fully certain that attempts by the Minsk Group of the OSCE are hopelessly stalled and other actors like Ankara should be invited to join settlements efforts as a co-chaired member. Nevertheless, in the long term, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict’s possible scenarios are mainly depend on Russia and Turkey’s relations and their bilateral ties from the cooperation to the conflict will determine the south caucuses’ geopolitical and security dynamics. Considering the growing importance of these two regional powers, their mutual relations will be the decisive element in the caucuses’ emerging multi-polar order.
Vali Golmohammadi, a PhD candidate of International Relations at Tarbiat Modares University, is the fellow at Center for Strategic Research.