ANKARA – Turkey has firmly put its weight behind oil-rich Azerbaijan as a decades-old territorial dispute flared anew into an armed conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region situated within Azerbaijan controlled by Armenia-backed ethnic separatists.
Turkey, a NATO member with regional and global aspirations, has vowed to support longtime ally Azerbaijan “on the battlefield or the negotiating table,” if needed. However, the Turkish government has denied Armenian claims that it is sending Syrian fighters and F-16 combat jets to assist Azerbaijani forces in the conflict that broke out Sunday.
Here’s a look at what lies behind Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan, its involvement in the conflict and its implications.
WHY IS TURKEY SUPPORTING AZJERBAIJAN?
Turkey and Azerbaijan are bound by strong ethnic, cultural and historic ties and refer to their relationship as being one between “two states, one nation.” Turkey was the first country to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the two have forged robust economic ties. Turkey is the main conduit for Azerbaijan’s oil and gas exports, and the ex-Soviet republic has become a major investor in Turkey.
On the other hand, Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia and sealed its border with the nation in 1993 to show solidarity with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Relations between Armenia and Turkey already were tenuous due to the the mass killings and deporations of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago, Scholars consider those events to be the first genocide of the 20th century, which Turkey denies.
In 2009, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped back from reconciliation efforts with Armenia that had angered Azerbaijan. Erdogan made the establishment of formal ties with Armenia conditional on its withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh.
HOW IS TURKEY INVOLVED IN THE CONFLICT?