Turkey to Send Troops to Caucasus War Despite Peace Deal

Turkish soldiers stand before people demonstrating as they secure a section of the M4 highway, which links the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Latakia, near Ariha in Syria's jihadist-controlled northwestern Idlib province on May 12, 2020. (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP) (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via …
OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty

Lawmakers in Turkey voted Tuesday to allow Turkey to send troops into Azerbaijan for “peacekeeping” purposes, despite Azerbaijan and Armenia reaching a peace agreement independently of Turkey over a week ago.

The two nations were embroiled in escalating violence over the border region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh became part of the Azeri Soviet Socialist Republic under Joseph Stalin despite its population being indigenous Armenians. After the Soviet Union collapsed, ethnic Armenians fought a war resulting in tens of thousands of deaths to separate from Azerbaijan, establishing a rogue self-declared state known as the “Republic of Artsakh.” The modern state of Armenia has never controlled Nagorno-Karabakh and it does not recognize Artsakh as a country, but violence between Azerbaijan and Artsakh nonetheless resulted in significant casualties for Armenian troops.

Fighting erupted in the region in late September, prompting Turkish Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to extend aid to Azerbaijan, citing their mutual Turkic ethnic background. Reports surfaced that, as it had done in Libya, Turkey was shipping thousands of battle-hardened mercenaries from Syria into Nagorno-Karabakh, though no official Turkish military presence was deployed.

Under severe military pressure, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced he had agreed to a peace deal with Baku last week that would result in Azerbaijan forcefully removing Artsakh officials. The Russian government, which is allied with Yerevan, would send peacekeeping troops to the region to ensure that Azeri troops do not commit any atrocities against the ethnic Armenians of the region. The deal triggered an exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh of ethnic Armenians, many of whom burned down their homes so the Azeris could not use them, and widespread protests in Yerevan calling for Pashinyan to resign.

The presence of Russian peacekeepers – about 2,000 initially, set to stay for as long as five years – has allowed some Artsakh refugees to return home and, at press time, no significant violations of the ceasefire have occurred. Despite this, Turkey has decided to send in its troops.

The Islamist-controlled Turkish Parliament voted to allow Erdogan to send “peacekeeping” troops into Azerbaijan for up to one year on Tuesday; as Nagorno-Karabakh is technically part of Azerbaijan, it is not clear if the troops will enter the region or stay on its outskirts to support Azeri and Russian troops. Parliament does not have the power to detail the specifics of the operation, so Erdogan must now determine how many troops to send, where to place them, and for how long. The main mission of the troops will be, Parliament asserted, to monitor for any ceasefire violations.

The Russian government, which supports Armenia in the dispute and also stands in opposition to Turkey’s position against dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria, insisted on Tuesday that Turkish troops present in Nagorno-Karabakh could lead to ceasefire violations and unnecessary tensions, given that Turkey committed the first modern genocide against the Armenian people in 1915 and has yet to admit to it.

”I think that we have been able to persuade our Turkish partners and our colleagues in Azerbaijan that conditions that can thwart our agreements should not be created, conditions that can push one of the parties of the agreement to some extreme methods and extreme actions,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told local outlet Russia-24 on Tuesday. “Why to [sic] provoke Armenia with the presence of Turkish soldiers on the contact line? I think President Erdoğan also admitted this and understood. We encountered no problems here.”

Putin also reportedly applauded Turkey’s cooperation with Russia in Syria, where Erdogan has stood accused of aiding the Islamic State but has more recently focused on attacking anti-jihadist Kurdish troops in Syrian Kurdistan.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev applauded Russia and Turkey for their role in the peace deal on Wednesday.

“All our neighbors expressed their support. And two of our neighbors – Russia and Turkey – will participate in the operations to provide for the security of Azerbaijanis and Armenians,” Aliyev confirmed.

Armenia has reportedly kept in contact with Russian officials, but not publicly with the Turks. In response to the widespread rejection of his acceptance of a deal in Nagorno-Karabakh, Pashinyan, who has rejected calls to resign, published a roadmap for restoring normalcy in the country on Wednesday.

“I have already said that I am the number 1 responsible person for the situation. I am also the main responsible person for overcoming the situation and establishing stability and security in the country,” Pashinyan said in an open letter to the Armenian people. “I am underscoring, not only don’t I intend to refuse from this responsibility, but I am entirely engaged in this work.”

Among the highlights in his roadmap to normalcy were a plan to allow ethnic Armenians to return to Nagorno-Karabakh after fleeing in September, the reconstruction of buildings bombed by Azerbaijan during the conflict, social plans to help veterans who are now disabled, and “overcoming of the coronavirus pandemic and elimination of its consequences.” Pashinyan’s letter did not elaborate on the latter point.

Pashinyan did not discuss the issue of a Turkish military presence potentially on Armenia’s border, though he has previously warned that Erdogan is seeking to rebuild the Ottoman Empire. Last month, Pashniyan urged European states to intervene to prevent Turkish aggression from escalating in Nagorno-Karabakh, warning that Turkish troops may soon come to other nations on the continent.

“We need to acknowledge that the main initiator of this war was Turkey which transported mercenaries and terrorists from Syria to Azerbaijan and transferred some part of its armed forces to Azerbaijan, including military equipment as well as some armed groups from Pakistan,” Pashinyan told reporters.

“In the South Caucasus, Armenians are the last obstacle on Turkey’s path of continued imperialistic policies towards the north-east and the south-east,” he said. “The Western community has failed to assess Turkey’s conduct appropriately and in a not so distant future, they should expect Turkey near Vienna.”

Multiple reports, including videos and interviews with the fighters involved, indicated that individuals tied to the Turkish government recruited thousands of fighters out of Syria promising thousands of dollars in exchange for “guard” work, later revealed to be fighting for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Some fighters said they took the job because they did not know there was a war in Azerbaijan and that, in fact, there was no war when they accepted the jobs.

Turkey is currently involved in military conflicts in three other countries: Syria, Iraq, and Libya.

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