Turkey Accused of Stoking Tensions Between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Armenia says a Turkish F-16 downed one of their warplanes.
September 30, 2020, 5:18pm
Servicemen and members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) gather by a statue of Aram Manukyan among volunteers who are to set off for Nagorno-Karabakh740350
Servicemen and members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) gather by a statue of Aram Manukyan among volunteers who are to set off for Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo: Melik Baghdasaryan\TASS via Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron slammed NATO ally Turkey’s “warlike” rhetoric over Nagorno-Karabakh today, blaming it for contributing to the worst violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in decades.

“France remains extremely concerned by the warlike messages Turkey had in the last hours, which essentially remove any of Azerbaijan’s inhibitions in reconquering Nagorno-Karabakh,” said Macron at a news conference in Latvia.

“That we will not accept.”

Turkey is a staunch ally of Azerbaijan, a fellow Turkic nation, and has been vocal about its determination to support Baku in the fighting over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist enclave within Azerbaijan controlled by ethnic Armenians.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that his country would stand with Azerbaijan “with all its resources and heart,” while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pledged Wednesday to help Azerbaijan with “every means available,” and “do what is necessary” if Azerbaijan requested military support.

But while he said Azerbaijan presently had the “capacity” to deal with the conflict alone, there are growing claims that Turkey could already be giving more than just moral support to Baku. Armenia posted pictures of what it said was wreckage of a SU-25 warplane that had been downed by a Turkish F-16 a day earlier, a claim denied by both Azerbaijan and Turkey.

And there have been increasing reports that Turkey has been sending fighters from Syria, where it supports anti-government forces, to support Azerbaijan’s efforts — claims denied by Baku and Ankara. Hussein Akoush, a Syrian researcher and journalist, told VICE News he had confirmed that two men from his village had been killed after leaving for Azerbaijan about a week ago. VICE News was unable to independently verify the claims.

Other claims have circulated of Syrians being sent to Azerbaijan, either for battle or guarding strategic Turkish assets.

Armenia has a security pact with Moscow, raising the potential for Nagorno-Karabakh to be the third active theatre where Russia and Turkey are supporting opposing sides in a conflict, after Syria and Libya.

Asked Wednesday about the Armenian claim that a Turkish fighter jet had shot down its plane, Macron said he didn’t have proof of any external involvement, and would hold his counsel until the facts were established.

His comments – including an apparent pledge of support for Armenia – provoked an angry response from Turkey, with Cavusoglu saying France’s backing for Yerevan equated to supporting an occupation of Azerbaijan’s territory.

Analysts told VICE News that Turkey’s effusive support for Azerbaijan – in which Turkey’s pro-government media were enthusiastically covering the conflict as if the country were at war itself – may have emboldened Baku into what senior Azerbaijani officials have described as a “defensive patriotic war”.

Laurence Broers, associate fellow at the Chatham House international affairs think-tank, told VICE News that Turkey “already is involved, and the question might be how explicit and open does Turkey wish to be about that.”

“It seems to me more likely, at least at this stage, that forms of capability that can plausibly be denied are more likely to be deployed.”

In a published analysis, he wrote that it was still too early to reach definitive conclusions about whether that support included providing airpower or deploying Syrian mercenaries to the battlefield, as had been claimed. But there was “little doubt” that Turkey was supporting Azerbaijan with “various capabilities short of actual war and subject to plausible deniability, such as military drone tech”.

Asli Aydintasbas, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that Turkey had always supported Azerbaijan in the decades-old dispute, “but now its military footprint is deeper and more open”.

“In recent years, military cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan has increased, with Turkey providing training for Azeri forces,” she told VICE News. “Whereas before it was logistical support and arms sales, Turkey is more openly and militarily on the side of Azerbaijan in this case.”

Despite the mounting casualties, both sides vowed to continue the fight Wednesday, with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rejecting the suggestion of Russian-mediated peace talks, and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev pledging to fight until the Armenians were driven out.

“We only have one condition: Armenian armed forces must unconditionally, fully, and immediately leave our lands,” he said in televised remarks.