Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) is bleeding; do we care?

Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) is bleeding; do we care?
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Since December 2022, the Azerbaijani army has blockaded the 3170 km² Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Of the 120,000 people in the region, 30,000 are children, 20,000 are elderly, and 9,000 need care.

By Toros Korkmaz

Since 12 December 2022, the Azerbaijani army has blockaded the region, called Artsakh in Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh in Turkish, with an area of 3170 square kilometers and a population of around 120,000 people, including 300,000 children, 20,000 elderly, and 9,000 people in need of care. Azerbaijan controls the Lachin Corridor, the only exit for Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh regions. They mostly deny passage to vehicles carrying humanitarian aid. Armenians in the region can't meet basic needs because of Azerbaijan's blockade. The people of the area are at risk of starvation and epidemics. International organizations warned for months that the blockade could cause genocide. The European Union, the Council of Europe, and the United Nations asked Azerbaijan to end the blockade. Turkey's media hasn't talked about the human side of the issue, only the Azerbaijani army's win. The human tragedy unfolding in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is neither seen nor heard. Armenia and the suffering of its people are not important to ruling and opposition right-wing parties. This shows again how dominant the nationalist and chauvinist ideology is in Turkish politics. Let’s look at the brief historical background of this regional problem, although Nagorno-Karabakh is considered an Azerbaijani territory in international treaties. It is officially a geography with autonomous status. Armenians have made up at least eighty percent of the region’s population in the last two thousand five hundred years of its history. This region was considered a natural part of the territory of Armenia, with the condition of autonomy in its internal affairs, until 5 June 1921, when Stalin, because of geostrategic calculations, forced the Armenian government to accept its annexation to Azerbaijan. Armenians resisted Azerbaijan's ban on their language and culture during the Soviet era and wanted to join Armenia. In the referendum held in 1991, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating, the region showed a clear will to join Armenia, with over eighty percent voting in favor.

Turkey has unconditionally taken Azerbaijan's side in the conflict with Armenia for the past 35 years. It has even provided Azerbaijan with its military personnel and some deep-state elements to be used against Armenia. Turkey uses military force in Cyprus for their minority, but ignores the Armenian majority's claim in another region. Turkish rulers don't see Armenians as their own people. They see Armenia as an enemy country and don't want to have diplomatic relations with them.

Turkey has been providing military aid to Azerbaijan for 35 years in the conflict with Armenia. Turkey approves military intervention in Cyprus for a minority but not for the Armenian majority in their claimed region. The Turkish rulers don't see the Armenian people as their own, which is the main reason for this. Armenia is not considered a friendly neighbor, but an enemy country.

We should note that Pan-Turkism is part of the Turkish-Islamic synthesis, the official state ideology of Turkey. Pan-Turkism can be briefly summarised as the idea that different peoples in the world who speak Turkish or dialects of Turkish are considered Turks in a totalitarian approach, and the dream of establishing a tremendous Turanian empire on the Eurasian continent under the leadership of Turkey, comprising all these peoples considered as Turks. Tatar Muslim intellectuals who had fled from Russia to the Ottoman Empire introduced this idea to Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century. It later became increasingly influential in the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which was to have a say in the Ottoman state administration. The Committee of Union and Progress' coup in January 1913 led to the viability of Pan-Turkist ideology. In World War I, it was attempted to be realized through the military offensive launched by Enver Pasha, the commander-in-chief of the Ottoman army, on the Russian front. Although the defeat of Russia at Sarikamis in December 1915 proved that the Pan-Turkish policy had no realistic counterpart, that the cadres who later founded the Republic of Turkey were composed mainly of former Unionists ensured that the Pan-Turkist idea was kept in reserve as a worldview that could be implemented in state policy when conditions allowed.

From the early 1990s, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, Pan-Turkist views were openly expressed by the highest state officials. The Turkic world will prosper in the 21st century through our joint efforts, said President Süleyman Demirel in a 2000 speech. Hundreds of Turkish-language schools were opened in these countries with state support for Fetöist terrorist organization in the 2000s. Notably, the mainstream media and politics fervently supported this policy.

The political environment in recent years has helped Turkey support Azerbaijan in the conflict. Russia, historically the region’s most influential power and protector, has been forced to shift its weight away from the area because of the war in Ukraine, and has seen Turkey as an essential partner for regional cooperation, as it allows it to circumvent the economic sanctions imposed on it by the West. Russia’s interests, therefore, now favor maintaining good relations with Turkey. Turkey, Russia, and Israel sell the most weapons to Azerbaijan, and this brings them significant income. In addition, Turkey buys natural gas from Azerbaijan at relatively low prices, which brings the two countries’ energy interests together.

It is of humanitarian importance that the left, democratic, peace, human rights, and fraternity circles of Turkey, independent of the interests of the ruling classes of the nation-states and especially of the expansionist nationalist chauvinist currents, urgently take action on the fate of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. Without forgetting that the Armenians are Turkey’s people, developing a policy for a solution where the Armenians can live in peace with the Azeri people will profoundly contribute to bringing lasting peace to our geography. Fraternization between the Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Armenian peoples will benefit most people.

*This article was first published in Turkish on on 10 August.