What is the position of Turkey regarding the Karabakh issue?

Turkey is one of the countries that fully supported the position of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and recognized the conflict as an interstate conflict and Armenia as an aggressor state that occupied 20% of Azerbaijani territories during the First Karabakh War.[1] In the international arena, top Turkish officials often expressed and promoted the Azerbaijani view of the conflict and called upon the international community to contribute to settling the dispute.[2] Furthermore, along with Azerbaijan, Turkey also placed an embargo on Armenia and did not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[3]

In the early days of the conflict, Turkey carried out a neutrality policy and was able to get the issue included on the agenda of the OSCE.[4] As a neighbor that established normal relations with Armenia, Turkey was one of the countries that recognized Armenian independence earlier than many states. In 1993, Turkey invited Armenia to be a Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization member. Moreover, Turkey provided energy and donated hundreds of tons of wheat to Armenia when this country was faced with severe shortages.[5]

However, Turkey’s neutrality policy in the conflict did not last long, because the massacre of Azerbaijani civilians in Khojaly and Armenian military advances on Azerbaijani territories led to it reconsidering its position in the dispute. Public opinion and domestic pressure were other factors that made it impossible for Turkey to preserve its neutrality.[6] Indeed, Turkey adopted more radical decisions toward its neighbor by closing the border with Armenia after the occupation of Kalbajar.[7] Additionally, Turkey strengthened all its relations with Azerbaijan, including military relations,[8] and canceled all humanitarian deals signed with Armenia to facilitate its basic demands due to continued Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan.[9] However, despite Turkey’s constant support for Azerbaijan, it did not express any intention to intervene militarily in the conflict.[10] Azerbaijan also never officially asked Turkey to intervene.

Although Turkey is a member of the OCSE Minsk group, its pro-Azerbaijan position in the conflict restricted its direct involvement in the settlement process. However, after the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, Turkey tried to play a more active role in the South Caucasus and produced a “Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform” (CSCP). The document aimed to establish stability, peace, and cooperation among three South Caucasus states, including Turkey and Russia. Under the principles of this pact, Turkey initiated a rapprochement with Armenia, which resulted in the signing of protocols between the two states about normalizing relations.[11] Turkish officials believed that the normalization of relations with Armenia would have a positive effect on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[12] However, when the Armenian Constitutional Court refused to ratify the protocols, the normalization process between the countries failed, and relations between the states stayed unchanged.[13]

The position of Turkey regarding the Karabakh issue stayed same during and after the Second Karabakh War, who was one of the main political supporters of Azerbaijan during the War of 2020.

[1] Abilov, Shamkhal, “The Discourse “One Nation Two State”: The Position of Turkey in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict,” Journal of Caspian Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2015.

[2] Cornell, Svante E., The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict (Report no. 46, Department of East European Studies, Uppsala University, 1999), p. 66.

[3] Cornell, Svante E., “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh: A Delicate Balance,” Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 34, No. 1, 1998, p. 51.

[4] Cornell, Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, p. 68.

[5] Mustafa, Gökçe, “Yukari Karabağ Sorunu ve Türkiye-Ermenistan İlişkileri Üzerine bir Değerlendirme,” Turkish Studies – International Periodical For The Languages, Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2011, p. 1139.

[6] Cornell, “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh,” pp. 60-61.

[7] De Waal, Thomas, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War (New York University Press, 2003), p. 205.

[8] Abilov, “The Discourse “One Nation Two State”.

[9] Mustafa, “Yukari Karabağ Sorunu ve Türkiye-Ermenistan İlişkileri,” p.1120.

[10] Cornell, “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh,” p. 51.

[11] Welt, Cory, “Turkish-Armenian Normalisation and the Karabakh Conflict,” Perceptions, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2013, p. 208.

[12] Davutoglu, Ahmet, “Turkey’s Zero-Problems Foreign Policy,” Foreign Policy, May 20, 2010; https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/05/20/turkeys-zero-problems-foreign-policy/. Accessed on December 5, 2022.

[13] Welt, “Turkish-Armenian Normalisation and the Karabakh Conflict,” p. 209.