Erdoğan in the Caucasus: Iran, Russia, Armenia Ignore Threat at Their Own Peril

“I still feel most suspicious of the Talaat Pashas, the Kemals and the Envers who are apparently dreaming of setting up a Moslem state to include the Trans-Caspian region, Transcaucasia with Daghestan, Asia Minor and, it seems, Egypt. One feels this is so, and it stands to reason that Armenia and Georgia, a little country I know and dearly love, will inevitably be the first to suffer from this venture. Nor do I think Russia would gain anything from this pan-Turkish game. Of course, I’m no politician, but it sometimes seems to me that I have a healthy intuition, and that my organic disgust at the misfortunes of mankind, at human sufferings, makes me a good prophet or, more correctly, a prophet of evil.” – Maxim Gorky to H.G. Wells, 1920

“The Declaration reflects the words of the great leaders of our peoples – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Heydar Aliyev. At the beginning of the 20th century, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk said, ‘Azerbaijan’s joy is our joy and its sorrow is ours too.’ At the end of the 20th century, Heydar Aliyev said, ‘Turkey and Azerbaijan are one nation, two states.’ These historic words are the key factor for us, for our activities.” – Ilham Aliyev with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in conquered Nagorno-Karabakh, 2021

The joint visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to the city of Shusha (Turkic)/Shushi (Armenian) in Nagorno-Karabakh on June 15 was a landmark event. It signals the indisputable and qualitatively advanced expansion of the 21st century neo-Ottoman project. An attempted revival of the empire almost a century after its demise.

The quote from Aliyev cited above is not fortuitous. It is quite intentional and is equally apt. What Aliyev, Erdoğan, the members of the Turkic Council (1) and Turkic-speaking activists and separatists in Russia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Southeast Europe, China, Tajikistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere envision is a renewed pan-Turkic domain that stretches from the Balkans to China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. It is a phenomenon described as early as 1996 by the later American scholar Sean Gervasi in his inimitable paper Why is NATO in Yugoslavia?

Among a plethora of insightful and farseeing observations, he pointed this out a quarter of a century ago when the world was just beginning to see a pattern to developments in a post-bipolar world:

“The United States is now seeking to consolidate a new European-Middle Eastern bloc of nations. It is presenting itself as the leader of an informal grouping of Muslim countries stretching from the Persian Gulf into the Balkans. This grouping includes Turkey, which is of pivotal importance in the emerging new bloc. Turkey is not just a part of the southern Balkans and an Aegean power. It also borders on Iraq, Iran and Syria. It thus connects southern Europe to the Middle East, where the US considers that it has vital interests.

“The US hopes to expand this informal alliance with Muslim states in the Middle East and southern Europe to include some of the new nations on the southern rim of the former Soviet Union.” about:blank Report this ad

Among other American objectives, and not the least important of them, he mentioned access to Caspian Sea oil and natural gas.

He quoted from a NATO statement of May 22, 1992 on a matter just as pertinent thirty years later as it was then:

“Any action against Azerbaijan’s or any other state’s territorial integrity or to achieve political goals by force would represent a flagrant and unacceptable violation of the principles of international law. In particular we [NATO] could not accept that the recognized status of Nagorno-Karabakh or Nakhichevan [the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, an exclave of Azerbaijan] can be changed unilaterally by force.”

NATO had identified an active interest in Nagorno-Karabakh within mere months of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The three former Soviet republics in the South Caucasus – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – were recruited into NATO’s Partnership for Peace which was established on the initiative of the Bill Clinton administration in 1994. The same year the Azerbaijani government of President Heydar Aliyev (the current president’s father) announced the Contract of the Century (formally the Production Sharing Agreement on the Joint Development of the Deep Water Reserves of Azeri, Chirag and Guneshli), which opened up Caspian Sea Basin oil and gas fields to outside firms for the first time: AMOCO, BP, McDermott, UNOCAL, LUKOIL, Statoil, Exxon, Turkish Petrol, Pennzoil, Itochu, Remco and Delta.

Gervasi’s contention, above, was that the two above events, NATO partnerships in the Caucasus and the West moving into the Caspian Sea, were not unrelated.

Regarding the visit of the Turkish and Azerbaijani heads of state to the city of Shusha/Shushi in Nagorno-Karabakh – captured in the Turkish-assisted Azeri military assault of last year – much may be said. The leaders chose just that spot to announce a comprehensive bilateral agreement that has a strong military component. And the Turkish president made an inspection of recently conquered territory the day after he participated in the NATO summit in Belgium.

An Armenian scholar, Vardan Voskanyan of the Department of Iranian Studies at Armenia’s Yerevan State University, whose opinion is not disinterested, said of the visit that it marked the first time a sultan had trod on the soil of Shushi. The word he chose to describe the Turkish leader can be viewed as insulting, as figurative or as politically if not historically accurate.

In regard to his statement, below, it’s to be recalled that since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 there has been a close alliance in the Caucasus-Caspian region between Armenia, Iran and Russia. Though Armenia is a member of the Partnership for Peace (one suspects because it dared not not join), it is also a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the only Caucasus nation other than Russia which is.

The Armenian scholar said of that relationship in terms of Erdoğan’s appearance in Nagorno-Karabakh: “This is a challenge, a message sent not only to us but also to Russia and Iran. This is an impudent message about the heart of Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] being trampled by Turks, and Armenia, Russia and Iran reconciling themselves with this nightmare.”

He is right about the collective threat; he is correct about the disturbing lack of response by the three allies.

A sultan surely the Turkish president is or aspires to be. Like Aliyev, he is a dedicated Kemalist. But what could not be foreseen even by an analyst as prescient as Sean Gervasi is that the leader who would lead Turkey to becoming not only a regional but in many ways an global power would be both a Kemalist and a Sunni Islamist as Erdoğan is. That dual role has permitted him to pose as defender of the interests of Turkic people in Crimea, Cyprus, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Central Asia, but also of non-Turkic Muslims in Palestine, Libya, the Balkans and elsewhere. Nagorno-Karabakh is not the last “war of liberation” planned.

In terms of the pan-Turkic and Islamist component, here are excerpts from today’s Azerbaijani press:

Speaking of the pact signed with Turkey, President Aliyev said: “This unity is underpinned by many factors that bind us together. First of all, history, culture, common ethnic roots, our language, religion, national values and interests, and the brotherhood of our peoples.”

This is from Azerbaijani Colonel Abdullah Gurbani, identified as a hero of the Great Patriotic War (not of World War II as the words are used in other parts of the Soviet Union, but of last year’s onslaught against Nagorno-Karabakh), direct or paraphrased:

“The fact that the President of our country welcomed the great Azerbaijani lover Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with great love as the President of a victorious state, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of Muzaffar, made every soldier of the Motherland feel proud.”

“[The] Azerbaijani soldier stood guard over our independence and security today. After all, not only Azerbaijan, but a powerful state like Turkey, a fighting people like the Turkish people, a strong army like the Turkish Army are with us.”

“Today, as at the beginning of the last century, we feel the full support of brotherly Turkey. We are the brothers of a difficult day. Thanks to Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and our Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, our friendship and brotherhood are further strengthened, unshakable and eternal.”

“[The] great victory in the war launched by Operation Iron Fist to restore the territorial integrity of our republic and liberate our historical lands in response to Armenian provocations was a testament to the unity, solidarity, economic strength of our state, the strength of the Azerbaijani Army and the political will of the President of Azerbaijan. It is the victory of the determination, the iron fist of our Supreme Commander-in-Chief and, of course, the brotherly President of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as the fact that every Turkish citizen supports us at all times.”

He also shared a poem he had written “on the occasion of the unforgettable and historically blessed visit of Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Shusha,” which can be read here.

(1) Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkey.

Rick Rozoff is a contributing editor at He has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. He is the manager of Stop NATO. This originally appeared at Anti-Bellum.

Author: Rick Rozoff

Rick Rozoff has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. He is the manager of Stop NATO. This originally appeared at Anti-Bellum.