Armenians accuse Turkey of involvement in conflict with Azerbaijan
While there is no confirmation of the many Armenian allegations of material support from Turkey, the vigorous rhetorical support from Azerbaijan’s ally has been undeniable.
This post has been edited to reflect new developments as of September 29, 2020.
As fighting between Armenians and Azerbaijanis continued for a second day, Armenian officials accused Turkey of directly intervening in the conflict by supplying weaponry and soldiers. Turkish officials and media, meanwhile, continued to loudly cheer on the Azerbaijani military offensive with unprecedented enthusiasm.
Several officials from Armenia and the Armenia-backed de facto Nagorno Karabakh Republic have directly accused Turkey of supplying weapons and of bringing in militia groups to support the Azerbaijani offensive.
“Turkish military experts are fighting side by side with Azerbaijan, who are using the Turkish weapons, including UAVs and warplanes,” the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a September 28 statement. “According to credible sources, Turkey is recruiting and transporting foreign terrorist fighters to Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Turkey provides full political and propaganda support to Azerbaijan at the highest level of its leadership.”
The fighting is the heaviest between Armenia and Azerbaijan in several years. At least 59 have been killed on the Armenian side, according to official data. There is no official casualty data from the Azerbaijani side but independent sources have counted at least 11 killed there. There have been claims and counterclaims about some positions being captured and retaken, but for now those allegations remain deep in the fog of war.
There is no confirmation yet of concrete Turkish military personnel or materiel in the fighting. Azerbaijani officials have denied the claims.
Turkey has long backed Azerbaijan, but the support has been mostly limited to the moral variety. Following the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in July – until now, the heaviest fighting in years – Turkey made vague promises about helping to arm Azerbaijan, but it’s not known if anything has come of that.
Turkish involvement in the conflict would bring obvious advantages on the ground, as it has far more military capabilities than either Azerbaijan or Armenia. But it would come at a deep cost in the international information war.
Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is globally notorious as an aggressive bully. And a Turkish military intervention against Armenia would create an inevitable, ugly resonance with the 1915 genocide of ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
The accusations from Armenian officials have been various. The de facto leader of Karabakh, Arayik Harutyunyan, said that Turkish F-16 fighter jets had remained in Azerbaijan following joint military exercises between the two countries this summer and that “they are still being used.” On September 29, an Armenian military spokesperson said that a Turkish F-16 had shot down an Armenian Su-25, killing the pilot. Both Azerbaijan and Turkey denied the claim.
A spokesman for Harutyunyan, Vahram Poghosyan, said that the Azerbaijani forces were “comprised of Turkish and various terrorist groups.” Armenia’s ambassador to Moscow, Vardan Toghanyan, said that “we have information that recently Turkey has transported nearly 4,000 militants from Syria to Azerbaijan. They are being trained at militant camps and transported there.”
None of these allegations have been confirmed and many, if not all, will turn out ultimately to be false. Several credible news organizations, including The Guardian and The Times, interviewed Syrian militants who said that Turkey had been recruiting mercenaries to fight in Azerbaijan.
What has been undeniable, however, is a hitherto unseen level of pro-Azerbaijan jingoism in the Turkish government and press.
Following the latest violence, while the rest of the international community called on both sides to stop the fighting, Turkey was a conspicuous exception. “Armenia once again showed that it is the biggest threat to peace and tranquility in the region,” tweeted Erdoğan. “As always, the Turkish nation stands by its Azerbaijani brothers with all its capabilities.”
Erdoğan, as well as Turkey’s foreign minister and defense minister, all spoke by phone with their Azerbaijani counterparts the day the fighting broke out.
“The biggest obstacle in front of peace and stability in the Caucasus is Armenia’s aggression,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar wrote on Twitter.
The Turkish press has been saturated with stories about the conflict. At one point in the afternoon of September 24, the top four stories on the pro-government Turkish tabloid Yeni Şafak were about the fighting. “Armenia butchered these dear children,” went one tag on the homepage, in a story about five civilian members of a family that Azerbaijan reported killed by Armenian fire.
The Turkish Defense Ministry changed its Twitter cover photo to one of a Turkish and Azerbaijani soldier clasping hands, with their respective flags in the background.
The support for Azerbaijan was not limited to traditionally nationalist circles. The soccer club Beşiktaş, whose fans are famous for their leftist politics, tweeted the traditional Turkish-Azerbaijani slogan “One people, two states” with flags of both countries. “We are always beside you, dear Azerbaijan.”
Voices in Turkey calling for peace were rare.
“There is a massive conflict going on between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Karabakh,” wrote Garo Paylan, an ethnic Armenian member of the Turkish parliament, on Facebook. “Our country must stop being the one to fuel this fire. There is no winner of this war, but the losers will be the Armenian and Azerbaijani people.”
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.