Erdogan’s Expansionism and Pakistan’s Jihadism in the Caucasus: Undertaking the dynamics of Armenia- Azerbaijan Conflict
The Usanas Foundation hosted a webinar on Armenia- Azerbaijan conflict and the role of Turkey and Pakistan in provoking religious warfare in the Caucasus on 25th October; the session was moderated by Ms. Shahana Joshi and co-hosted by Mr. Abhinav Pandya
Webinar no- 11
By Usanas Foundation
Erdogan- The Modern Calipha
The panel expanded on the views taken by the Turkish government over Armenia- Azerbaijan conflict and geopolitical turbulence it has birthed. The panel agreed that Erdogan had assumed a position of Islamic leader ‘Caliph,’ and his ideology drives Turkey’s Foreign policy, with an added fervor of political Islam. As stated in Erdogan’s Vision 2023 statement, he seeks to play a messiah in regional conflicts of the Muslim world. Mr. Abdullah Bozkurt opines that long lost are the days of Ataturk’s Turkey, which used to attack jihadi groups and kept them at bay. The secular credentials of Turkey have been compromised with Erodgan’s ascendancy to power. In a complete overturn Turkish government is supporting jihadist groups along with Pakistan to fight proxy wars in Syria, Libya, and now Azerbaijan.
Armenia and Azerbaijan are involved in a tussle to control the region Nagorno-Karabakh, which is extrapolated and inflamed by Turkish and Pakistani involvement. Erdogan’s religious extremism, Islamic revisionism, and Neo- Ottaman revivalist aspirations are evident with more religious schools in Turkey today than ever before. During Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974, he earned the nickname of “Great Jihadist” and since then has tried to shift the foreign policy trajectory of Turkey. Bozkurt believes that Turkey is militarizing all its foreign policy options. Erdogan has been making policy choices at the expense of Turkish national interests. Evidence is ubiquitous as Turkey’s relations with other Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, European Union, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, have soured in recent years, which is odd for turkey, as it often used to balance its options. Erdogan has resorted to hard-power and soft power to achieve his foreign policy objectives. In the Caucasus, he is overtly employing hard-power. Although beyond these theatrics, Bozkurt believes that Turkey can not sustain these policies in the medium and long term due to the capacity constraints of the Turkish State. In the short term, Turkey could inflict much damage in the Eurasian region.
Mr. Ararat focused on the historical aspect of the conflict. He reminded the panel that Azerbaijan did not exist before the Soviet Union, while Armenia has existed for centuries. The disputed territory Nagorno Karabakh had never been part of Azerbaijan even during the Soviet Union’s rule. He also believes that there is a grand plan of Erdogan to subdue Armenia. It has happened as big powers like the European Union shied away from criticizing Turkey’s policy of recreating the Ottoman Empire. By supporting Azerbaijan, Turkey wants to reach Central Asian Republics, Uyghur Turks and claim pan Islamic leadership. Pakistan also has been hostile to Armenia and does not recognize it as a State. As a result, it is exporting jihadists and mercenaries to fight Armenia. Pakistan has mastered the techniques of cross border terrorism and promotes global jihad for decades, and under no circumstances will it cease. Ararat, in contrast, praised the Indo-Armenian time-tested friendship, cultural linkages, and the feeling of mutual respect among these two nations. He demands sanctions on Turkey, which could curb Erdogan’s expansionist ambitions.
Mr. Hany points out the hidden agenda of Erdogan that he successfully closeted in for 20 years from European powers and the Middle East. After the Arab revolution, he has actively sabotaged Egypt’s and its polity. He does not respect any international agreements and claims lands on his whims. He has become the ‘sick man’ of NATO and lost friends all over. His newfound interest in ruffling the Uyghur issue with China and interference in the Kashmir issue are signs of desperation to proclaim leadership and the title as a savior of Islam. Turkey is, unfortunately, turning to Pakistan’s model of airing radical tendencies and rhetoric. Domestically he tries to own the fundamentalist battle by turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque, giving a free hand to right-wing revivalists. Thus, creating an ecosystem which would consolidate his old dream of being Caliph. The future is bleak for even those who support the democratic structure of Turkey and hope for change in 2023. Because between democracy and a tyrant, democracy always loses. In Nagorno- Karabakh, Turkey will lose, as Armenians have scored up most of the land area with the Russian alliance. Egypt, Libya, and Greece have also challenged Turkey’s Neo Ottomanism. Armenia will have its rights over Nagorno Karabakh sooner or later, and Turkey will be left with nothing more than reaffirming its relations with Azerbaijan.
What should India do?
How should India react to the situation? Ambassador Anil Trigunayat wants India to take a cautious approach. The problems have persisted in the area due to colonial legacies and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. India has far better cultural and trade relations with Armenia compared to political relations with Azerbaijan. Armenia has historical, cultural links with India going back to medieval ages. As recently as early 20th century, after the Armenian genocide by Turks, many of them migrated to India. In India, Calcutta is home to flourishing community of Armenian christians.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan has always supported Pakistan in the United Nations and other international institutions, and Pakistan has reciprocated the same and continues to extend military support. However, India believes in the dialogue process as enshrined in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Minsk group. India believes that the Minsk process of peaceful negotiations will provide a permanent solution to the conflict. The mediation should adhere to UN resolutions. India has an interest in Central Asia and Caucusus and is closely observing the situation. The International North-South Transport Corridor is significant for India for its energy needs and hence the legitimate interest in ensuring peace in the region. Also, the region falls in the periphery of India’s regional foreign policy gambit. Amb. Trigunayat pointed out that India missed an official response in the Caucuses, and it needs to be changed soon.
About NATO’s reaction, Amb. Trigunayat thinks that Erdogan has started playing both sides and undermined NATO. Nevertheless, the US is unwilling to part with Turkey just to check-mate Russia. Turkey and Pakistan have their ‘nuisance value’ although they are problematic, they are of strategic use for the great powers.
With Russia siding up with Armenia and China choosing to be neutral, nothing could be achieved by Erdogan more than his usual bravado. Russia will not intervene directly in Nagorno-Karabakh but will help the Armenia troops facing Turkey, which would hamper Turkey’s chances of bullying Armenia. Hany pointed out that Nagorno Karabakh has a majority of Armenians; hence Armenia has legitimate interests. Probably a rectification is needed in post-Soviet Union boundaries. However, the less violent they are, the better the outcomes.
Closing remarks were given by the CEO of the Usanas Foundation, Mr. Abhinav Pandya, who believes India needs a Caucasian policy. He described Erdogan as among the leaders who want to bring past glory and evoke holy wars. These religious leaders and their States are dangerous and need to be taken seriously by NATO and the world community so that peace is maintained in Eurasia. He condemned Pakistan for promoting global jihad and cross border terrorism despite being continually unable to manage its domestic polity. Pakistan started its cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan, mastered the skills during its jihad in Kashmir, and now dispersing it across the globe.
Mr. Pandya acknowledged the opinions of the esteemed panel in his closing remarks and promised to keep the dialogue open in the present conflict.
- Anil Trigunayat, Former Indian Envoy to Libya, Malta, and Jordan
- Abdullah Bozkurt, Sweden based Investigative Journalist, Turkey expert, and Director, Nordic Monitoring and Research Network
- Hany Ghoraba, Egyptian Journalist and Counter-Terrorism Analyst
- Ararat Kostanian, Formerly at Armenian Foreign Ministry and currently a junior Fellow at National Academy of Sciences, Armenia
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the webinar belong to the panellists and not necessarily to the Usanas Foundation.