Ron@cognitivewarriorproject.com

NATO may be Cooked-How Turkey is Stirring Conflict in the Region: Part I

NATO may be Cooked-How Turkey is Stirring Conflict in the Region: Part I

Image obtained from: https://www.cfr.org/article/turkey-lying-about-fighting-isis

It has been project week at the house again so writing time has been limited. This time, it’s custom ship-lap bunk beds and a total room makeover…I hope it turns out. However, I have been able to update the sidebar with headlines in the What Others are Writing section, so if you stop by there, you can enjoy almost daily updates on articles that others are writing! I’m not doing anything profound over there, plenty of others have daily headlines but I do try to keep it diverse and interesting.

I have been working on this article for a couple weeks and the problem with an ever-evolving story is that it requires updates as the situation changes.  In addition, this article simply got too big. Hopefully, Part Two will follow sometime next week.

Turkey has a lot going on right now considering their involvement in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and the many other regional disputes which might just make it the most important country in the world in regards to the potential for a catastrophic fallout right now. In fact, I believe that NATO itself could be at risk if any one of these conflicts goes seriously sideways. I am not sure that there is a conflict in the region that Turkey doesn’t want to participate in and this feels like a good time to catch up on all of the places that they are involved. Similar to my last post, this is going to be a run-down of what conflicts Turkey is involved in as they try to piss off the entire world. I am only going to hit the wave tops and try not provide a deep-dive on each conflict. I will most likely miss some details but I will try to provide enough to paint a picture for each conflict. Today we will cover Armenia-Azerbaijan, Greece and Cyprus. Part two will cover Syria, Libya, Jihadists, Russia, Iraq, Iran (this may end of being a 3-part series) and any other dispute I happen to run into along the way. It’s messy and the potential for a much larger conflict breaking out is high. Truth be told, this post was a longtime in the making so some of this maybe relatively old news. But as we have seen in the latest conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, tensions can go back generations and Turkey maybe catching up on some old scores or just flexing some regional muscle. I will leave the Why to another post, but here and here are interesting theories. Today’s post will generally move from hot to lukewarm not exactly chronologically.

Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

For Turkey, this conflict is blazing hot. Turkey is a strong Azerbaijan ally and this, depending on how deeply they get involved, has the potential to lead to WWIII. In this conflict, the battlelines are drawn with Turkey and Azerbaijan on one side and Armenia, Russia and Iran(?) on the other with almost all of Europe condemning the conflict. For a run down, you can go to our last post, but this dispatch will focus solely on Turkey’s involvement. You can get more details of the conflict here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here but for this post we are primarily going to use the this post from Bloomberg while gathering some details from the others. Let’s set the stage:

Armenia and Azerbaijan were for centuries situated in fluid borderlands between the Russian, Ottoman and Persian empires, with both suffering partition and brutality at the hands of much larger powers. The two communities began to fight each other as those empires collapsed toward the end of World War I and they sought to form independent states, with Russia backing Armenia and Ottoman Turkey supporting Azerbaijan in what amounted to a proxy war. Nagorno-Karabakh was a center of tension from the start, because the mountainous region hosted a mixed community of Armenians and Azeris and was seen by both nations as central to their national histories and identities.

Under Soviet rule most of the regional tensions were tempered (the Ottoman Rule for centuries before probably had a similar effect) and there was limited conflict from the 1920s-1990s but cultural memory is long and time matters little in relation to war and atrocities. From the Bloomberg piece:

Although the Armenian and Azeri communities of Karabakh lived together peacefully and were relatively well integrated until 1988, Armenia’s history in particular conspired to create a tinderbox of nationalist feeling. The 1915 genocide, in which the late Ottoman regime killed as many as 1.5 million Armenians as it drove them from Anatolia, left deep scars. Fear of Turkey left Armenia feeling unusually dependent on Russia for military support after the Soviet collapse, and many Armenians came to see Azeris as proto-Turks, eliding the threat. In fact, the two are distinct. Azeris are Turkic speaking, but they are mainly Shiite Muslims, whereas Turks are mainly Sunni.

The report continues:

Turkey has a closed border and no diplomatic relations with Armenia, in part due to the Karabakh conflict and in part due to wider tension over the 1915 genocide. By contrast, Azerbaijan supplies Turkey with natural gas and crude oil via pipelines that pass within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of the Azerbaijan-Armenia border and 30 miles of the conflict zone. As a result, Turkey has long sided with Azerbaijan on the Karabakh dispute. That support was until recently limited to rhetoric. But in July, after a previous Armenian-Azeri clash, Turkey’s military conducted joint exercises with Azerbaijan’s. On Sept. 28, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Armenia to end its “occupation” of Azeri territory and criticized the current negotiating format, which excludes his country, for doing “everything possible not to solve the problem.”

Basically, as I understand it, when the lines were drawn on the map designating Armenia and Azerbaijan as countries following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, there was little consideration given to the people that actually lived in certain areas and the Nagorno-Karabakh region was declared as part of Azerbaijan even though a large portion of the population identified as Armenian. (Honestly, I don’t know who was the ethnic majority in the early 1900s but the area was very mixed.) In the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Nagorno-Karabakh region declared independence and following a rather bloody war, Armenia has occupied this ‘region’ of Azerbaijan ever since. And just to draw the lines clearly in a very muddy way, Armenia is generally Christian and Azerbaijan is generally Shia Muslim which is backed by a majority Sunni Turkey. Did I mention that Iran is reportedly backing Armenia? Simple religious lines do not tell the whole story here but Turkey is a member of NATO and should have the backing of other NATO states, right? From DW:

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday accused Ankara of “reckless and dangerous” statements backing Azerbaijan, drawing a sharp riposte from his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Macron is scheduled to report on the situation to the EU leaders. He told reporters on his way into Thursday’s talks that he was sure Syrian “jihadist” fighters were operating in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“We have information today that indicates with certainty that Syrian fighters from jihadist groups have transited through Gaziantep to reach the theatre of operations in Nagorno-Karabakh. This is a very serious new fact, which changes the situation,” Macron said

And if you still doubt regional implications, check out this post from Al-Monitor:

The Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement today that Turkey already had a “direct presence on the ground” and that Turkish military experts were “fighting side by side” with Azerbaijani forces who were using Turkish weapons and aircraft.

Armenian officials have also accused Turkey of transporting thousands of Syrian mercenaries to Azerbaijan, as it has done to Libya. An aide to Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, rebutted the assertions as nonsense today. 

But two Syrian rebel fighters quoted by Reuters said they were “deploying to Azerbaijan in coordination with Ankara” and had been told by their brigade commanders that they would earn $1,500 per month. Similar descriptions of the alleged recruitment effort circulated on Twitter and were reported by The Guardian as well. 

Turkey has riposted with its own claims that Armenia is deploying Kurdish militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party and Syrian mercenaries of its own. Azerbaijan has, in turn, accused Russia of sending large numbers of weapons to Armenia, where it maintains a base near the Turkish border in Gyumri. While none of these allegations can be verified, the emerging consensus is that Azerbaijan most likely instigated the attacks after receiving assurances of military support from Turkey.

Map of Armenia and Azerbaijan obtained from Al Jazeera at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/30/over-2000-armenian-soldiers-killed-turkish-state-media-live

But after over 30 years why is this conflict heating up now? Well, this post from Al Monitor may shed some important details:

The conventional wisdom, however, is that Turkey is providing Azerbaijan with military support of a kind not seen since the start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1988. Turkey’s assistance to ill-disciplined and largely unmotivated Azerbaijani forces proved fruitless at the time. A truce was called in 1994, with Armenia retaining control over the Armenian-majority enclave and five administrative regions surrounding it, amounting to a fifth of Azerbaijani territory.

After 36 years, Azerbaijan is far wealthier thanks to its substantial oil and gas resources and boasts an arsenal of sophisticated weapons. Turkey’s combat drones, which have had a game-changing effect against Kurdish insurgents in Turkey as well as its foes in Syria and Libya, are helping Azerbaijan wrest back territory for the first time, according to diplomatic sources who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition they not be identified by name. The sources said Azerbaijani forces were close to regaining control of Fuzuli and Jebrail, south of Nagorno-Karabakh, that fell to Armenian forces in 1993 and were seeking to cut off a supply route from the Armenian capital Yerevan to Nagorno-Karabakh by taking the peak of the Murovdag Mountain. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that its forces already had.

Did I mention genocide earlier? In case you forgot, from 1915 to 1923, Turkey tried to systematically wipe the Armenians off of the map leading to over a million dead and far more displaced from the region. From History.com:

The Armenian genocide was the systematic killing and deportation of Armenians by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. In 1915, during World War I, leaders of the Turkish government set in motion a plan to expel and massacre Armenians. By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country.

I don’t think the Armenians have forgotten and Turkey has been accused of sending Syrian ‘terrorists’ to the region. From Time:

In an interview with TIME, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan doubled down on accusations that its bitter rival Turkey is already intervening militarily on behalf of Azerbaijan, claiming President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is vying to extend his influence in the region.

“Armenia and Karabakh have now become a civilizational front line,” Pashinyan told TIME by phone on Oct. 2, accusing Erdogan of sending between 1,500–2,000 Syrian “terrorists” to the region in support of Azerbaijan, a country with whom Turkey shares deep cultural and economic ties. In concert with Turkey’s military incursions into Syria and Libya and its volatile maritime standoff in the East Mediterranean, Pashinyan claimed: “Turkey’s action is nothing short of action aimed at reinstating the Ottoman empire.”

In the latest developments it appears that a Russian brokered peace deal is beginning to fray.

The Russia-brokered truce is buckling despite mounting calls from world powers to halt the fighting, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo among those urging greater commitment to the ceasefire terms.

Turkey and Armenia exchanged recriminations, each blaming the other for exacerbating the crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but governed and populated by ethnic Armenians.

It appears that Azerbaijan and Turkey have seen an opportunity here and current reports indicate that Turkey will not back down until Azerbaijan successfully recaptures the entire disputed region. From Al Monitor:

The objective of Azerbaijan and Turkey is a full military seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh, not only the seven surrounding occupied districts, for a number of factors. Above all, Russia has adopted a very cautious attitude in the Caucasus, burdened with other conflicts in Syria, Libya, Ukraine and Crimea. The United States, meanwhile, is preoccupied with its presidential elections, while the European Union has lost its diplomatic weight and Armenia has failed to muster the desired support from the international community. 

Greece and Cyprus

Did you know that Greece (NATO member) and Cyprus are almost at war with Turkey too? Just to be clear, France is siding with Greece and Cyprus is this dispute also. From DW:

Ankara is currently embroiled in a dangerous maritime standoff with EU members Greece and Cyprus, raising tensions in the eastern Mediterranean and fears of a full-blown conflict.

Greece and Cyprus are demanding the EU take a tougher line on Turkish gas exploration activities in contested waters they claim, meaning further sanctions.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Thursday accused Turkey of “gunboat diplomacy” and violating its maritime shelf in a search for hydrocarbons. “What I expect from the European Council summit is a more concrete and effective stance, to end this gunboat diplomacy,” he said ahead of the EU gathering.

France and Austria have backed Greece and Cyprus, but it’s still unclear whether there’s unanimity in the bloc on imposing harsher sanctions against Turkey.

Turkey is looking to exploit oil and gas resources in the region and have used some harsh rhetoric and military posturing in this dispute. Again, from DW:

Ankara is prospecting the disputed territory for energy reserves but Greece claims the area to be its own continental shelf.

Turkey accuses Greece of snatching an unfair share of maritime resources while both Greece and Cyprus have accused Turkey of breaching their sovereignty by drilling in the waters.

The report continues with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stating:

“They’re either going to understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or in the field with painful experiences,” Erdogan said, adding: “As Turkey and the Turkish people, we are ready for every possibility and every consequence.”

Turkish newspaper the Cumhuriyet reported that 40 tanks were being transported from the Syrian border to the northwest Turkish city of Edirne and carried photographs of armored vehicles loaded on trucks.

So, what exactly is the conflict with Turkey and Greece all about? For a little help,  you can go here or here but for this discussion we are going to use this article in Time. For the most part, the current conflict is centered around oil, gas and territory. From Time:

On the surface, it’s a dispute over energy. Turkey and Greece have overlapping claims to areas of gas-rich waters in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece’s position is that each of its islands—and there are thousands of them—is entitled to its own continental shelf with exclusive drilling rights. The E.U. has stood firmly behind Greece and last July sanctioned Turkey for carrying out seismic surveys off the north Cypriot coast. It has repeatedly warned Turkey against carrying out further exploration.

Maritime Economic Zones in the Mediterranean. Image obtained from: https://www.economist.com/sites/default/files/images/print-edition/20200822_IRM948.png

Remember, this is just a flareup of centuries old tensions that include Cyprus, Syria and Libya. The Time report continues (emphasis mine):

Greek–Turkic enmity far predates the establishment of the Turkish Republic. It spans quotidian concerns such as the origins of the dessert baklava to grave disagreements over historical atrocities. But for the past half-decade, the most serious disputes have centered on the status of Cyprus.

Turkey’s 1974 invasion of the island, triggered by a Greek-backed military coup, led to Turkish troops occupying the island’s northern third and an exodus of Greek Cypriots from the area. In 1983 a Turkish-Cypriot politician declared a breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey. The Republic of Cyprus joined the E.U. in 2004 despite its divided status. Tensions between Greece and Turkey have simmered ever since, and in 1996 the two countries came close to war over two uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea, near Turkey’s western coast.

Cyprus’s unresolved status features in the Eastern Mediterranean dispute because Turkey considers any deals Cyprus signs on energy exploitation illegal unless the TRNC is also involved. Greece, meanwhile, considers Turkish gas exploration near Cyprus illegal.

The conflict over Cyprus sounds very similar to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in that there is disputed territory and a break-away region that no one really recognizes as a legitimate state accept this conflict is really the exact opposite in that Turkey supports the region that broke-away here. There are other recent factors, including the flow of Middle Eastern Migrants to Europe that are increasing the tensions. Back to the Time article:

Turkey hosts almost 4 million migrants and refugees as part of a 2016 deal with the E.U. In February, Erdogan briefly made good on a long-held threat to “open the gates” allowing tens of thousands of asylum seekers to cross over into Greece. Athens’ hardline response—including using violence against asylum seekers—drew criticism from human rights groups. Meanwhile, the E.U. accused Turkey of using migrants as a bargaining tool.

And if that is not enough Turkey is making sure the Greek Orthodox Christians (and all other Christians really) know who controls the area by converting the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque.

Relations further soured in July over the re-conversion of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque. That revived a centuries-long dispute over one of the world’s most contested religious buildings and irked Russia and Greece, the centers of Orthodox Christianity.

The worst-case scenario in this conflict is an all-out war which would have its own unique challenges.

War between two NATO members in the Mediterranean would be an unmitigated disaster, and both sides have voiced their desire for negotiations. But as the brinkmanship increases, so does the possibility of accidental escalation. “We invite our counterparts to smarten up and avoid mistakes that will cause their ruin,” Erdogan said on Wednesday. “Those who wish to confront us at the cost of paying a price, are welcome. If not, they should keep out of our way.”

Perhaps this conflict can be resolved peacefully but Turkey has restarted gas and oil exploration in the region and this will not help in the process. Reports here, here and here discuss the most recent provocations.

Hopefully, part two and possibly part 3 will follow sometime next week. In that post we will discuss cover Syria, Libya, Jihadists, Russia, Iraq, Iran and if you need more to read beyond my ability to write I suggest that you cruise through some of the articles on the front-page side bar. I try to keep it interesting and there should be enough topics for all types of readers!

One thought on “NATO may be Cooked-How Turkey is Stirring Conflict in the Region: Part I

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    Featured Article: Iraq’s western Anbar province getting back on its feet, eyeing autonomy – Al Monitor | The Cognitive Warrior Project
    November 2, 2020 at 8:19 AM

    […] centered around the continuing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that we previously discussed here. Both Unholy Alliances – Armenia Surrounded – Small Wars Journal and Russia to […]

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