Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the thirteenth summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), held in Islamabad, Pakistan on the first of March. One of the topics Erdogan spoke about in his speech was the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, which he called the “mountainous Karabakh problem.”
Nagorno-Karabakh, historically known as Artsakh, is a small, diplomatically unrecognized Armenian republic in the southeastern part of Caucasus Minor. Following the constitutional referendum in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on February 20, the country was renamed “Artsakh Republic.”
Artsakh has for millennia been an integral part of historic Armenia. Even when Artsakh fell under the rule of foreign conquerors at different periods in history, the population and culture of the land remained predominantly Armenian. However, the Soviet regime established the “Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast” in 1923 within the borders of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic although the area was mostly inhabited by ethnic Armenians.
The 1988 “Karabakh File” by the Zoryan Institute states that “Karabakh, the historic Artsakh province, is central to Armenian cultural and historical identify and statehood...
[It is also] one of the few remaining districts of historic Armenia still inhabited by a majority Armenian population.
“For Azerbaijan, the fact that the majority of the Mountainous Karabakh population is Armenian is incidental and secondary to facts: Karabakh is theirs now and it has been part of the development of Azerbaijani national consciousness, largely a post-Sovietization phenomenon... Any change in the status of the territory would be considered at the present time an unacceptable blow to Azerbaijani national pride.”
Azerbaijan, which Turkey calls “the real owner of mountainous Karabakh,” has conducted several violent attacks against the Armenian population, such as the racially motivated pogroms in the cities of Sumgait (February 27-29, 1988), Kirovabad (November 21-27, 1988) and Baku (January 13-19, 1990).
In the face of continued persecution, Nagorno-Karabakh finally declared independence in 1991, to which Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, responded with military aggression that continued until the 1994 cease-fire. The war had a devastating effect on Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the official website of the Office of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) in the US, the country’s health care system, entire road system, water supply systems as well as many social, economic and educational facilities, private homes and residential buildings were completely or partially destroyed.
In his speech in Islamabad, Erdogan announced: “Azerbaijan has been suffering from problems for years... We especially cannot ignore the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.
The talks, which have gone on for more than 20 years, have reached no conclusion. The Minsk Group has not been able to resolve this matter. Therefore, we have to take care of ourselves. We have to take these steps in solidarity with the ECO and the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] in a determined manner. We must express Armenia’s occupation at all kinds of international meetings together. I believe if we do this together, it will be easier to get results.”
Erdogan has often expressed Turkey’s desire to give “mountainous Karabakh” to Azerbaijan. For example, during a meeting of the Turkish Red Crescent General Assembly in Ankara last year, Erdogan recited a poem about Karabakh written by the Turkish poet Abdurrahim Karakoc, and added, “The persecution will not continue forever.
Karabakh will certainly return to its real owner and belong to Azerbaijan one day.”
What would happen if Artsakh Republic were given to Azerbaijan? The answer lies in what happened during the April 2016 “Four Day War” – Azerbaijan’s Islamic Statelike treatment of the people of Artsakh that included but was not limited to the murder of elderly civilians in their home, who had their ears cut off, and the mutilation or torture of Armenian soldiers from April 2 to April 5 which was well-documented with photographs, video and testimony surrounding several news reports and human rights reports.
During the same war, uniformed Azerbaijani soldiers even posed with the severed head of Yezidi-Armenian soldier Kyaram Sloyan in photos and videos. The soldier who held Sloyan’s head up by the ears in one of the photos was later reportedly decorated with a medal by the president of Azerbaijan.
Erdogan also mentioned the “Cyprus issue” in his speech in Islamabad, saying that “solidarity with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is unfairly subjected to isolation, should be enhanced.”
Erdogan continued: “In this sense, it will be beneficial to make the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’s temporary observer status in the Economic Cooperation Organization permanent and encourage holding activities of the Economic Cooperation Organization in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”
The northern part of the Republic of Cyprus has been under the occupation of Turkish military since 1974. “The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is recognized only by Turkey.
“Cyprus has been a part of the Greek world as far back as can be attested by recorded history,” wrote the author Constantine Tzanos.
“After the collapse of the Byzantine Empire and the defeat of the Venetians it fell to Ottoman rule from 1571 to 1878. In 1878 it was placed under British administration, was annexed by Britain in 1914, and in 1925 became a British colony.
“On 20 July 1974, Turkey, a UN member state, in violation of the UN charter, claiming a right (which is also questionable) under the Treaty of Guarantee to intervene, invaded Cyprus and defying the UN Security Council quickly occupied 37% of the island, and forced the separation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots into two communities.”
Never until the Turkish invasion in 1974 was the northern part of the island majority- Turkish. Turkey has forcibly changed the demographic character of the northern part of Cyprus by driving out Greek Cypriots to the southern part and bringing in thousands of settlers from Turkey as well as some 40,000 Turkish soldiers. Turkey continues to Turkify and Islamize northern Cyprus and wipe out its historic Hellenic and Christian identity through destruction of cultural heritage.
Turkey’s extremely different stance toward “the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and “mountainous Karabakh” speaks volumes about Turkey’s worldview, hostile to its non-Turkish neighbors. Turkey may try to convince the world that as a NATO member it has largely adopted democratic values and is ready to enter the European Union. But its foreign policy demonstrates that Turkey still carries Islam’s flag of conquest.
Unfortunately, this world view shaped by Turkish-Islamic supremacism prevents Turkish governments from respecting the sovereignty of non-Turkish and non-Islamic nations, which causes a continued lack of justice, security and stability in the region.The author is a Turkish journalist based in Washington DC.