President Tayyip Erdoğan’s day-long visit on September 25 to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Region of Azerbaijan, bordering Türkiye, is important for changing the political and military balance in the Caucasus. Erdoğan’s visit, which was decided upon the invitation of Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev, comes on the heels of Azerbaijan’s military operation on September 19-20, which resulted in the surrender of Armenian groups that launched a new armed uprising in Nagorno-Karabakh.
At a joint press conference with Aliyev after his talks, Erdoğan said that Azerbaijan’s operation, which was successfully completed in a short period of time, “opened new windows of opportunity for a comprehensive normalization in the region” and added, “We expect Armenia to hold the hand of peace extended to it and take sincere steps.” Aliyev said that although it has only been five days since the operation, Armenia, which has accepted all the conditions of Azerbaijan, has allowed the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the Armenians in Karabakh, and added: “The people living in the Karabakh region are citizens of Azerbaijan regardless of their ethnic affiliation. Their security will be ensured by the Azerbaijani state.”
With the latest operation, the separatist groups in Karabakh, who staged an armed uprising by not recognizing the agreement signed with Armenia after Azerbaijan reclaimed its lands occupied for 30 years in 2020, mainly with the support of Türkiye, were dispersed in 25 hours, and talks on the full integration of Karabakh with Azerbaijan began. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry shared with the media images of the weapons stockpile made by Armenian groups in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Erdoğan, who defended the US and EU pressure on Azerbaijan as an anti-terrorist operation within its borders from the UN podium, later said that the problem was not with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan but with the terrorists in Karabakh. Pashinyan, in turn, announced that Armenia could accommodate 40,000 of the 120,000 Azerbaijani Armenians living in but wanted to leave Karabakh. With Pashinyan’s position, this situation, which will accelerate Azerbaijan’s full control of Karabakh, points to a new situation in the Caucasus.
On the day of the Erdoğan-Aliyev meeting in Nakhchivan, news of arrests in Armenia’s capital Yerevan in connection with the alleged coup attempt increases the importance of the visit. Another reason for the ongoing protests against Pashinyan in Yerevan is his turning his back on Russia, Armenia’s traditional protector, and cooperating with the US and France. Although Russian troops still guard Armenia’s borders, Pashinyan’s application for membership in the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine war, and his organization of military exercises with the United States had drawn Moscow’s reaction.
The lack of involvement of Iran, where Azerbaijani Turks are the second largest ethnic group in the country, points to new balances in the Caucasus.
New balances in the Caucasus
Erdoğan and Aliyev laid the foundation of a natural gas pipeline from the Turkish border city of Iğdır to Nakhchivan and opened the “modernized Nakhchivan Military Complex” together. Nakhchivan, separated from the Azerbaijani mainland by the Zangezur Corridor, will receive energy support from oil and gas-rich Baku through Türkiye. Erdoğan said the military facility will strengthen military cooperation between Türkiye and Azerbaijan.
Both Erdoğan and Aliyev underline that the Zangezur corridor should be opened for safe transportation. This will make it easier to join China’s Belt and Road project. Neither Iran nor Russia is interested in changing the status of the Zangezur region, which was handed over to Armenia by the Soviet government in Azerbaijan in 1920 to provide a direct link between Russia and Iran. Nevertheless, Erdoğan and Aliyev reportedly discussed the Zangezur issue at their meeting.
However, the removal of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from the agenda may open the door to new developments in the Caucasus that will benefit both Türkiye and Russia and weaken the influence of the US and France.