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Nagorno-Karabakh - A Frozen Conflict That Could Boil Over
Nagorno-Karabakh - A Frozen Conflict That Could Boil Over
Turkey's Foreign Relations Balancing Act
Turkey's Foreign Relations Balancing Act
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

Nagorno-Karabakh - A Frozen Conflict That Could Boil Over

Originally published in European Voice

Two states wedged between Europe and Iran are locked in an arms race and preparing for war. The international community, particularly the EU, might be able to slow down Armenia and Azerbaijan’s slide toward another devastating conflict. But it will have to shake off its indifference first.

The dispute over the mountainous province of Nagorno-Karabakh does not exactly rank high on the world’s to-do list. It was much the same in 1991, when amid the collapsing Soviet Union, two republics stumbling toward independence fell into an all-out war over this ethnically Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

By the end of hostilities three years later, some 25,000 people were dead and more than a million displaced. Some call this a frozen war, but since 1994, several hundreds have been killed in incidents across the ceasefire line that separates land occupied by Armenian forces and the rest of Azerbaijan.

Attempts to broker peace over the past dozen years have failed, and worse, a massive arms build-up has started. Boosted by oil revenues, Azerbaijan increased its military spending by a record 51% in 2004-05, and then raised it a further 82% in 2006.

The shopping spree has so far included large numbers of multi-launch rocket systems, new artillery, tanks and both F-15 and Mig-29 fighters. In 2007 President Ilham Aliyev promised to make Azerbaijan’s military spending equal to Armenia’s entire state budget.
But Armenia is hardly a tortoise in this race. Though its military budget is only about a quarter of its neighbour’s, it last year spent some $280 million on weapons – another record. Armenian officials boast they do more with less because they can get better deals on armaments from Russia.

True, open war will not start tomorrow and it may be as far off as 2012, when Azerbaijan’s oil revenues should peak, making the country’s leadership see it as the optimum moment to recover the occupied areas.

Still, such huge preparations ought to ring serious alarms, because the result of another all-out conflict would be almost certainly worse than the 1991-94 war. It would probably affect new oil and gas pipelines, and put a wedge between Russia and Turkey, which have strong allegiances to Armenia and Azerbaijan respectively.

As both Armenia and Azerbaijan head into an election year, with belligerent rhetoric all around, a comprehensive peace deal does not look imminent. The world should not sit back and watch 2008 become another record-breaking year for weapons manufacturers. 
The current negotiations – the ‘Prague process’, facilitated by the Minsk Group of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and led by France, Russia, and the US – have been trying to get the two enemies to sign a document of basic principles.

Securing an agreement, even one that notes remaining differences, before the polls, would be a hugely important step. It would keep the process alive and provide a place-holder from which the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan could resume talks after the 2008 elections.

The international community must impress on Armenia and Azerbaijan the need for progress in peace talks and stop ignoring the conflict in its aid packages. The EU special representative for the South Caucasus, who does not have a seat at the table, should be an observer in the negotiations.

The EU could also move things along by promising that, once a peace agreement is reached, it would become a guarantor, sending peacekeeping and policing units, and offering a large financial plan for rehabilitation and resettlement. European Neighbourhood Policy funding, meanwhile, should be linked to progress in the negotiations, and promote confidence-building, as well as institution-building and respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Turkey's Foreign Relations Balancing Act

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Turkey expert, Nigar Göksel, about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent trip to Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Turkey’s involvement in conflicts in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus, and its wider foreign relations.

This week, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in Kyiv. The Turkish leader has previously offered to use his ties to Ukraine and reasonably cordial relations with Russia to mediate between the two. They’re unlikely to take him up on the offer, but Erdoğan’s trip was another sign of Turkish involvement in nearby conflicts over the past few years and its changing foreign relations. In late 2020, a Turkish military intervention in Libya propped up the UN-recognised government in Tripoli – an ally of Ankara – and created space for peace talks. At about the same time, in the Caucasus, Ankara backed Azerbaijan in the second Karabakh war of November 2020 that saw Baku recapture territory in and near the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region. In the war's aftermath, Turkey has started normalising relations with its old adversary Armenia. Over the past year, Turkey has also sought to build bridges to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, with whom relations were particularly fraught only a few years ago. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined from Istanbul by Nigar Göksel, Crisis Group’s Turkey director, to make sense of President Erdoğan’s foreign policy. They sketch out the motives for and implications of Turkish involvement in crises across the Middle East, North Africa, the Caucasus and the eastern Mediterranean, which include support for local forces in northern Syria and maritime disputes in the Mediterranean as well as the interventions in Libya and Azerbaijan. They discuss Turkey’s complicated relations with Russia, testy ties to Western capitals and signs of rapprochement with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel. They ask how much of the evolution in Turkey’s foreign relations is by design, reflects the evolving geopolitics of Turkey’s neighbourhood, or a bit of both. They talk about whether it marks a return to Ankara’s aspirations in the 2000s to have a zero-problems foreign policy. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Turkey regional page. 


Executive Vice President
Project Director, Türkiye