Nagorno Karabakh conflict and EU-Turkey relations: Options ahead

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s demands to include Turkey in the Nagorno-Karabakh solution process should be taken seriously by the EU, so as to provide a fresh start to cooperation with Turkey.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which was ignited by Armenia’s adventurist territorial claims against the sovereignty of Azerbaijan, began in the late-1980s. It comes as no surprise that Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, remains firm in his rights-refusing attitude against the Azerbaijani people. Turkey, as one of the most stable countries in the region, invariably stands by the Republic of Azerbaijan and the dignified citizens of Azerbaijan. Turkey’s resolution to relieve the outstanding problems emanating from the illegal Armenian occupation in 1993 remains unabated. Although Turkey’s status as a reliable interlocutor and strategic partner for the Southern Caucasus countries has already been emphasized in many media outlets, Turkey’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a European Union (EU) candidate country as well as the influence of the Turkish stance in this conflict on EU-Turkey relations are yet to be addressed.

Legal insights into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

As noted, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been on the agenda of the regional countries, as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, since the 1980s. First and foremost, the main legal instrument that must be considered is the constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Article 78 of the Constitution clearly stipulates a mutual agreement between Soviet republics for altering the borders between them. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan notes that this provision was also incorporated into the constitutions of the then Soviet Republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The judgment of the Supreme Council of the USSR (1988) is also highlighted by the Ministry.

Following its blatant violations of the Constitution of the USSR, Armenia attempted to legalize the secession of Nagorno-Karabakh and illegally declared the so-called “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh” in the territories of Azerbaijan. This action is undoubtedly illegal and illegitimate because, once again, it is a clear violation of the Constitution of the USSR. Regarding the existing public international law framework, it should be noted that the legal and political notion of “territorial integrity” overweighs the right to self-determination, and self-determination (right of secession) does not constitute a rule of customary international law, which is one of the primary sources of international law. Indeed, a possible declaration of independence in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region was not based upon a natural right and peremptory norm stemming from international law, yet it could have been possible had a referendum been held under transparent conditions in accordance with the aforementioned constitutions.

Ever since the dissolution of the USSR, the just cause of the Azerbaijani people has been orchestrated through an astute diplomacy, thanks to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions 822, 853, 874, and 884. What these resolutions affirm is the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the groundlessness of the Armenian secessionist claims. Assoc. Prof. Cavid Abdullahzade, a scholar of international law at Ankara University, defines Armenia’s violation of international law and international humanitarian law as a “continuous crime”, which is a notion used to define crimes consisting of continuous series of acts and offenses. [1] Since the late-1980s, Armenia has been attempting to legalize its occupation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Bearing in mind the recent armed attacks on civilian targets in the Azerbaijani city of Ganja and in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, which constitute crimes against humanity, we can safely assert that the Armenian officials have once again demonstrated that they will never shy away from committing continuous crimes against humanity.

Turkey: A Brother of Azerbaijan and an EU-candidate country

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkey has been aiming to strengthen the independence and sovereignty of the countries in the Southern Caucasus, namely Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. It would not be wrong to say that Turkey’s deep-rooted historical and cultural ties with the region enhances the spirit of regional cooperation. As the first country to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan in 1991 and a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, Turkey stands by the righteous party, Azerbaijan, whose rightfulness has been repeatedly affirmed by the UNSC Resolutions. Undoubtedly, the unwavering solidarity and brotherly relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan sheds light on the settlement of the dispute through peaceful means.

Interestingly, setting aside its decades-old political and legal confrontations with Armenia, Turkey was also one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Armenia in 1991. Although this diplomatic gesture is generally attributed to Turkey’s perpetual pursuit of peaceful settlements in the Southern Caucasus, Turkey’s foreign policy preferences prioritizing Armenia’s integration with regional and Euro-Atlantic organizations, such as the EU, prevails in this respect. Turkey’s invitation for Armenia to join the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) as a founding member is an example of a constructive effort crystallizing Turkey’s European and Western integration agenda from a different point of view. Furthermore, with a view to normalizing its bilateral relations with Armenia, Turkey drew particular attention to the Zurich Protocols signed between the two parties in 2009. Yet, it ought to be stressed that Armenia, unfortunately, spurned the bona fide endeavors to normalize relations, by suspending the ratification process of the protocols.

Notwithstanding Armenia’s irrational foreign policy choices, the EU must consider Turkey’s strong commitment to support the European and Western integration processes of the countries in the Southern Caucasus, including Armenia. If embraced, this well-established perception would possibly actualize the “win-win strategy” offered by Turkey, in order to maintain European peace and stability. The Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy may constitute the backbone of this strategy.

Options ahead

The EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was established to ensure Europe’s security through initiating several missions. Briefly, the CSDP is based on a trilateral problem-solving mechanism: crisis prevention, crisis management and rehabilitation. Although currently the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not on the agenda of the CSDP of the EU, the fragile security environment in the region continues to threaten the European security and the Union may launch necessary initiatives to deploy CSDP instruments to Nagorno-Karabakh.

In this respect, the EU’s imminent CSDP mission in Nagorno-Karabakh will not bear its fruits unless Turkey is involved in the said mission. Turkey, as a European NATO ally, continued its support to the CSDP in its prior and ongoing missions in accordance with its accession process and its strategic ends to preserve European security. Recalling Prof. Huseyin Bagci, a scholar of international relations at the Middle East Technical University, and Ugo Gaudino’s statements on the CSDP missions in the Balkans [2], some Western countries would reap benefits from Turkish contributions to the CSDP missions. Regarding the possibility of a CSDP mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, the EU should consider Turkey’s capacity to ensure stability. Paying regard to Turkey’s aim of establishing a common area of prosperity in the region, the Union must involve Turkey in its CSDP missions more. But before this, the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s demands to include Turkey in the Nagorno-Karabakh solution process should be taken seriously by the EU, so as to provide a fresh start to cooperation with Turkey.

The opinion is taken from

Writer: Deniz Ünsal

[ The writer is a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in International and Comparative Law candidate at Trinity College Dublin. He is a 2019-2020 European Union (EU) Jean Monnet scholar. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in law and minor degree in political science from Bilkent University. His main focus areas are Turkey-EU relations, Eastern Mediterranean and contemporary debates in Turkish foreign policy. He has a special interest in public international law, EU law and Late-Ottoman era legal-political developments. ]

[1] Cavid Abdullahzade, ‘Ermenistan-Azerbaycan Dağlık Karabağ İhtilafı: Bölgesel Barış ve Güvenliğe ve Komşuluk İlişkilerine Bir Tehdit’ (2014) Avrasya İncelemeleri Merkezi [40].

[2] Huseyin Bagci and Ugo Gaudino, ‘Involving Turkey in EU Common Foreign, Security and Defence Policies’ (2020) Eurasian Research Journal [9]

Visits: 359

Nagorno Karabakh: Conflict Analysis

Following a long history of power struggles between Armenia and Azerbaijan, skirmishes continued
even after the last full-scale war that brought to a ceasefire in 1994. A new conflict recently erupted
in Nagorno-Karabakh on September 27th, resulting in many civilian casualties on both sides and
increasing tensions world-wide. Calls for de-escalation by the UN and both the US and Russia have
been dismissed by both sides so far. Unresolved geopolitical discrepancies, repeatedly failing
mediation attempts and recurring violations of ceasefire broadly explains this recent escalation.
However, the nuanced story grows more composite every day. 1
2020 Conflict:
On September 27th, president of (Armenia backed de facto state) Republic of Artsakh stated that
Azerbaijan launched an attack on Nagorno-Karabakh unprompted while, Azerbaijan authorities
argued that Armenia had started shelling their border front 2 hours prior and that their attack was
purely in retaliation. 2 Both countries continue making statements in the direction of military
escalation. The conflict is already expanding beyond the Nagorno-Karabakh borders as more than
500 have been killed in the region and thousands have been displaced. 3
A temporary ceasefire was agreed upon at the marathon peace talks held at Moscow on October
5th. However, the calm lasted only hours as both countries blamed each other for breaking the
truce the same day. 4 The conflict resumes on its fourth week and yet another ceasefire brokered by
the US this time was broken in the same day. 5 Global powers and international organizations call for
peace but no solution for peace in sight so far.
Area Profile and Background:
Nagorno-Karabakh is an area internationally recognized to be within the sovereignty of Azerbaijan.
Most of the population in the area is Armenian although there is an ethnic Azeri minority present
too. Civilians of both have been massacred and displaced from the region due to the war atrocities
in the 90s, shifting the general demographic disposition in Nagorno-Karabakh and wider regions.
The ethno-geographic rivalries in the region goes back a thousand years since when numerous
Turkic tribes migrated around and settled in the Eurasian diaspora beginning 11 th century. Armenia
was divided between Byzantine and Sassanid Empires in 387; Artsakh region specifically was
invaded and ruled by Ak Koyunlu and Kara Koyunlu Turkic tribes in the 15 th century and was given
the Turkic name Qarabağ, meaning ‘black garden’. 6 The contemporary crisis however is mainly
blamed on Soviet Union whose inconsistent policies were mainly based on Soviet interest and re-
mapped the region without concern for ethnic dissonances in the long term.
Initially, majority Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh and majority Azeri Nakhichevan were both
appointed to Armenia. This was later overturned, and both were tied to Azerbaijan. Turkey had a
big influence in this, and Azerbaijan was a key factor in its relations with Soviet Union. The wave of nationalism across the world at the end of WWI and the disintegration of the multinational
Ottoman Empire resulted in lasting unresolved complexities. The new-found Turkish Republic
wanted to avoid having a strong Armenia potentially claiming territory and jeopardizing its border
integrity. 7
Besides wanting to have good relations with Turkey, Stalin, (as the Commissar of Nationalities at
the time) also found it strategic to fragment Caucasian ethnic groups to avoid nationalist
unifications and potential resistance towards the Soviet Union. Armenians were split into Armenian
Soviet Socialist Republic and Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, and Azeris were split into the
Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan Autonomous Oblast. 7
With the breakdown of the USSR, regional parliament voted to join Armenia, but the Azeri
inhabitants wanted to stay independent. The vote was rejected by Azerbaijan and territorial
conflicts erupted in between. 8 Armenia occupied 20 percent of the Azeri areas surrounding
Nagorno-Karabakh and took control of them with separatist forces since then although Nagorno-
Karabakh is still internationally recognized as a sovereign territory of Azerbaijan. The de-facto
government Artsakh Republic holding an election in April significantly raised tensions and was
taken as a provocation to war by Azerbaijan. 9 Decades of incoherent territorial shuffling, lack of
political relationships, internal governmental instabilities and nationalistic tenacity of both sides
make diplomatic attempts very difficult.
Alliances and Strategic Positioning:

Meanwhile Turkey’s involvement in this conflict has been widely viewed as a negative influence by
the international media, likely to contribute to the rapid escalation. Turkish military forces and
equipment have been heavily utilized at the forefront of the conflict in Azeri areas and both sides
have been using weaponry provided by Russia. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been reported to
heavily hit civilians.
In response to calls for peace from US and France, Turkey argued that these countries have ignored
the situation for too long and their involvement would not be in favor of peace. Indeed, there is a
general mistrust towards the western powers in the east, reinforced by their duplicitous actions in
the Syrian War and dissatisfactory response to the refugee crisis.
Turkey has been accused of relocating Islamist Syrian militias to the region to support Azeri troops
which Turkey and Azerbaijan both have denied. Turkey and Russia have a complex relationship and
are currently in opposing sides of the conflict in Syria. Expansion of the Syrian conflict to the
Russian border is a great concern for Russia and could have grave effects for all countries involved.
Russia presents to be strongly against the conflict as it has favorable relations to both countries. Russia in a mutual defense pact and has a military base in Armenia which some interpret as
Moscow possibly being closer with Yerevan in case of escalation. It is also likely that although a
full-fledged multipolar war on its border is not desirable for Russia, the maintained instability
Nagorno-Karabakh issue prevents the reach of western political influence to the region which
already meant a lot of problems for Russia in the case of Ukraine. Afterall, Russia has been
providing both countries with arms for years and have a continued grip over the ex-Soviet states
allowing Russia great influence in defining regional balances.
Oil rich Iran managed to maintain a neutral position for a while however with its large Azeri
population it became more challenging as the crisis ensues. On Sunday Iran Revolutionary Guards
stated that ground forces have been deployed to the northern border near the conflict upon some
villages reported hit with stray rockets. 10 This is a defensive measure but in case of escalation it is
likely that Iran will be more actively involved.
Considering ethnic, cultural, and religious ties of Turkey with Azerbaijan and historical and
geopolitical position in the region, Turkey has an unavoidable role in this conflict. Whether it will be
a stabilizing or an escalatory one partially depends on whether the international actors will manage
to carry a fair approach. So far EU failed to do more than just condemn the conflict and call for
peace and many member state politicians -most brazenly in France who has a large Armenian
minority- have been showing outward support for Armenia. There were large public
demonstrations across Europe and America in solidarity of Armenia and Artsakh Republic.
Criticism given to Azerbaijan and Turkey by member states may have a fair ground. However, area
specialist Thomas De Waal points out that public trust of the other party towards the international
community gets damaged when same countries do not give criticism to Armenia where it is due. 11
Seven additional regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh that were undisputed Azeri districts
occupied and controlled by Armenian forces since the 90s and is a core issue for Azerbaijan’s
grievance and distrust. 12 Western powers always talking about implementing a global standard of
humanity and peace need to hold an educated and balanced stance on this issue in order to have
credibility as diplomatic actors.
Absence of any external intervention from international bodies to this point is mainly because rest
of the world is still focused on battling the pandemic and the South Caucasus is not the most
strategically significant those who can help. The timing of the conflict is seen by some as a tactical
move of President Aliyev, but Olesya Vartanyan of Crisis Group is doubtful that the violence break
out was premeditated. 13 Although an active conflict may briefly distract the Azeri public from its
increasing dissatisfaction with the government, it is more likely upping the stakes for Mr. Aliyev
considering how the government was replaced twice over military failures in the 90s. 13

Energy Interests:

Beyond historic and ethnic discrepancies, an underlying reason causing dispute in the region is its
important position for the global energy trade. Nagorno-Karabakh has some large oil fields that
adds a major financial-interest factor to the conflict and bears the possibly becoming a proxy war
field. Azerbaijan is also a major distributor for oil and gas which is imported to the West through
Turkey. 14 Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas leaves Azerbaijan only
with a smally periphery named the Ganja Gap for gas pipes to pass through to Georgia to Turkey
and then to Europe. 15 A fully realized conflict in the region is not only a humanitarian threat but a
threat to European energy security. Therefore, the west should be more diligent about investing in
stability here.
Russia on the other hand could have another strategic advantage from this conflict carrying out
without expanding too much. As mentioned, NATO ally Turkey is a competitor of Russia in
transporting energy to Europe and has shaky but relatively better relationship with the West in
comparison. A safe running Trans-Anatolian Pipeline System route also provides the ability for
Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to export their vast energy reserve to the West through the Caspian
Sea. Russia has been strongly opposing the development of a subsea pipeline here as this could
seriously threaten Russia’s dominance in the energy trade market and hinder the dependence of
these nations to Russia to sell their most valuable resources. 15
Nagorno-Karabakh may be small and appear insignificant to the outside eye. However especially in
the current climate of multi-polar conflicts, a global pandemic, rise of neo-nationalism and growing
dismay towards international institutions; this conflict could be another fighting arena for
competing powers. International organizations and political actors need to hold the ethno-
geographic, political, and economic nuances of the conflict in consideration and fulfill a less biased
and more stabilizing position for successful diplomacy and peace. Taking part in one sided,
marginalizing discourse on a war with complex influence factors is propagandist and will nothing
more than alienate the ‘other side’ and further exacerbate the conflict. With all that is going on,
Nagorno Karabakh conflict should not be ignored and sincere diplomacy and peacebuilding
processes should be initiated before it grows any further.

1 Global Conflict Tracker. “Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.” Accessed October 16, 2020.
2 Uras, Umut. “Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes: Live News.” Accessed October 28, 2020.
3 Editorial, Observer. “The Observer View on Nagorno-Karabakh | Observer Editorial.” The Guardian, October 11, 2020,
sec. Opinion.
4 Welle (, Deutsche. “Nagorno-Karabakh’s Record Growth in Ruins amid Conflict and Pandemic | DW |
12.10.2020.” DW.COM. Accessed October 16, 2020.
5 “Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: US-Brokered Ceasefire Frays Soon after Starting.” BBC News, October 26, 2020, sec. Europe.
6 Rasizade, Alec. “Azerbaijan’s Prospects in Nagorno-Karabakh.” Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 13, no. 2 (June
1, 2011): 215–31. | Shepard, Jonathan, ed. 2019. “The Earlier Empire c.
500–c. 700.” Part. In The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire C.500–1492, 97–248. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
7 Cornell, Svante E. “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh: A Delicate Balance.” Middle
Eastern Studies 34, no. 1 (January 1, 1998): 51–72.
8 “Armenia-Azerbaijan: What’s behind the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict?” BBC News, September 28, 2020, sec. Europe.
9 Bagirova, Nvard Hovhannisyan, Nailia. “Armenia and Azerbaijan Accuse Each Other of Violating Nagorno-Karabakh
Ceasefire.” Reuters, October 11, 2020.
10 Euronews. “Nagorno-Karabakh: New Ceasefire Struck but Both Sides Allege Breaches,” October 26, 2020.
11 De Waal, Thomas, “The Caucasus Burns While Europe Struggles.” 2020. Carnegie Europe. Accessed October 28.
12 “The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict Explained.” 2020. POLITICO. September 28.
13 Hauer, Neil. 2020. “Armenia and Azerbaijan Are at War Again—and Not in Nagorno-Karabakh.” Foreign Policy. Accessed
October 28.
14 “Fragile Oil and Gas Interests at Stake for Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey in Nagorno-Karabakh.” Accessed October 16,
15 MPSG. 2020. “The Strategic Energy Implications of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.” MP Strategic Group. October


Author: Berna Yusein

Visits: 295

Historical Perspective of the Karabakh Conflict and the Identities

In the last couple of weeks, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which is called ‘frozen
conflict’ in terms of International Relations has come to the international and regional agenda
once more again. The future of the Nagorno-Karabakh is being asked repeatedly. However,
there is more than the future, the past. It is significant how the Nagorno-Karabakh is
perceived by both sides in this conflict. Also, it is unlikely unforeseen that any
agreements or compromise without the consent of two ‘publics’. Since Karabakh is perceived
as a constituent of public identity for both Azerbaijanis and Armenians. Armenians blame the
refusing of the Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state by the Azerbaijani government.
Yet most of the people misunderstood Azerbaijan’s vision towards Karabakh and
significance of Karabakh for the Azerbaijani people as well, historically.
Karabakh is a longstanding and ideational element of the Azerbaijani identity.
Karabakh means as traditionally and culturally birthplace of many Azerbaijani
composers, writers and intellectuals. The historical capital of Karabakh is called as ‘St. Petersburg
of Azerbaijan’.

Azerbaijani people, in the matter of Karabakh, have their origins in 1987. First attempt
to kill and evict the Azerbaijani people held in 1987 by the Armenians. Following that, one of
the heartbreaking massacre ‘Khojaly Massacre’ , where hundreds of Azerbaijanis people
were killed, occurred in 1992. For the Azerbaijani people, massacres and their bereavements
are not forgettable moments. In addition to massacres, the Karabakh War, which was in between
1988-1994, caused approximately 600.000 internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan. Before
the occupation of Karabakh by the Armenian forces, almost all the people in Karabakh was
Azerbaijani people. However, along with the occupation, numerous Azerbaijanis's population
nearly bottomed out. Internally displaced persons still have some problems such as finding
jobs in big cities due to their agricultural past.

All of these have effects on the Azerbaijani people and policy-makers in Azerbaijan
politics. Sensitivity attitude of Azerbaijani people limits the range of policies for policy-
makers. For instance, many of the leaders such as Mutalibov and Elchibey resigned due to the
public pressure. Another example is that President Heydar Aliyev saw as favorable to the
Goble Plan aims to united Nagorno-Karabakh. However, President Aliyev faced
negative reactions from his advisers as well as the public. As a result of these negative
reactions, negotiations have failed.

On the other side of the conflict, the Armenian public is so sensitive towards the
Karabakh, too. Armenian public attitudes and policies of the opposition political parties are no
less radical on the issue of Karabakh. Karabakh is historically important for Armenia and
Armenian identity. Armenian society apply public pressure and raise their voice on the
Nagorno-Karabakh. To illustrate this public pressure, Armenian President Ter-Petrosyan was
eager to reach a common ground in terms of the Karabakh Conflict in the late 1990s. Following
that, he had to resign consequently in 1998. It is clearly proclaimed that any dialogue or
compromise on the Karabakh conflict would be ended with the deposition of government or
deadlock. Furthermore, the rights of the Azerbaijani refugees have rejected by the leaders of
the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. For the Azerbaijani society, recognizing the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh without the right of Azerbaijani refugees is unfair and unacceptable.

All of these examples clearly point out that the background of Azerbaijani and
Armenian society who radicalized day by day as well as the significance of understanding of
identity in terms of Karabakh during the compromise process.
From an international perspective on Karabakh Conflict, the international community has
tried to reach a consensus to the actual conflict which started in 1988 and ended in 1994 with the
ceasefire by the assistance of the OSCE Minsk Group. However, any attempt to ‘create’ a
common ground to give an end to the active phase of the war has been ineffective. Nevertheless,
Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to follow some steps which formed under the Madrid
Principles since 2007. It was a general framework on the occupied regions, Azerbaijani
refugees and negotiation through the Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite the numerous United
Nations Security Council resolutions (e.g resolutions.822,853,874,884) and internationally
recognized status of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity by the international community, Madrid
Principles have never put into practice for the reasons of lack of international efforts and
radicalized publics.

The ongoing Karabakh Conflict is like a chicken game that both sides willing to
continue their position until come to a catastrophic end. Nowadays, some of Armenians call
for peace and ceasefire yet neither peace nor ceasefire actualized due to the Azerbaijani
opposition to the continuation of the status quo by the reason of claiming a new status quo in this
region. In addition to that, in spite of the numerous UN Resolutions, which constitute a legal
basis for Azerbaijan’s claims, Azerbaijan has not been able to call attention to this
situation. Thus, the conflict on Karabakh increasingly continues on the field.

This article is written by Evren Gönen

Visits: 267

How is Davutoglu’s Strategic Depth viewed from the perspective of Turkic and Non-Turkic countries in the Caspian Region?

After the Kemalist revolution of 1923, Turkey started to pursue Western modernism with stabile and
isolationist policy from their East neighbors and with the rejection of Ottoman culture. However,
defensive and isolationist Western policy changed by Turgut Özal’s neo-Ottomanism approach.
Demirel’s argument of the Turkish world from the Adriatic to the Chinese Wall in the 1990s was significant to
the Caspian region (Efegil, 2008, p.167). This paper argues that despite Davutoglu’s “strategic depth” has
good intentions, this doctrine is mostly failed against Turkic and non-Turkic countries in the realities and
complexities of the Caspian region. This paper will first explain the strategic depth doctrine and will
afterward apply and assess this doctrine to Turkic and non-Turkic countries.
Turkey is a regional power in strategic depth. In this doctrine, Davutoglu utilizes Machiavellian classical
realism with stressing the importance of geography, history, culture and considers economic, and
military as potential powers. Thus, Davutoglu sees Turkey as a central country that possesses
a geographical and historical leadership role to its neighbors which is compatible with the definition of
regional power theory. Turkey uses soft power like economic interdependence, cultural platforms and
cooperative security as theoretical frameworks of regional power. Additionally, Turkey influences the
Caspian region and is therefore recognized by other states with its soft power. (Kardaş, 2010, p.124).
Strategic depth considers Turkey as a hinterland that emerges from the Ottoman Empire (Özkan, 2014,
p.119), whereas Turkey needs to remove its isolationist policies by multiple alliances to counterbalance
EU. According to Davutoglu, Turkey can’t reach the Caspian Sea and therefore Turkey needs to have
sea strategy for controlling other sea routes that are connected to the Caspian Sea (Aktoprak, 2003,
p.176). Hence, Turkey needs to collaborate with Russia and Iran (Davutoglu, 2001, p. 32). In this way
Turkey will increase its area of maneuver without aligning either with West or East. Given that Turkey
can utilize its unique historical, cultural and bridge role of connecting East and West characteristics, are
what makes Turkey special in strategic depth.
Particularly, strategic depth is the depth of geography which considers Turkey as a continental basin
under the capacity of being a Middle Eastern, Caucasian, Western and Mediterranean country, which
furthermore derives from Ottoman legacy rule to three continents and its historical depth of multiple
cultures in these continents. Davutoglu provides the elements of multidimensional, proactive, and
rhythmic diplomacy, zero problems with neighbors, pragmatism and mediation as characteristics of
Turkey’s new policy. Hence, Turkey pursues an integrated regional policy since it has multiple regional

Additionally, Turkey considers the all-inclusive policy of taking NGOs and every state into cooperation
(Aras, 2009, p. 133), while its global role is shifted from Western military deterrent and peripheral
country to the central country. Hence, Turkey’s secular democracy can bring stability and peace to the
Caspian states. The latter gains more attention since the strategic depth represents both neo- Ottomanism
and Eurasianism with Islamic conservatism without Turkish ethnic domination but rather cooperation
(Tüysüzoğlu, 2014, p.99).
Russia is the biggest test for the strategic depth doctrine. Turkey removed its skepticism towards Russia
and shifted its relations from an enemy state to an economical ally state after 1990 with increasing
economic relations during the Putin era. Davutoglu argues that Turkey needs to implement a strategy of
close cooperation with Turkic states against Russia’s unilateralism in the Caspian Sea. Turkey’s new
multidimensional and inclusive policy allows Turkey to remain neutral between Russia and the West while
increasing its economic relations with Russia. Turkey pursued a multilateral diplomacy policy in the
Russian-Georgian crisis of 2008 in order to balance Russian unilateralism with the Caucasian
Cooperation and Stability Platform which consists of Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey
without external powers (Aras, 2009, p. 136). This platform is created because of the failure of Minsk
group and was the only solution for Turkey to provide peace and stability, since Turkey’s political
actions are restricted because of its economic dependency on Russia. Therefore, Georgia is crucial for
Turkey to decrease the Russian dependency, and in the same way it is an ally for Turkey since they both
support Western democracy. Turkey considers Georgia geographically important since the main routes
of BTC and BTE pipeline routes pass through Georgia because of the ethnic and historical conflicts with
Armenia. Consequently, Turkey seeks to solve Georgian crisis by CSCP for to be energy hub between
Caspian and West.
However, the CSCP platform is unsuccessful for the following reasons; Firstly, because of the
asymmetrical dependence and secondly because of Turkey’s non inclusive approach for not taking EU,
US even Iran to cooperate was accredited as a big mistake (Jackson, 2011, p.88). Hence, this crisis
demonstrates that strategic depth failed in the real complex of the Caspian politics. Turkey could gain geopolitical advantage neither from the US nor from Russia because of this policy. This crisis was
difficult for Turkey since it needs to make a binary choice between Russia and the US and similarly
between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Karabakh. Turkey restricted the passing of US military ships in
straits in accordance to the Montreux agreement during this crisis. Consequently, Turkey used its soft
power with providing only humanitarian aid to Georgia and having a mediation role between Russia and
Georgia. This crisis occurred to prevent NATO’s military expansion in Georgia, whereas Russia
legitimized these actions in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Moreover, Turkey recognizes the Russian dominance with including Russia in every cooperation, which
is compatible with the strategic depth doctrine. From this doctrine, Russia is naturally allied to
counterbalance EU and with also converging interest to fight against radical Islamism (Walker, 2007,
Besides, apart from the energy disputes, e.g. the BTC and BTE pipelines, Turkey balances this with the
Blue Stream pipeline. (Davutoglu, 2008, p.91). Russia is critical for Turkey to illustrate to the Turkic
states that Turkey cooperates with a common share of identity and interest rather than Pan-Turkism or
imperial desires. The great game of transferring energy sources of Caspian to Europe can create
conflicts among Russia and Turkey (Çaman, Akyurt, 2011, p.55). Turkey’s economic dependency on
Russia is an obstacle for the implementation of the strategic depth, and is therefore suggested that
Turkey can decrease this dependency through Iran and Turkmenistan and not only with Azerbaijan. This
dependency restricts Turkey’s political freedom in the Russian-Georgian crisis. Given that Turkey should
not allow Russia to impose dominance on Turkic countries, only the realistic policies of strategic
partnerships with Turkic countries, render this possible rather than adopting a “big brother” behavior.
Turkey’s biggest disadvantage is Russia’s historical political and cultural assimilation process on Turkic
states during the Soviet Union, which clarifies that both sides need to be cautious on ethnic issues like
Chechen and Kurdish people. According to Davutoglu, Turkey should not leave the mediation role to
Russia in Karabakh. Gradually, after 1990, Russia was successful in terms of filling the vacuum of
geopolitics in the Caspian rather than Turkey. This could be interpreted because of Turkey’s lack of
domestic economic and political stability, which illustrates that the strategic depth lost against Russia.
The triangle of Azerbaijan-Armenia and Turkey is a deadlocked process. Unfortunately, the strategic depth
of Turkey in this triangle is also unsuccessful. Azerbaijan is the closest ally and strategic partner for
Turkey, and although the Karabakh issue threatens Azerbaijan’s sovereignty, it remains unsolved
despite Turkey’s and Russia’s mediations. Davutoglu argues that Turkey needs to have an energy strategy
and partnership with Azerbaijan without allowing the creation of an alliance among Russia, Iran and
Armenia against Turkey (Davutoglu, 2001, p.24). Although this energy strategy is compatible with the
strategic depth policy, however, this did not happen in the realities of Caspian. Davutoglu in his strategic
depth analysis rejects Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations ideology however the Karabakh
issue between Azeri and Armenian people is a clash of civilization (Murinson, 2006, p.949). Strategic
depth respects multiculturalism but real politics prevent this. The normalization process and diplomatic
talks with Turkey and Armenia in 2009 was a huge development. This normalization policy is convenient
with the strategic depth for the following three reasons; firstly, it will attribute a mediation opportunity to Ankara; Secondly, it will enhance Ankara’s regional role and finally, it will render possible the
Nabucco pipeline operation. If Turkey manages to have good relation with Armenia without losing
Azerbaijan, then Russia will lose its control on pipelines. However, this protocol was not put into
practice because of the Karabakh issue. Turkey’s normalization process also damaged its closest ally,
Azerbaijan. Consequently, it is obvious that the Karabakh conflict creates a huge dilemma in this
triangle, in which Armenia prefers to be allied with Russia and Iran (Aras, 2009, p.4). Armenian
arguments of the 1915 genocide, which is a major problem for Turkey, since the genocide accusations,
renders unsuccessful the strategic depth, especially due to the Armenian historical conflict with Ottoman
and pan Turkism in the Caspian (Jackson, 2011, p.83). Hence, Turkey needs to use its economic
interdependence card against Armenia to incentive them to cooperate on energy pipelines mainly
because Armenia’s economy totally deteriorated after the bombardment of Georgian ports by
Russia in 2008, which undoubtedly resulted in the loss of Armenia’s economic partner, Georgia. The
football diplomacy among Turkey and Armenia is also unsuccessful due to the nationalist domestic
pressures of both sides, the genocide arguments, the diaspora of Armenians and the Karabakh issue.
Although Turkey was one of the first states that recognized Armenia’s independence and invited the
latter as a founding member of the Black Sea Cooperation, this triangle illustrates that strategic depth is
not succeeding due to deep historical and ideational conflicts, which prevent any peace progress and
cause zero-sum policies (Aras, Akpınar, 2011, p.61). Azerbaijan is therefore the last ally for Turkey to
be the energy hub, with also the help of Georgia.
Turkey has to acknowledge that all post-Soviet Turkic countries do not want to be dependent on any
single power and do not seek any country for a role model (Walker, 2007, p.43). Although Western
powers consider and hope Turkey to be a role model in this region, in order to remove Iran’s dangerous
radical Islamism and Russia’s geopolitical desires, Turkey was unsuccessful in this role. The Turkish
public opinion is sensitive towards the Turkic countries since they consider them as “fatherland of
ethnic Turks”. However, Turkic populations do not consider themselves as Turkish, thus this is a crucial
common misunderstanding. Hence, Turkey needs to perceive Turkic countries as they are. TIKA is
founded for giving aid to Turkic countries (Çaman, Akyurt, 2011, p.47). This is the soft power of
Turkey in the areas of economics, culture, language, history in line with the strategic depth
understanding. Turkey facilitates the ground for increasing their voice in international institutions with
its “door opening and right advocating” role. In parallel, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO),
Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Turkic Council are organizations that consist of
Turkey and Turkic states. Turkey and Kazakhstan have joint economic Commission and High Level
Strategic Cooperation Council and achieved agreement on security and terrorism. However, since there are disagreements among Turkic states, Turkey only achieved bilateral cooperation instead of multilateral relationships. Therefore, Turkey needs to have realistic and pragmatic policies towards these states instead of unfounded expectations and speeches. Turkey’s lack of economic success and political instability allowed Russia to fill this geostrategic role, which resulted in the defeat of both Turkey and Iran against Russia in terms of controlling the Turkic states. Turkey has to recognize the dominance of
Iran and Russia and needs to cooperate with them in order to increase its influence.
Moreover, the establishment of the Turkic Council is a huge achievement for Turkey which it can
increase this kind of soft power for the implementation of realistic goals. According to Aras, Turkey
fails to sufficiently understand international factors and its misperceptions are the reasons for the failure
of Turkish policy in the Caspian. Turkey supports the policy of “One Nation, Two States” towards
Turkic states, and it additionally supports Turkmenistan’s neutral status, regardless of the fact that their
interactions are limited to tourism, culture and official visits. TURKSOY, TDV and TDRA are cultural,
religious and educational organizations in the region (Aras, 2000, p.45), and in the meantime, the high
transfer of students from Caspian to Turkey, is valuable for integration. Therefore, strategic depth is
partially successful to Turkic countries. This success depends mostly on Turkey’s soft power in cultural,
education, historical and language councils to these regions. However, Turkey lost the ground to Russia
in terms of both geopolitical and geo-economical grounds except Azerbaijan.
Concerning Iran, Turkey utilized its strategic depth policy against Iran, thus it supported the Iranian
peaceful nuclear program during the US sanctions (Murinson, 2006, p.960). They agreed on fighting
against the PKK terrorism in Syria. Turkey cooperates with Iran for increasing the bargaining power
against the Russian gas dependency in compliance with the strategic depth, whereas Turkey also
defeated Iranian Islamism in Turkic states. Since Iran has economic restrictions due to sanctions, most
Turkic states prefer to choose the Turkish liberal economy (Goudarzi, Lashaki, Lakani, 2015, p.127).
However, neither Iran nor Turkey could take Russia’s geopolitical role in the Caspian. Although Iran
has the most compatible and safe energy route for pipelines, Azerbaijan chose Turkey for cooperation
because of Iran’s support to Armenia and Iran’s Islamic threat to Azerbaijan’s Western democracy. Aras
argues that Turkey’s constructive de-securitization process on political Islam and Kurdish separatism
caused to have good relations with Iran (Aras, Polat, 2008, p.496). Consequently, the strategic depth is
successful in the eyes of Turkic states against Iran in Caspian.
Consequently, I think the strategic depth doctrine has good intentions for making the Turkish foreign
policy success with regards to its geographical and historical depth of Ottoman legacy. However, this
is achievable in peaceful regions and not in complex and unstable cases, such as the Caspian Sea. This is
because of the strategic depth’s neo-Ottomanism, Islamic tendency and pan Turkism, which are not good strategies towards the Turkic and non-Turkic countries. The latter could be interpreted from the
fact that all states in the Caspian do not seek any role model; in contrary they want to be independent
and act according to their interests. Therefore, strategic depth is achievable ıf it is used on economic
interdependence and mutual interests. Thus, Turkey had success towards Azerbaijan but unfortunately
failed against other Turkic states. Turkic states mostly prefer to cooperate with US, EU and Russia.
Consequently, strategic depth failed in the eyes of Turkic states and non-Turkic states. This role is filled
by Russia because of Turkey’s not realistic policies and lack of domestic economic and political


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This article is written by Senad Sevdik

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