Key Factors for Erdogan’s Visit to Azerbaijan – The Arab Wall
Key Factors for Erdogan’s Visit to Azerbaijan

Key Factors for Erdogan’s Visit to Azerbaijan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Visit to Azerbaijan: Key Developments and Implications

On September 25th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan paid a visit to Azerbaijan, a mere week after confrontations in the Nagorno-Karabakh region between separatist forces supported by Armenia and Azerbaijani forces. This visit followed Baku’s successful efforts to besiege the Armenian forces and gain control over the entire region. During this visit, discussions were held about bilateral cooperation and joint energy projects, underlining Turkey’s unwavering support for Azerbaijan.

Significant Developments

Erdoğan’s visit coincided with several significant developments:

  1. Escalation of Tensions: Tensions between Baku and Armenian separatists had been mounting in recent months, culminating in early September when Baku accused separatists of targeting border points. In response, Azerbaijan launched a one-day military operation on September 19th, resulting in the disarmament and withdrawal of Armenian separatists from the Karabakh region. Ankara strongly supported Baku during this operation, with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar confirming Turkey’s backing. Erdoğan hailed the operation’s outcome as a “great victory” and stressed that it created an opportunity for regional normalization.
  1. Exclusion from the Biden Corridor: Erdoğan’s visit to Azerbaijan coincided with Turkey’s exclusion from the U.S. President’s proposed India-Middle East-Europe corridor project, introduced during the G20 summit hosted by India earlier that month. This project raised concerns for Erdogan, who had previously unveiled the “Turkish Century” initiative in May of the prior year, aiming to position Turkey as a global trade hub. During his talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Erdoğan may have emphasized the importance of supporting the “Zangazur Corridor” project in the South Caucasus, connecting Central Asia to the Gulf and Europe via Turkey. This project would solidify Turkey’s connections with the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, potentially creating job opportunities in the logistics sector through increased shipping activity.

Turkey has also proposed several geopolitical corridors for the transportation of energy resources and goods, including the “Middle Corridor.” This route spans the Caspian Sea, starting in Turkey, traversing Georgia and Azerbaijan, crossing the Caspian Sea, and reaching China through Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan. Completion of this corridor could disrupt the “Northern Corridor,” currently controlled by Russia and used for transporting goods from China to Europe through Siberia.

  1. Balancing Western Involvement in the Karabakh Crisis: Erdoğan’s visit to Azerbaijan coincided with increased Western engagement in the Armenian separatist conflict in Karabakh. A delegation from the U.S. Congress, led by Democratic Senator Gary Peters, visited Armenia from September 22 to 25 to discuss the impact of recent Azerbaijani military operations on the Armenian population in Karabakh. On the same day, the French President criticized Azerbaijani military actions against Armenian separatists, emphasizing that Baku’s actions posed a threat to shared borders and the territorial integrity of Armenia. Consequently, Erdoğan’s visit is seen as an effort to demonstrate support, interest, and solidarity with Azerbaijan, its ally, in the face of various threats, including criticism of its military operations in Karabakh.
  1. Advancing Military Cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan: Erdoğan’s recent visit to Azerbaijan is closely linked to significant developments in military cooperation between the two nations. This was evident in the visit of the Turkish Chief of Staff to the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, on August 28th of the previous year. Both countries have expressed a strong desire to intensify joint military exercises in the near future. Notably, the recent meeting between Erdoğan and Aliyev included discussions on ways to enhance their mutual cooperation and leverage Turkey’s advanced defense industries, particularly in the drone sector, which played a pivotal role in securing victories for the Azerbaijani army in Karabakh.

Key Considerations

Several key considerations underpinned this visit, including the following:

  1. Affirming Turkey’s Influence in Central Asia: Through his prompt meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart following the military operation against Armenian separatists, the Turkish President aimed to assert his country’s capacity to influence the dynamics in the Central Asian region by supporting its allies, particularly Azerbaijan’s efforts to establish sovereignty in Karabakh. Erdoğan intended to underscore that Central Asia falls within Turkey’s sphere of influence. He made it clear that Turkey will continue to support its allies both militarily and politically to solidify its regional standing and maximize the utilization of Central Asia’s resources.
  1. Sustaining Turkish Support for Azerbaijan: This visit was a reaffirmation of Turkey’s commitment to Azerbaijan, its regional ally. It served as a message to Azerbaijan that Turkish support will remain unwavering, preventing Russia or Western powers from influencing Azerbaijan’s stance, particularly the United States, which hosts peace negotiations related to the Karabakh conflict. Turkey highly praised the military operation against Armenian separatists, with President Erdoğan considering it a well-deserved victory for Azerbaijan.
  1. Securing Energy Projects: Erdogan’s visit to Azerbaijan is intrinsically linked to his goal of securing energy projects. Turkey heavily relies on sourcing a portion of its oil requirements from Azerbaijan, a necessity accentuated by the ongoing Western sanctions against Moscow. Ankara also recognizes the strategic significance of its relationship with Baku in facilitating the creation of key geopolitical corridors for the transportation of energy resources and goods, such as the “Middle Corridor” across the Caspian Sea. This corridor, comprising railway lines, holds the potential to enhance the movement of energy resources extracted from Caspian Sea nations through Turkey to Europe.
  1. Enhancing Economic and Trade Relations: The enhancement of trade exchanges constitutes a pivotal aspect of Erdogan’s visit to Azerbaijan. Given Turkey’s economic indicators have been on the decline and the ongoing disputes between Ankara and Western powers, leading to some divestment from Turkey, particularly following the depreciation of the lira, Azerbaijan takes on a crucial role as a gateway for the Turkish economy. Turkey depends on Azerbaijani markets for the sale of its products and to attract further investments from Baku.
  1. Countering Rival Influence in Central Asia: Turkey provides comprehensive military and political support to President Aliyev while affirming its ability and willingness to defend Azerbaijan and its historical and legal rights, both in Karabakh and the broader region. However, many of these actions are driven by an effort to undermine the influence of rival actors in the Central Asian region, notably Moscow and Tehran. Turkey has been actively working to bolster Azerbaijan’s sovereignty in the region at the expense of Armenia, which receives support from Moscow and Tehran.

While it’s true that Armenia has accused Russian peacekeeping forces in Karabakh of colluding against Armenian separatists, Armenia has recently sought to strengthen its relationship with the United States, as evidenced by their joint military exercises. However, Turkey is apprehensive about the expanding influence of Iran and Russia in Central Asia, as their objectives don’t align with Turkish interests and priorities.

In this context, Erdogan’s visit to Azerbaijan following the recent military confrontations in Karabakh can be interpreted as Ankara seizing an opportunity to curtail the influence of its adversaries, particularly Iran. Some assessments suggest that Turkey believes that Azerbaijan’s control over the region might, in part, contribute to tightening the economic blockade on Tehran, especially given that Baku’s control over Karabakh disrupts the route between Iran and Armenia.

In conclusion, Turkish actions toward Azerbaijan after the liberation of Karabakh demonstrate Ankara’s efforts to solidify its influence and role in the Central Asian region, in collaboration with its ally, Azerbaijan. These endeavors are geared toward countering the regional influence of its adversaries. Erdogan’s visit also aims to foster and bolster bilateral relations between Ankara and Baku.