With Nagorno Karabakh liquidated, the Turkish president is pushing for a link between Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan with the Armenian province of Syunik at stake. Erdogan also says he is getting "positive" signals from Iran. As the Armenian exodus continues, almost half of the population has left, abandoning their homes and land. The refugees speak of crimes and abuses, as well as hasty funerals and weddings.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – After Lacin, a corridor connecting Turkey to Azerbaijan, crossing Armenia, seems to be a new source of tensions in the Caucasus, where a massive exodus of Armenians is underway from Nagorno-Karabakh after it fell to Azerbaijani forces with Turkey playing an increasingly hegemonic role after Russian disengagement due to its ongoing war in Ukraine.
For President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an overland route that unites the two allies is a fact. In his view, in this complicated geopolitical game, Iran currently considering this “positively.” In reality, the Iranians view Turkey’s growing activism with suspicion, if not open hostility.
After a visit to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, Erdogan reiterated his country's willingness to create a corridor, a direct link, through which Turkey can boost trade with Azerbaijan and Central Asia.
The “Establishment of this corridor is very important for Turkey and Azerbaijan. This is a strategic issue and must be completed,” he said.
Iran has opposed the project in the past, arguing that it would cut off its transport routes to Armenia and fuel Azeri separatism in northern Iran. Still, without going into too many details, Erdogan said, “it is pleasing to see positive signals from Iran on this issue."
The issue centres around the so-called Zangezur corridor, which would connect Nakhichevan, on the border of Turkey, to mainland Azerbaijan through the southern Armenian province of Syunik.
Nakhichevan is an exclave, separated from Azerbaijan after the Soviets seized power in the southern Caucasus in 1920. It constitutes about six per cent of its territory and is home to about 460,000 people, mostly Azeris with some ethnic Russians.
During the drawn-out conflict with its neighbour, Armenia cut energy, electricity and transport links, including highways and railways, with Nakhichevan, leaving it without gas for many years. Even today, the only connections available by land run through Iran or Turkey.
Armenia opposes the corridor project because it would violate its sovereignty at a time when the domestic opposition is already protesting the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Turkish leader promised to build “the Zangezur corridor as soon as possible. We will have uninterrupted road and railway connection with our friend and brother Azerbaijan through Nakhichevan.”. The corridor would be about 30 kilometres-long.
This would give greater vigour to his famous slogan of "two states, one nation", as Turkey’s language and hegemony are effectively replacing Russia’s in the Caucasus following a radical shift in the balance of power.
Failing this, Erdogan seems to have another card up its sleeve. “If Armenia does not pave the way for [the corridor], where will it pass through? It will pass through Iran,” he said Tuesday. “Iran currently considers this positively. So, it would be possible to pass from Iran to Azerbaijan."
Yet, Azerbaijan’s reoccupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, considered under Armenian occupation by several UN Security Council resolutions, has, however, increased tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran.
Iranians look with suspicion and distrust at their own Azerbaijani population in the north, a headache that comes on top of tensions with Kurds following the death of Mahsa Amini and the largely Sunni Balochis in the south-east.
Iran and Azerbaijan also are at loggerheads over disputed oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea, which risks further fuelling tensions between the two countries, and involve Turkey as well.
Meanwhile, the price for the ongoing power game is being paid by Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians. More than 50,000, almost half of the population, have fled to Armenia staying with friends or relatives, while those who have not yet left are sheltering at the border village of Kornidzor, near the Lachin corridor.
Amid the tensions and despair, most Armenians do not believe or do not accept the offers of coexistence coming from Baku. Thousands speak of crimes against civilians, mutilations, funerals and weddings hastily arranged to honour the dead with a final farewell or to flee together towards an uncertain future.
“Any aggression against civilians is unacceptable. People who have fled the crisis must receive protection and humanitarian assistance,” said Alistair Dutton, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis.
“Their rights, including those of safe passage and freedom of movement, must be fully upheld. People must be free to remain in their homes, and those who have fled should be allowed to return should they wish,” he added.
(Image taken from the Turkish Ministry of Defence)