Turkey’s brinksmanship in the South Caucasus puts a spotlight on tensions within NATO.
On Friday, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan flew to Moscow for ceasefire talks. A “humanitarian ceasefire” was announced earlier this week, but at the time of writing appears to have broken down. “Let those holding talks in Moscow know that it’s our territory and we won’t be making any concessions,” Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev remarked of the prospects for peace on Friday, foreshadowing this week’s renewed violence. Currently at an advantage, Azerbaijan has little incentive to return to the negotiating table.
In the past, when tensions around Nagorno-Karabakh flared up, neither side gained sufficient advantage to force the other side into concessions. By default or design, Moscow has ended up as an arbiter. This time, however, Turkey seems to be tipping the scales in Azerbaijan’s favor, with the other two regional powers, Russia and Iran, pleading for peace. In an unlikely turn, Western leaders today find themselves in the unlikely position of being more aligned with governments in Moscow and Tehran than their own NATO ally.
Aggressively backing Azerbaijan is in line with Turkey’s increasingly assertive, interventionist foreign policy developed under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey has pursued unilateral military interventions in Syria and Libya, pressured Greece and Cyprus over expanding maritime borders, and is now backing Azerbaijan’s territorial cause in the South Caucasus. Its military interventions in Syria and Libya have been condemned by many European countries, and with French leadership, the EU has threatened Turkey with sanctions over the Mediterranean maritime border dispute.
The security guarantees afforded by its NATO membership may be emboldening Turkey to use military force when it knows that deterrence keeps adversaries at bay. Especially in the South Caucasus, it’s conceivable that Turkey’s strategists are calculating they can escalate conflicts without fear of Russia directly retaliating on Turkish soil. Early last week, Turkey’s foreign minister was downright dismissive of Russian calls for an immediate ceasefire on his visit to Baku.
Russia has every reason to want to do something about Turkish behavior. As Samuel Ramani, a DPhil candidate in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, pointed out, “[Russia] views Turkey’s seamless integration of Syrian proxy militias alongside the Azerbaijani military as worrisome, as that show that Ankara could mobilize Syrians for its own purposes effectively in more places that just Libya.” Unanswered provocations send signals of their own.
That said, Turkey does not have a completely free hand in the region either. Earlier in the conflict, Armenia accused Turkey of shooting down one of its military jets, which Turkey vehemently denied. Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led alliance modeled on its North Atlantic adversary. The CSTO is often dismissed as a paper tiger, but its existence complicates the calculus of all the players. Russia’s prestige in the region, as well as its credibility as a security provider, is on the line, and we do not know to what extent Turkey is willing to test these commitments. For now, the CSTO’s involvement is mostly a question of escalation—whether there is a credible threat on Armenian soil. The CSTO’s treaty obligations do not extend to Nagorno-Karabakh (which is not part of Armenia and which even Armenia has not recognized as independent), so there is ample gray area for Turkey to act. Known tensions between Putin’s regime and the government of Nikol Pashinyan could also prompt Turkish brinksmanship.
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Neighboring Iran is the other uneasy and interested spectator in the region. The country has enjoyed a close relationship with Armenia, but it has a sizeable Azeri minority living within its borders (representing 16% of Iran’s total population, more than the total number living in Azerbaijan proper). The leadership in Tehran cannot afford to alienate either side. At the same time, it also wants to avoid spillover of regional violence and is eyeing Turkey’s presence at its borders. So despite attempts to signal a neutral stance, Iran has allowed Russia to transport military supplies through to Armenia.
Nicole Grajewski, an international security fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center, noted Iran’s seriousness in taking on a mediator role in alleviating the conflict, but highlighted the geostrategic difficulties facing any settlement. While Russia and Iran would prefer a return to the pre-July status quo and may want to re-freeze the conflict as quickly as possible, Turkey has incentives to push on for longer. Part of the motivation is domestic; saber-rattling nationalists upset with Turkey’s humiliation in the current Greece talks need to be deflected. But, Ramani says, Turkey does not want to risk pushing Russia and Iran away simultaneously, thereby both further intensifying its international isolation and straining peace negotiations in Syria.
Thus far, the West has gone missing in the conflict. This is attributable to a lack of on-the-ground presence on the one hand, as well as to uncertainty at getting involved in a complicated fight where Turkey, Russia, and Iran already dominate. Still, allowing a NATO member to court conflict so openly hardly seems like optimal policy. CEPA’s Lauren Speranza thinks NATO needs to find a way to help de-escalate the situation at a higher level, as the United States tried to do with Russia in Syria. For better or for worse, Erdoğan’s Turkey is an ally, and the Alliance will have to stand by it. The goal has to be to avoid an unintended escalation spiral should either Russia or Turkey somehow miscalculate.
Letting Russia, Turkey and Iran take the lead on brokering peace—or another ceasefire—may be the best available option, even if prospects for a lasting agreement are dim under such leadership. Western leaders, however, can’t afford to be complacent. Even the best-case outcome in Nagorno-Karabakh should lead to serious soul-searching in the Alliance. Having an erratic and increasingly authoritarian regime as a partner poses risks all its own.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.
CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America.
It is clear that the policy pursued by the United States is
based only on its own interests, and hypocrisy, betrayal, and
treachery have risen to the level of state policy.
On one hand, the United States supports the territorial
integrity of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, considers Abkhazia and
South Ossetia as part of Georgia, Transnistria as part of Moldova,
Donbas and Crimea as an integral part of Ukraine, and also supports
these countries on all international platforms, on the other hand,
the United States did not provide any support to Azerbaijan, whose
territory had been under the invasion for almost 30 years.
Moreover, it took steps that suited the interests of invader
If a small part of the support provided to Ukraine today had
been provided to Azerbaijan, our lands would not have stayed under
the invasion so long.
As a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the United States also
did not conduct any work; the co-chairs made tourist trips and made
routine statements. This organization and one of its co-chairs, the
United States, did everything possible to keep the conflict frozen
for many years. Millions of dollars were allocated annually to the
so-called regime in Garabagh under the guise of mine clearance. The
separatists visited the United States and raised funds under the
name “aid to Garabagh.” It was in the USA that the department of
the criminal regime of Garabagh was created. Representatives of the
regime visited America and held meetings at various levels. All
this is an indicator of the US attitude towards resolving the
Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Although support for Azerbaijan’s
territorial integrity was expressed on the surface, behind the
scenes support was given to the separatist regime in Armenia and
The United States, as a hegemonic power, created the image of an
enemy that would frighten the international system in order to
dictate its will to the whole world, and declared Islam the main
enemy of the “civilized world.” This is a country where
Islamophobia has risen to the level of state policy, it has not
only interfered in the internal affairs of various countries in the
name of fighting terrorism but has also targeted Muslim countries.
As a result of the “Arab Spring” scenario, governments in the
Middle East were overthrown and civil conflicts were encouraged.
Countries such as Iraq and Libya were attacked, where such a
scenario was impossible.
After creating an image of Iraq as having “nuclear weapons”,
they invaded the country, killing one million Iraqis, destroying
cities and villages, taking control of the country’s national
wealth, and continuing to plunder it so far.
The civil conflict that began in Libya after the overthrow of
Muammar Gaddafi still cannot subside. The killing of millions of
people, the destruction of economic infrastructure, cities and
villages in the Middle East, and the fact that this problem will
continue for many years is the result of the “democracy” that
America brought to the East.
Today, the United States which is considered the country
responsible for the shameful scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo
Bay for the torturing and murdering of Muslims, presents itself as
a “patron of human rights.”
All points of tension in the world are created according to the
desires and plans of the United States. All political games have
one goal – to ensure American interests in any region or country
and to control and exploit the resources of the region or country.
The US is not interested in democracy, human rights, peace and
stability. Most of South America, Africa, and Asia became a testing
ground for American political games.
Azerbaijan has also been suffering from US geopolitical games
for many years. In our country, attempts were made to carry out
coups d’etat. Consistent work was carried out in the direction of
financing and training the political opposition, involving the NGO
sector and the media in political games, that is, in a word,
creating an atmosphere of civil disobedience in the country. The
main goal of this country is to form a government in Azerbaijan
that is unquestioningly subordinate to the interests of the United
States and to legitimize the invasion of Azerbaijani territories.
However, these attempts and numerous plans did not come true.
The United States tried to “Syrianize” Azerbaijan and several
times prepared a plan for “color revolutions” to prevent the
country from strengthening, developing, and liberating occupied
Garabagh. But thanks to the unity of the government and the people,
none of these evil plans came to true.
Realizing that after the 44-day war, the unity of the government
and the people in Azerbaijan has strengthened, today the United
States is changing its tactics and is trying to use not the
opposition, which is in trouble, but LGBT which is a great threat
to national values, “feminists” who promote immorality, and people
“NO TO WAR”, trying to devalue the Victory in the Patriotic War.
The US also provides funds to these groups through USAID, and these
groups are led by Samantha Power, who has pro-Armenian,
anti-Turkish, and anti-Azerbaijani positions.
Azerbaijan managed to resist any pressure and liberated its
lands from occupation on its own. Of course, the existence of
Azerbaijan with such strength and courage does not correspond to
the interests and goals of the United States, France, and other
similar countries. Therefore, today official Washington is not
making serious efforts to resolve the problem between Armenia and
Azerbaijan, but is only creating an illusion.
According to the agreement reached at the last meeting in
Washington, on September 1, roads in the region should have been
opened and the Agdam-Khankendi road should have been operational.
Although Blinken asked for the opening of both the Lachin and
Aghdam roads during negotiations with the Azerbaijani leadership,
the US stepped back from its position rather than put pressure on
the Armenian leadership and separatists in Garabagh who resisted
the agreement. Today, both the State Department and Congress are
talking only about the need to open the Lachin road.
Unable or unwilling to satisfy the separatist group, the United
States is now trying to accuse Azerbaijan of lack of courage and
We have also witnessed the hypocrisy of the United States
regarding the “elections” in Garabagh- after the “elections” on
September 9, leading states and organizations declared that they
did not recognize the illegal regime and its “elections,” but
Washington chose to remain silent. Only after pressure from
Azerbaijan, the US State Department at the level of its ordinary
representative obliged to verbally declare that it did not
recognize the “elections.”
A representative of the US State Department sent Louis Bonin to
the region, but this visit did not contribute to solving problems
in the region and was inconclusive. Because the US is insincere in
its intentions and is not interested in peace. Otherwise, US State
Department representative Yuri Kim would not have spoken about the
non-existent “rights of the people of Nagorno-Garabagh” in his
speech in Congress. The United States ignores today’s realities and
is making serious efforts to legitimize the military junta in
In fact, today the United States, together with France, is a
party that does not allow the process of reintegration of the
Armenian minority in Garabagh, and stimulates revanchist forces in
Armenia. Thanks to such an open pro-Armenian policy of France,
today Paris is completely isolated from regional processes and has
lost hope of mediation. If this happens, the same fate awaits the
United States, which behaves in the region as Christian
It would be naivity to think that Armenia will be benefitted
from the current hypocritical policy of the USA. This policy will
not benefit anyone. An obstacle to the reintegration process is
created in Azerbaijan with the Armenian minority living in its
territory, and Armenia becomes a “second Ukraine”. The United
States, which incited Ukraine to war with Russia and manipulated
the supply of weapons and ammunition to make Kyiv completely
dependent on itself, has actually sacrificed Ukraine today. After
the death of tens of thousands of Ukrainians, the destruction of
cities and villages, and the occupation of almost 25 percent of the
country, the United States now wants to force Ukraine to come to
terms with its territorial occupation. Just as he tried to push
Azerbaijan to come to terms with the occupation of its lands for 30
In this war, in which Ukraine is sacrificed, the USA earns a lot
of money and takes complete control of the European gas market with
LNG (liquefied natural gas). Due to the damage to the environment,
LNG, which is almost as dangerous as black coal, has begun to
dominate the European market, but so far no environmental
organization, ecoactivists, etc. cannot raise voices to
The situation in which the USA is dragging Ukraine reminds us of
the war in Georgia in 2008. Even then, the USA, which incited M.
Saakashvili to war with Russia, later backed out, as a result of
which Moscow officially formalized the occupation of Georgian
territories under its control.
The US tried to turn Turkiye into a “second Syria” and attempted
a coup in 2016 by the FETO organization it created and financed.
Only thanks to the determination of the Turkish leadership and the
support of the people, Turkiye was able to escape from this danger.
But even today, terrorist organizations fighting against Turkiye
receive instructions, weapons and funding directly from the United
The United States, which destroyed Afghanistan and then returned
to power the Taliban, which it shamefully fled and declared
terrorists, but in fact created itself, shows its true nature at
every step by implementing projects of this type. During the
20-year occupation, America did not build a single road or school
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Russia’s war against Ukraine has wrought major upheaval across Eurasia, forcing countries to search for new partners as they seek security and stability. Some Eurasian countries are looking to strengthen ties with the United States to maintain regional security and to develop new economic opportunities. Azerbaijan, for example, has sought to further its partnership with the United States on the two countries’ shared strategic interests.
Relations between the United States and Azerbaijan have historically centered on energy transit, most significantly the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Southern Gas Corridor. In July 2022, Baku signed a new memorandum of understanding with the European Union (EU) to increase Azerbaijani gas exports to the EU from 12 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year to 20 bcm by 2027. Officials in Brussels certainly see the importance of diversifying energy imports away from Russia—European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called Azerbaijan a “reliable” partner in the bloc’s renewed emphasis on energy security.
But Azerbaijan’s geography means it is also a gateway to the countries of Central Asia and the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), also known as the Middle Corridor, that connects Europe with China via Central Asia and the South Caucasus. The Middle Corridor provides Europe with a critical alternative to trade routes that pass through Russia and Belarus, the so-called Northern Corridor.
At the same time, the Middle Corridor provides the inverse opportunity for Central Asian countries to reduce dependency on transit through Russia to the European market. It is in Washington’s strategic interest to help develop alternative trade routes between Europe and Central Asia that minimize opportunities for Russian malign interference along the way.
Moreover, Azerbaijan and the United States share a set of strategic interests that may only grow in the coming years. Washington should resist the calls from some commentators to distance itself from Baku. Russia’s war on Ukraine has shaken stability in the South Caucasus, and Moscow may try to claw back influence in the region at the expense of regional peace and security. Greater US engagement with Baku should reinforce a platform for peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Stronger US-Azerbaijan ties can also help counter threats to shared interests emanating from Moscow and Tehran.
The United States has been a major mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the early years of the two countries’ conflict over the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan that began in the 1990s. This mediating role gained new importance and urgency following the Second Karabakh War, which ended in November 2020 with Azerbaijan liberating Karabakh and much of its surrounding territory.
While the situation remains tense, leaders in both Armenia and Azerbaijan have worked hard to build lasting peace. Baku and Yerevan have reached important achievements to this end, with one set of peace talks mediated by Russia and a second negotiating platform with the EU and the United States. The turning point came in May, when Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recognized Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan in the EU-mediated summit in Brussels, following US-mediated talks weeks earlier between the two countries’ foreign ministers in Washington. There are even signs the long-standing dispute over access to the Lachin road is improving, with new reports that humanitarian aid is reaching Karabakh via the Aghdam road.
The peace process is, however, fraught with major challenges.
Some political groups in Armenia and in the diaspora continue to pressure the Pashinyan government against acknowledging Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized sovereignty over Karabakh. Separatist leadership in Karabakh refuses to integrate the region into Azerbaijan and recently undertook unrecognized “elections.” These authorities also receive financial and diplomatic support from Kremlin-connected individuals.
A peace treaty signed via Western mediation and built upon the recognition of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan would deal a severe blow to Russia’s influence in the region. Such a treaty would create preconditions for the withdrawal of Russia’s peacekeeping mission from the Karabakh region where it was deployed after the 2020 war and, generally, deprive Moscow of one lever of influence against Baku.
This contradiction in the interests of Azerbaijan and Russia has at times strained relations between them. By voicing a plan not to extend the Russian peacekeeping mission beyond 2025 and by investing more in the Western-mediated track of negotiations, Baku regularly challenges Russia’s policies vis-à-vis the peace process.
Azerbaijan stands out as a rare post-Soviet state that has provided humanitarian and political support to Ukraine in the context of the country’s fight against Russian aggression. Azerbaijan has so far sent almost thirty million dollars’ worth of humanitarian aid, including free fuel to ambulances and vehicles operated by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine and power transformers and generators. Azerbaijan’s independent foreign policy course has drawn “bewilderment” from Russia’s foreign ministry and nuclear threats from its political circles.
The Azerbaijani government’s stance on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine contrasts with the policies of two of its neighbors, Armenia and Iran. Investigations and media reports in Europe and the United States have uncovered how Armenia and some other post-Soviet countries have been assisting Russia to import prohibited goods. Officials both in the United States and the EU have listed Armenia among the states that help Russia to circumvent Western sanctions. Armenia only belatedly sent a small package of humanitarian aid to Ukraine in early September.
Iran has been one of Russia’s most strident military allies in its war, providing Moscow with thousands of Shahed drones that terrorize Ukrainian civilians and helping the Kremlin evade Western sanctions. In October 2022, an Iranian military commander Yahia Rahim Safav reportedly said that Armenia may buy Shahed drones. Baku has long opposed Tehran’s brazenly aggressive foreign policy, even as Iran’s ties with Armenia and Russia may be growing. Significantly, Baku has also redoubled its support for Israel—a major US ally—despite Iran’s anti-Israel threats and increasingly militaristic posture in the region.
The time is right for the United States to strengthen its relationship with Azerbaijan and take the historic opportunity to pursue peace and break ground on a new template for regional stability.
Vasif Huseynov is the head of the Western Studies department at the Center for Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center), a think tank founded by the government of Azerbaijan. He is also a lecturer at Khazar and ADA universities in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Image: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan (not pictured) and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov for talks at the George Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., June 29, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is a language that gave rise to many others. About 46% of humans, well over three billion people, are native speakers of an Indo-European language. But where did PIE first arise, and who spoke it: pastoralists from the Pontic steppe straddling eastern Europe and west Asia or agrarians from Anatolia in Turkey? The answer to that question has been eluding anthropologists for ages. And now, researchers in the journal Science suggest a third place: the Lesser Caucasus, primarily found in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and parts of eastern Turkey and southern Georgia.
PIE is both the deadest and most alive of languages. The last speaker died thousands of years ago, and if it was ever written down, we don’t know about it. The only evidence of PIE’s existence are the traces it left in the languages that descended from it.
We say “only,” but that is a lot of evidence. Modern descendants of PIE include not only English, Spanish, and Russian, but also Persian, Hindi, Bengali, and dozens more. Indo-European is by far the largest language family in the world. Sino-Tibetan, which includes Mandarin Chinese, is a distant second, with about 1.3 billion native speakers.
For the better part of a century, linguists have been looking for clues to the origin of Indo-European from within the languages themselves. Using phylogenetic analysis — phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary relationships over time, be they organisms or languages — they have reconstructed a vocabulary for PIE that gives us an idea of the culture of the people who spoke it. We know they had words for bear (bʰérōs) and goose (h₂énos), willow (wélə) and honey (méli), and peat (péḱus) and enclosure (h₂órtos).
The language families descended from Proto-Indo-European beautifully rendered as the branches of a tree, with each leaf approximating the relative numbers of native speakers of each language. (Credit: Stand Still, Stay Silent by Minna Sundberg)
Based on such evidence, two schools of thought emerged. One proposed that PIE originated some 6,000 years ago in the Pontic-Caspian steppe located north of the Black and Caspian Seas, in the flatlands that stretch from northeast Romania via southern Ukraine and southwestern Russia into the furthest west of Kazakhstan. The nomadic pastoralists who lived here tamed the horse, allowing them to migrate far and wide. This is called the steppe or kurgan hypothesis, the latter after the local word for the prehistoric burial mounds that dot the area.
Other scholars posit an older and more southerly beginning for PIE: around 9,000 years ago in Anatolia. Also known as Asia Minor, this peninsula bordered by the Black, Aegean, and Mediterranean Seas is the westernmost extension of Asia. Today, it is the Asian part of Turkey. The theory is that the language piggybacked on the spread of agriculture from here to large parts of the Old World.
The kurgan hypothesis is the more widely accepted of the two. Many of its proponents think that PIE speakers, kurgan builders, and the ancient Yamnaya culture are actually one and the same. However, conflicting evidence from previous phylogenetic analyses has prevented either hypothesis from completely knocking out the other.
So, the Max Planck team constructed a new dataset of core vocabulary from 161 Indo-European languages that was more comprehensive and balanced than previous samples. Using recent advances in phylogenetic analysis, they were able to estimate that PIE was approximately 8,100 years old, and that five main branches had already split off around 7,000 years ago.
The study’s results fit poorly with both the kurgan and Anatolian hypotheses. As a solution, the researchers propose a third possibility: an early homeland for PIE immediately south of the Caucasus, with one migration veering off north into the steppe. There, PIE speakers established a “secondary homeland,” from where Indo-European entered the rest of Europe beginning 5,000 years ago, courtesy of the Yamnaya and later expansions.
Map showing the spread of Indo-European according to the kurgan hypothesis: from the Pontic steppe (dark green) to an area covering most of Europe and large parts of Asia (light green). Note the non-Indo-European language islands in Europe, representing Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, and Basque. (Credit: Joe Roe, after Wolfgang Haak, CC BY-SA 4.0)
By offering a hybrid of the farming and pastoralist theories about the spread of Indo-European, the south-of-Caucasus hypothesis suggests a solution for an enigma that has dogged the study of Indo-European for about 200 years. Wolfgang Haak, group leader at the department of archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said:
“Aside from a refined time estimate for the overall language tree, the tree topology and branching order are most critical for the alignment with key archaeological events and shifting ancestry patterns seen in the ancient human genome data. This is a huge step forward from the mutually exclusive, previous scenarios, towards a more plausible model that integrates archaeological, anthropological, and genetic findings.”
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#SouthCaucasus The problems of the South Caucasus are larger and deeper than the most visible of them Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Armenia – Azerbaijan hostilities. There are more than 50 distinct ethnic groups in this region, and they should be seen and heard from also. The ethnic groups of the Caucasus are the unique precious stones in God’s necklace, big and small, rolled up and down the high mountains, escaping the tragedies of history and in search of security. Gather them together into the modern South Caucasus Federation.