Pan-Turkism and Islamism Drive Azerbaijani and Turkish Aggression against Armenians

By Uzay Bulut, Middle East Forum Observer, 14

On February 13, 2024, less than a month after both Turkey and Azerbaijan threatened Armenia with renewed war, Azerbaijan killed four Armenian soldiers in Armenia’s Syunik province. It was not an isolated incident. With Turkish backing, Azerbaijan attacked southern Armenia in September 2022 and has since occupied several dozen square miles of Armenian territory. Between 2020 and 2023, Azerbaijan also conducted an ethnic cleansing campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh to drive out the indigenous Armenian Christian population. While both Turkey and Azerbaijan have long cited the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute to explain their hostility to and rejection of Armenia, Azerbaijan’s capture of the entire territory has not brought peace. Rather, in the months since, Azerbaijan’s probing attacks on Armenia’s frontier have continued.

What then motivates Azerbaijan and Turkey’s hostility toward and rejection of Armenia?

While National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken negotiate with their Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts to win peace between the two former Soviet republics, they focus on supposed grievances: Resolving Armenia’s requests for the return of prisoners of war, addressing increasingly fanciful Azerbaijani territorial claims, or encouraging economic and trade integration. Their efforts are doomed to fail, however, because they ignore the two ideologies driving the conflict: Pan-Turkism and Islamism.

Pan-Turkism (or pan-Turanism) promotes the superiority of a supposed Turkish race and seeks to unite Turks from the Balkans across Turkey and Central Asia to portions of China and Siberia. In 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan enthusiastically received a map of “Grand Turan” from coalition partner Devlet Bahçeli, leader of Turkey’s National Movement Party (MHP). The Azerbaijani leadership, meanwhile, embraces the same ideology. Heydar Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan from 1993 to 2003, often described the relationship between Turkey and Azerbaijan “as one nation, two states,” a mantra his son and successor Ilham also embraces.

For both Erdoğan and Aliyev, Armenia’s independence is the main impediment to realization of Greater Turan for a simple reason: Armenia blocks Turkic territorial continuity. This is the main reason why Azerbaijan rejects any recognition of Armenia despite the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute in Azerbaijan’s favor. Increasingly, both Aliyev and Azerbaijan’s media refer to Armenia as “western Azerbaijan,” indicating a rejection of its very legitimacy.

Erdoğan’s Islamism imbues pan-Turanism as religious mandate. During Azerbaijan’s 2020 war on Armenians, Erdoğan declared, “We support Azerbaijan until victory … I tell my Azerbaijani brothers: May your ghazwa be blessed.” His reference to ghazwa refers to battles in which Muslims engaged non-Muslims to expand Muslim territory. Azerbaijan’s systematic destruction of Armenia’s religious heritage further demonstrates this aspect, as do Islamic State-like beheadings and mutilations of Armenian prisoners by Azerbaijani soldiers. Often, Aliyev rewards such atrocities, as when he personally awarded the Azerbaijani officer who beheaded a captured Yezidi in 2016. Turkey also transported Syrian and Libyan Islamic State veterans from the Islamic State to supplement Azerbaijani forces during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. What the United States sees as a land and legal dispute, Ankara and Baku see as jihad.

For too long, wishful thinking hampered U.S. policy toward Turkey. Successive administrations and a generation of diplomats saw in Erdoğan what they wished he would be rather than what he was: a populist and Islamist who prioritized his Muslim Brotherhood exegesis and personal wealth above the constitution and the welfare of the Turkish people. Today, the same pattern repeats with Aliyev, who presents himself as a secularist but, behind-the-scenes, pursues an irredentist and Islamist agenda in concert with Erdoğan.

The two countries today act in concert against Armenia. Both blockade Armenia. Neither has diplomatic relations, and both deny its legitimacy and historical legacy as the first Christian country. The Turkish Army continues to train and often command its Azerbaijani counterpart.

Against this backdrop, it is imperative that neither the United States nor Europe view the death of four Armenian soldiers yesterday on Armenian soil as an accident to overlook as Washington seeks a broader peace deal. Rather, they are a sign Erdoğan and Aliyev will never sacrifice their core ideology nor honor any piece of paper in which naïve Western officials demand they affix their signatures.

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara.

  1. It is honest journalists who end up in the notorious turkish jails, never to see the sun. This particular unusual journalist has chosen to expose the truth rather than be erdogan/aliyev mouthpiece against Armenia and Armenians.
    The two criminal leaders promote mutilation and destruction in the name of holy war. Not territorial expansion, and theft of resources of Armenia for personal wealth.
    As to the illusion of Turkish racial superiority, the erdogans of the occupied lands, need to have their DNA checked, to finally admit their nomadic seljuk turkish origin. That they are not who they claim they are ie original owners of Historic/Western Armenia.

  2. Thank you to the journalist Uzay for his honest analysis …Who said Turks are Muslims !!! in May 1916, when Jamal Pasha Alsafah hanged literate Arabs in Beirut and Damascus … Arab poets started shouting … “You Turks sons of Jenkins Khan, you are never Muslims” The true Muslims are Arabs who saved Armenians from genocide, and till today they respect Armenians and trust them.
    Arab Poets During Ottoman Era
    Poeted Sharply on the Savage Populace

    When the Arab poet, Assad Rustom, who lived in Washington, USA, heard that his friends were hanged on May 6, 1916, he wrote the famous poem, sharply criticizing, insulting Jamal the butcher:
    “The Sons of Turks You are Never Muslims”
    Your name means beauty
    But you’re awfully ugly
    Your tongue and palms are fully dirty.
    You are senseless, criminal full of sins
    You have no spirit, no clean soul,
    Lack manhood humanity.”
    The Syrian poet, Nasseb Areedah (1888-1940)
    living in America wrote his untitled poem:
    “Coffin his body
    Bury his soul
    In the deepest grave
    Don’t feel sorry
    Don’t lament
    Who is disloyal
    Remain soulless dead
    Can never wake up to feel
    Yet to regret.”
    The poet, Khayr-eldeen Al-Zarkali, wrote his titled poem:
    “The Arabs and the Turks”

    “Those Turks, the grandsons of Genghis Khan.
    Took young Arabs, pushed them to a slave bazaar.
    Promised statements changed abruptly,
    Acting exactly the opposite for those held in custody…
    Torturing, humiliating, insulting the braves.
    Yet on what they swore, pretending agreed.
    They are dishonest, soulless, enjoy greed.”
    The Lebanese poet, Fuad Al-Khateeb (1880-1957),
    wrote his untitled poem, blaming the Turks,
    “You Turks harmed our people
    in their joints so hard
    Till swords’ blade awoke
    to vengeance sharply shard.”

    Poems in the poetry book “Bring Out Our Genocided Skulls and Artful Hands”

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