By Lucine Kasbarian
Turkey’s imperial ambition of creating a Pan-Turkic empire, ruled from Ankara, is on display in today’s Caucasus and elsewhere.
This racist ideology envisions an empire that would include any country or region speaking a Turkic-type language regardless of how distant that language is from the language spoken in Turkey and regardless of whether the people in those regions approve of such an empire. This doctrine was and continues to be a key element of Turkish foreign policy.
A country standing in the way, Christian Armenia, is considered the Cradle of Civilization. In biblical tradition, Noah’s Ark rested upon the peaks of Mt. Ararat – the historic symbol of Armenia. The Armenian language is considered to be one of the mothers (if not the mother) of all Indo-European languages. Armenia is decidedly non-Turkic.
Pan-Turkism was a prime motivator for Ottoman Turkey to enter World War I against the Allies in 1914.
Not only did Ottoman Turkey aspire to expand its existing Middle East empire but sought to spread east and include all the regions (most were not even countries back then) depicted in the editorial cartoon accompanying this article. Features of pan-Turkism would include actively involving different countries, primarily Turkic-speaking ones, in the sphere of Turkey’s ideological, cultural, military, diplomatic and economic influence.
The latter peoples inhabited these lands and had established states thousands of years before Turkic tribes arrived from Central Asia and Mongolia and conquered Constantinople in 1453.
Pan-Turkism was a primary reason for Turkey to commit genocide against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks from 1915 to 1923. Turkey sought to homogenize and Turkify its empire. To achieve this goal, millions of indigenous Christians were tortured, slaughtered or abducted and turned into concubines and forcibly converted to Islam.
The genocides continued under Turkish dictator Kemal Ataturk even after WWI. He ordered his generals to “destroy Armenia politically and physically.”
Turkey’s genocidal goals and those of its partner, Azerbaijan, are no secret. Those sentiments are echoed today by Turkish tyrant Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azeri dictator Ilham Aliyev, who express a desire to eliminate Armenia as a dam wall between their Turkic states.
Today, Christian Armenia (population just under 3 million) is the object of Turkey’s (population 86 million) and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan’s (population 10 million) aggression, just as it was during World War I.
Present manifestations of Pan-Turkism
Libyan journalist Alaeddin Saleh speaks to the threat of pan-Turkism when he writes, “Ankara seeks to exploit the alliance with Baku to strengthen its foothold in the region in a bid to restore the Ottoman Empire and merge the Turkic States of Central Asia into a seamless logistics space with common armed forces.”
Pan-Turkism does not simply affect central Asia or Armenia, however. As academic Dimitrios Aristopoulos writes, the intervention of Turkey in Libya, as well as in Syria and its claims over the economic zones of Greece and Cyprus in the East Mediterranean, is also part of the Pan-Turkist political agenda.
Land seizure as a feature of Pan-Turkism
Turkey does not have direct access to Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. Armenia prevents this. In the hopes of economically strangling the latter, Turkey and Azerbaijan closed their borders with Armenia soon after the USSR dissolved. This blockade was a mixed blessing. While it prevented the transport of goods in and out of Armenia via those states, it also prevented either country from engaging in destructive activities toward Armenia.
Georgia and Iran currently serve as Turkish routes to Azerbaijan and beyond – but these are indirect avenues. Currently, the Turkey-Azerbaijan connection route is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) crude oil pipeline. It extends from the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli oil field in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It connects Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan and Ceyhan, a port on the southeastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey, via Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
In 2020, Azerbaijan, under the direction of Turkey, attacked not just the self-governing region of Artsakh, but also Armenia proper. Turkey provided the management, weapons, troops, ISIS jihadists and other terrorists for this aggression. Azerbaijan also received American F-16s and Israeli drones. The visible purpose for the attacks was to win by invasion that which could not be won morally or diplomatically or by sheer historic facts – a historically Armenian territory called Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). But the intention went deeper: It includes capturing Armenia proper in order to geographically connect Turkey with Azerbaijan via the Syunik province of Armenia, also known as the Zangezur region. Syunik links Armenia with Iran, Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan – a historically Armenian enclave now in Azeri hands.
Turkey and Azerbaijan consider themselves “One Nation, Two States.” In 2019, however, Erdogan revealed himself when he stated, “The main instrument to achieve this goal [of Pan-Turkism] is the Turkic Council, created in 2009, which united all (with the exception of Turkmenistan) modern representatives of the Turkic world. Until today, we said, ‘One nation – two states.’ Yesterday I stated that now we have become one nation [within] five states. With God’s help, Turkmenistan will also join us, and thus we will become one nation [within] six states. We will strengthen joint cooperation in the region.”
Azerbaijani President Aliyev even claims that Yerevan (the capital of Armenia), Lake Sevan and southern Armenia belong to “ancient Azerbaijan.” This absurd assertion can be refuted if one consults maps, including ancient ones. In the entire history of the world, there was no such country as Azerbaijan until 1918.
Breaking through via destruction
Following the Azeri invasion of 2020, Azerbaijani troops continued to invade and occupy parts of southern Armenia and cull hostages even after a peace agreement was reached by both parties.
According to analysts evaluating the peace agreement, a proposed opening of existing transport routes between Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan were for just that: the exchange of goods. While Turkey and Azerbaijan show no intention of allowing Armenia unfettered transport access to Europe via Turkey, in 2021 Azerbaijan’s Aliyev emphasized the pan-Turkic aspect of their campaigning when he said,”Both Turkey and Azerbaijan will take necessary steps for the realization of the Zangezur Corridor … to unite the entire Turkic world.”
Transport links serve one purpose. “Corridors,” on the other hand, can mean anything. There are many other reasons to look upon the penetration designs of Turkey and Azerbaijan with misgivings. During and even after the 2020 war waged on Armenia and the Armenian Republic of Artsakh, Azerbaijan occupied sovereign Armenia and either closed roads or attempted to illegally extract “tolls” from truckers who had to turn back with their goods.
Just days ago, on Sept. 13, Azerbaijan again invaded and attacked Armenia. Although a Russian-brokered cease-fire supposedly went into effect two days later, Azeri incursions continue and Armenia still stands alone without military aid from anyone.
Genocide as a feature of Pan-Turkism
Pan-Turkism is not some benign, theoretical goal. It threatens regional stability. It is serious, aggressive and omnipresent. The threat of a renewed Armenian genocide is a daily reality.
The Caucasus is a dangerous neighborhood. If Western hawks seek to contain Russia and Iran via Pan-Turkism, do they think this premise can later be switched off at will? How would the genie be put back in the bottle? All that aside, all hell would break loose if reckless actors tried to tamper with Iran’s borders. In recent days, Iran and Azerbaijan announced the construction of a major motorway bridge over the border on the Arax River amid plans to set up a new transit corridor connecting Azerbaijan to its exclave of Nakhchivan through the Iranian territory. If so, then why the need to seize and cut through Armenia?
Hypothetically, if Armenia were to exit the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) or refuse to engage with regional powers Russia or Iran, it could lead to national suicide for landlocked, blockaded Armenia. She is sandwiched between two states with genocidal track records and has no confidence that the U.S. or NATO would become a guarantor for Armenia. Much as U.S.-Armenia relations have been warm for centuries, history has shown that the West abandoned its “Little Ally,” Armenia, when a mandate was imperative. It is more likely NATO would urge Turkey and Azerbaijan to fully capture and absorb Armenia as a way to bring the region into the Western orbit.
While the West aspires to limit consumer use of natural gas and petrol, it simultaneously seeks those resources from alternate sources – such as Azerbaijan – to boycott Russian suppliers and Iranian conduits. Geopolitically, this attempt to thwart Russia and Iran is flawed and short-sighted. Should Azerbaijan and Turkey succeed in substituting their own energy sources for Russian gas to supply Europe and beyond (and exclude Iran as an economic conveyor belt) what is to prevent Turkey and Azerbaijan from withholding those resources at will for political gain? Turkey did just that when Erdogan threatened to release Syrian refugees into Europe if his demands were not met, or if we recall his many dam-building sprees intended to starve his adversaries.
If Armenia were to consider economic transport convoys through its territory, it would have to have military support to prevent Trojan horses that could engender hostile takeovers and genocides. (Armenia would also have to reserve the right to impose tolls.) But who would the military protectors be? Russians? Iranians? Turks? Azeris? Americans? NATO? The United Nations Peacekeepers? This scenario could unleash World War III.
Indeed, neither Turkey nor Azerbaijan can be honest brokers in any negotiation with Armenia, not only in light of historical outcomes, but also the present day. Both continue to openly destroy all vestiges of Armenian pedigree, life and culture, including torturing POWs and civilians alike, employing banned chemical weapons and destroying churches, monasteries, monuments and cemeteries now under their control.
For these reasons, Turkish and Azeri transport routes should continue to circumvent Armenia. Armenia should no longer be the site of a tug-of-war between Russia on the one hand and the United States and NATO on the other. The practical and moral imperative is to expose (and oppose) Pan-Turkism.
Rejecting Pan-Turkism for democracy, humanity and peace
“Despite the fact that Turkey during Erdogan’s rule has theoretically abandoned Pan-Turkist rhetoric in favor of Neo-Ottomanism,” says academic Dimitrios Aristopoulos, “in practice it is still pan-Turkist ideology that determines Turkish geopolitics.”
And it doesn’t stop there. “From its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its invasion of Northern Syria,” continues Aristopoulos, “to its involvement in the Libyan civil war, as well as the illegal immigration threats again [sic], Greece and Europe, and the war in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), combined with the persecution of Kurds, all are nothing more than parts of the agenda of the Pan-Turkish doctrine on Turkey’s expansionist policy.”
During the anniversary of Kemal Ataturk’s death on Nov. 10, 2016, Erdogan openly declared that ”Turkey is greater than Turkey,” while at the same time spoke of his doctrine about the ”borders of the heart.” He stated that ”We cannot be imprisoned in 780 thousand square kilometers. Our physical borders are different to the borders of the heart. Our brothers who live in areas of Mosul, Kirkuk, Humus, Skopje, may be beyond the natural borders of Turkey, but they will always be on the borders of our hearts.”
In the words of public intellectual Vahan Babakhanyan, “The ideology of Turkism is not just dangerous, it is actually a form of genocide. Pan-Turkism is masking as a culture and a religion,” says Babakhanyan, “while remaining an essentially aggressive racist doctrine for the seizure of foreign lands and for the creation of a ‘Great Turan.'”
Lucine Kasbarian is a writer and editorial cartoonist based in the U.S. She dedicates this article to statesman Karekin Njdeh who lived and died for Syunik and Armenia. Visit her at www.lucinekasbarian.com
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