The self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is a country not recognised by the international community. It has been in conflict with Azerbaijan since the end of the Soviet era. Relations between the players in this conflict are complex and sometimes inconsistent. Turkey, Russia and Iran contribute to the complexity of the situation: Turkey supports Azerbaijan, which is close to Israel; Iran supports Christian Armenia; Russia maintains relations of opportunity with all these players. Economic interest seems to be the common denominator for all these players, in contrast to the ideological, religious or historical links they display.
The origins of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
Nagorno-Karabakh was an oblast attached to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. Following tensions between Russia and Armenia, the region was allocated to Azerbaijan in 1923. In 1991, following the end of the Soviet era, the republics under Moscow’s tutelage gained their independence. Nagorno-Karabakh, with its predominantly Armenian population, revolted against Azerbaijan to form a self-proclaimed republic. The tensions surrounding this region are set to escalate into armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in October 2020. This conflict is fuelled by arms sales from the Hebrew state. Israel was Azerbaijan’s leading arms supplier between 2017 and 2019, with a budget in excess of 375 million dollars.
The Israeli position
Israel was one of the first countries to recognise Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Since then, the two countries have maintained diplomatic relations. Israel opened its embassy in 1993 and Baku in 2022. The Hebrew state imports 40% of its gas from Azerbaijan and exports arms. While many Azerbaijanis sympathise with the plight of the Palestinians, Israel’s role in supporting Baku in its conflict with Armenia is widely appreciated.
The Turkish position
Turkey enjoys excellent relations with Azerbaijan. The two countries share similar languages and cultures, but also a common enemy: Armenia. Turkey is providing Azerbaijan with particular support in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Bayraktar TB2 drones have been sold for use in this war. 70% of Armenian targets have been destroyed by Bayraktar TB2 drones.
The good relations between Azerbaijan and the Hebrew State did not provoke any reaction from Ankara despite the events between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The exodus of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh does not affect the authorities in Ankara. Turkey, which is opposed to the emancipation of Armenia, is turning a blind eye to this situation and showing the inconsistency of its bilateral relations.
The Iranian position
Azerbaijan and Iran share the same religion. Although Azerbaijan is a secular state, 94% of its population is Shiite. This commonality does not, however, bring the two states closer together. Relations between the two countries are fairly tense, not least because of their good relations with Israel and the United States. Iran has also sided with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Although Turkey and Iran share a common enemy in the PKK, Tehran is distancing itself from Ankara because of its support for Baku. In particular, Iran criticises Turkey for transporting Azerbaijani oil to Israel via the Turkish port of Ceyhan. This is probably why Ibrahim Raissi cancelled his meeting with Reçep Tayip Erdoğan on 28 November 2023.
The Russian position
After the new Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian came to power, Russia gradually redirected its support towards Azerbaijan. Nikol Pachinian is not aligned with the Kremlin. The understanding between Moscow and Baku has also been strengthened by the war in Ukraine. Russia needs Azerbaijan to support its invasion, but also to escape sanctions and sell its gas, which passes through Azerbaijani territory. These factors have contributed to the gradual abandonment of Armenia and the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. This positioning is different from that of Iran, even though Teheran has announced the acquisition of military equipment such as Su-35 multi-role fighters and Mi-28 attack helicopters.
The positions adopted by Turkey, Russia and Iran in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia are not coherent. These players are playing to the detriment of minorities such as the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Palestinians. The economic interests of each player seem to take priority over the resolution of regional conflicts (Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Palestine). Iran is, however, the nation that is most faithful to its opinions and displays a certain form of integrity.