Jihad Watch : On September 27, the people of the Armenian Republic of Artsakh in
the South Caucasus, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, woke up to the shelling of the military forces of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani forces have since indiscriminately shelled the civilian areas
of Artsakh including its capital, Stepanakert. Many residential areas
have been largely destroyed by Azerbaijani bombardment. Half of the
population have been displaced, the region’s rights ombudsman Artak
Beglaryan said on October 7.
In the small town of Martuni in Artsakh, shells have torn through
roofs, leaving piles of rubble and shattered glass, AFP news agency reported.
While the town is around 20 kilometers (15 miles) from
the front line of the heavy fighting, Azerbaijan’s armed forces began
bombarding central streets and the local government headquarters with
Grad rocket launchers as a team of AFP journalists were talking to
residents at the scene.
The shelling injured two French journalists from Le Monde newspaper and two Armenian journalists.
Artak Aloyan, a 54-year-old construction worker, had taken shelter in
his small dark cellar with his neighbour, an elderly woman in a
headscarf who was sitting on an iron bedstead. Since Sunday he has
rushed to take refuge here every time rockets start whizzing in.
“They’re firing at houses, they’re firing on people. It’s barbaric,”
said 38-year-old Karun Abrahamyan, the sales assistant at a grocery
“We don’t go anywhere at night. My friend and I stay in the garage.
From midnight, we hear the sound of shelling; we don’t know what to do,”
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has violated two humanitarian ceasefires, one brokered by Russia, the other brokered by France, and continued shelling civilian areas.
Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev and Turkey’s president Recep
Tayyip Erdogan refer to Artsakh as “Azerbaijani lands,” but Artsakh has
been a province of historical Armenia since ancient times, and largely
maintained a semi-independent status as a predominately Armenian region.
Artsakh was acquired by Russia in 1813, and in the early 1920s Soviet
dictator Joseph Stalin granted it as an autonomous oblast to Soviet
Azerbaijan, although the region was mostly Armenian. Following the
collapse of the Soviet Union, in response to Azeri pressures and
persecution, Artsakh declared its independence on September 2, 1991 from
Soviet Azerbaijan, which declared its own independence in the same
year. Azerbaijan, however, did not respect the right to
self-determination of the Armenian people and attacked them — an attack
that turned into a four-year war. The war destroyed many Armenian towns
and villages in Artsakh and killed 30.000 people.
Twenty-six years after the end of that war, Artsakh is still
diplomatically unrecognized and is once again under attack, not only by
Azerbaijan and Turkey, but also by international terrorists. News
organizations including Reuters and the BBC, as well as the Guardian and the Independent have reported that Turkey has deployed jihadist terrorists from Syria to Azerbaijan to fight against Armenians. Russia, France and Syria have also accused Turkey of using Islamist fighters in its war against Armenians.
Why are Turkey and Azerbaijan, two Muslim Turkic states of about 100
million people, violently attacking and destroying the Armenian homeland
of Artsakh, whose population is about 150,000?
This war appears to be part of a greater agenda of Turkey: Erdogan has set some benchmarks for the years 2023, 2053 and 2071.
- The year 2023 will be the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1923.
- The year 2053 will be the 600thanniversary of the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul) to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
- And 2071 will be the 1,000th anniversary of the 1071
Manzikert (Malazgirt) battle, during which Turkic tribes from Central
Asia invaded the Greek Byzantine forces in the then-predominantly
Armenian city of Manzikert.
Before these anniversaries, the Erdogan government aims to achieve
some “victories,” including territorial expansion. Erdogan has
accelerated his rhetoric of neo-Ottomanist expansionism and conquests in
On August 26, for instance, Erdogan gave a speech at an event
celebrating the 949th anniversary of the Battle of Manzikert, in which
Seljuk Turks from the Central Asia invaded and captured the then
Armenian city of Manzikert in the eleventh century. He said:
In our civilization, conquest is not occupation or
looting. It is establishing the dominance of the justice that Allah
commanded in the [conquered] region… First of all, our nation removed
the oppression from the areas that it conquered. It established justice.
This is why our civilization is one of conquest… Turkey will take what
is its right in the Mediterranean Sea, in the Aegean Sea, and in the
In another speech on August 30, Erdogan said, in part:
As some historians have said, we are not a society that has an army – we are a nation that is itself an army.
We do not run away from a fight. We will not hesitate to sacrifice
martyrs and wounded people in this fight. For our independence and our
future, we will not hold back from roaring all together as 83 million
people, and running over the dams that get in our way, like a flood.
The real question is this: Can those who oppose us in the
Mediterranean Sea and around it accept the risk of the same sacrifices?
Do the people of Greece accept what will happen to them because of their
greedy and incompetent leaders? Do the people of France accept the
price they will pay because of their greedy and incompetent leaders? Are
the brotherly peoples of some North African and countries in the Gulf
content with their futures growing darker as a result of their greedy
and incompetent leaders?
Erdogan is also actively using Islamic rhetoric to fire up his supporters. On the 567th anniversary of the fall of the Byzantine Greek city of Constantinople to Ottoman Turks, for instance, Erdogan recited
the Koranic surah al-fath (victory, conquest) at the Hagia Sophia
historic cathedral/museum that was reconverted into a mosque on July 10.
The surah al-fath glorifies conquests and victories over “disbelievers” and “hypocrites”.
To revive some kind of an Ottoman Empire, the Turkish government has
been targeting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other
nations in recent years.
Some examples include:
Cyprus and Greece: Turkey has repeatedly sent its oil-drilling ships inside Cyprus
and Greece’s exclusive economic zones (EEZ), thus violating both
countries’ territorial waters in an attempt to prospect for oil and gas.
Turkey has been occupying the northern part of Cyprus since 1974 and
does not recognize Cyprus as a state. Turkey has also been threatening
to invade Greece at least since 2018 and often violates its
airspace. Just on one day, July 2, for instance, Turkish jets committed a total of fifty new violations in Greece’s national airspace, according to Greek military authorities.
Israel: Erdogan’s government has been pursuing neo-Ottoman expansionist aspirations in Israel, as well. On October, Erdogan said
in a speech at Turkey’s parliament: “Jerusalem is our city – a city
from us.”. Erdogan has made many similar statements. After the US
administration announced its peace plan for Israelis and
Palestinian-Arabs, Erdogan said in January: “Jerusalem is the holy [city] of Muslims. The plan to give Jerusalem to Israel can never be accepted.”.
But Erdogan is targeting Israel not only through words. On January 6, Israel Hayom newspaper reported
that the Erdoğan government engaged in neo-Ottomanist expansionism in
Israel and published some of these activities in a story entitled
“Erdoğan’s Quiet Jihad”. It said:
Turkey’s efforts to restore the “glory days” of the
Ottoman Empire extend far beyond influence-peddling in Jerusalem and on
the Temple Mount. Turkey is spending money in Haifa, among the Bedouin,
and even in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in an attempt to increase its
status and bolster the Palestinian cause.
“While the Turks’ main focus is Jerusalem, they are active throughout
the country and their interest in Jaffa and other Arab population
centers goes beyond considerations of tourism or culture,” it added.
Syria: At least since 2017, Turkey has been invading
Syrian territory through military incursions. The latest one by Turkey
and Turkey-allied jihadist forces was launched in 2018 against the
Syrian city of Afrin. The actions of the occupation forces in that
region have been heavily criticized by human rights groups. Amnesty
International, for instance, reported: “Turkish
forces are giving Syrian armed groups free rein to commit serious human
rights abuses against civilians in the northern city of Afrin.”
Libya: Turkey is actively involved in the Libyan conflict as well to shore up its position in the Mediterranean. Turkey sent
between 3,500 and 3,800 paid Syrian fighters to Libya over the first
three months of the year, the U.S. Defense Department’s inspector
general reported. In January, Erdogan said Turkish troops began moving into Libya after the Turkish parliament approved the move a week earlier. Egypt’s parliament then authorized
the deployment of troops abroad after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah
el-Sisi warned of a military intervention against Turkish-backed forces
However, in all of the examples above, except for Syria, Turkey has
not been able to militarily attack the territories of the nations it
targets – for Turkey was pushed back either by the West or in the case
of Libya, by Sunni Arab states.
Hence, what was left for Turkey to attack? By using Azerbaijan, its
ally in the region, Turkey chose to attack Artsakh and Armenia, two
blockaded, landlocked and genocide-survivor states in the South
It is also significant to note that Turkey still aggressively denies the 1913-23 Christian genocide
by Ottoman Turkey against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. A hundred
years after this genocide, another Armenian territory, Artsakh, is being
attacked and devastated by the descendants of the perpetrators of the
Yet Artsakh is resisting the invaders, for its very survival is at stake.
Artak Beglaryan, the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Artsakh, lost his eyesight to a mine explosion at the age of six during the 1991-94 Artsakh-Azerbaijan War. He wrote:
You may call it the Republic of Artsakh or the disputed
region of Nagorno Karabakh or something else. But there are people
living here, as there have been for thousands of years—an ancient,
Christian people who are being indiscriminately bombed, destroyed, and
I will never see again. Many children here will never see their
fathers again. But I hope at least that you can begin to see what is
happening here. Long before politicians or analysts or armies can find
their solutions, we as defenders of human rights must deliver on our
commitment: to defend the human rights of all human beings, however
invisible they may seem.
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara.