Photo by Aztv
On June 15, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed a new agreement during an official visit to Shusha, a city reclaimed by Azerbaijan during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war.
Erdoğan and Aliyev first visited the city of Fuzuli before proceeding to Shusha. While in Shusha, Erdoğan and Aliyev signed a monumental defense and economic agreement, officially called the ‘Shusha Declaration on Allied Relations.’ According to Aliyev, Azerbaijan and Turkey “have established a qualitatively new relationship, and all provisions of the declaration are a guarantee of our future cooperation.”
The Shusha Declaration builds on previous agreements signed between Azerbaijan and Turkey, including the ‘Agreement on the Development of Friendship and Comprehensive Cooperation’ – signed in 1994 – and the ‘Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Assistance Between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Turkey’ – signed in 2010. The latter, ratified in 2010 by Azerbaijan and in 2011 by Turkey, proved crucial for the Second Karabakh war, as the agreement states that Turkey and Azerbaijan will provide unconditional support for each other ‘in case of a military attack or aggression against either of the countries.’
While the Shusha Declaration includes ‘Shusha’ in the title, the contents of the declaration go beyond military support and support for Azerbaijan’s efforts in the territories gained in last year’s war. The agreement also states that Azerbaijan and Turkey will ‘increase their efforts to diversify national economies and exports in trade and economic relations…to develop more favorable conditions for the mutually beneficial development of investment cooperation.’ Additionally, various clauses refer to energy security, including the continued development of the Southern Gas Corridor and efforts to strengthen electricity supplies in the region.
Turkey will continue to contribute to construction efforts in the reclaimed territories. In order to improve the coordination of reconstruction efforts, Erdoğan announced that Turkey would open a consulate in Shusha, the first diplomatic mission to open in the region. Erdoğan added that the opening of a consulate would help Azerbaijani internally displaced persons (IDPs) return home. An opening date has not been announced, but Erdoğan noted that the consulate will be opened in Shusha ‘as soon as possible.’
Increasing Turkey’s role in the region also led to talks about the ‘Zangezur corridor’ – a transit corridor intended to connect Nagorno-Karabakh to Nakhchivan and the Kars province of Turkey by rail. Erdoğan noted that the opening of this transit route will allow Turkey to access Central Asia through the Caspian Sea and that Russia would benefit from the passage as well.
The announcement of Turkey’s greater engagement in the region was welcomed by many Azerbaijanis, but not received well by Armenia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia released a statement on June 15 condemning the visit of Erdoğan and Aliyev to the region and the signing of the Shusha Declaration, referring to these actions as an ‘outright provocation against regional peace and security.’ The Ministry also added that these actions represent the ‘false and misleading nature’ coming from Ankara and Baku about normalizing relations with Armenia.
The strengthening of the already-strong relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey causes concern for Russia. While Russia describes the joint Russia-Turkish Monitoring Center as a positive development, Russia’s presence far outweighs Turkey’s, with nearly 2,000 peacekeepers on the ground. Russia is particularly concerned about a statement made by Erdoğan, in which the Turkish President noted that he would explore the possibility of a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to this statement, stating that, “the deployment of military infrastructure by [NATO] alliance countries near our borders is a cause for our special attention.”
Whether or not a military base materializes, the Shusha Declaration indicates that Turkey intends to take a serious role in the South Caucasus and seeks to counterbalance the role and influence of Russia in the region, disrupting the previous status quo.