Recent Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercises in Nakhchivan and the balance of power in the region

Last week, the first phase of the Azerbaijani-Turkish large-scale exercises (“Unbreakable Brotherhood”), which were conducted within the framework of the agreement on military cooperation between the two countries, ended in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. In terms of the nature and scale, the military equipment and the number of military personnel involved, these exercises were certainly unprecedented.

Within a short period of time, immediately after the July escalation provoked by the Armenian military in the Tovuz region, Azerbaijan and Turkey held their second large-scale exercises in Nakhchivan. As the name suggests, a second phase of the exercise can be expected soon. It is also important that the forces and resources involved in the military exercises of the two countries are becoming larger with each new exercise. On the one hand, this indicates the difficult political situation in the region, and on the other hand, it characterizes the level of allied relations between the two countries, their common vision on eliminating threats to stability in the region. Undoubtedly, in this regard, the Nakhchivan autonomy is very important in geopolitical terms, and conducting a separate phase of the Turkish-Azerbaijani exercises here once again proves this.

Nakhchivan autonomy is an exclave of Azerbaijan, separated from the main territory of the country by Armenia and Iran, and only a narrow strip of border of 11 kilometers connects this region with Turkey, which has always been politically present in Nakhchivan. Largely thanks to the position of Turkey in the early 20s of the last century, Nakhchivan received hope for the future. The Azerbaijani population of Nakhchivan was then faced with the threat of deportation and ethnic cleansing (as happened to the Azerbaijani majority in the Erivan province and Zangezur, on the territory of which Armenia is located today) and forceful annexation to Armenia. However, selfless and stubborn resistance of the Azerbaijani population of the region and assistance from Turkey upset this plan. In the end, Nakhchivan acquired an autonomous status within Azerbaijan, which was finally formalized by the Treaty of Kars of 1921. By the way, the current status quo in the region and all the borders of the South Caucasus countries with Turkey are based on the Kars agreement.

Presently, the region has not lost its political significance. Here the North Atlantic security system (Turkey as a NATO member) comes into contact with the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization/CSTO (Armenia and Russia, the latter has military bases in Armenia and guards its borders). On the other hand, the region is bordered by an independent player, Iran, which isn`t included in these structures. Therefore, the events taking place in the region, especially their military-political component, attract much attention. Today Armenia and Azerbaijan are very far from a peaceful resolution of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia’s refusal to return Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan brings the prospect of a major war in the region ever closer. And in this confrontation, the role of the Nakhchivan autonomy is very significant, given that the exclave is located close to important Armenian cities and communications. Armenia’s attempts to eliminate this vulnerability and seize Nakhchivan (as they did in Karabakh) in 1991-1992 were unsuccessful, and after the strengthening of Azerbaijan, these plans became even more unrealistic. Nevertheless, some of the Armenian politicians, mostly populists, from time to time come up such plans and statements. This is, of course, a short and rather superficial description of the current realities and situation in the region.

Let’s get back to military exercises. In fact, these exercises are the execution of the Turkish-Azerbaijani agreement on strategic partnership and mutual assistance of August 2010. This agreement, which is a framework document, most likely makes it possible to add substance to the relations, including military cooperation between the countries. And if a high level of interaction is required, then at the current level of relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey, it will not be difficult to create a legal basis for them. By the way, this document was signed for a period of 10 years with the right of subsequent prolongation for another 10 years. At the end of this year, an extension of the agreement should be expected, and given the strategic nature of Turkish-Azerbaijani relations, an even higher level of cooperation is possible.

Finally, a little bit more about the military-technical component. This component is also interesting, since now military interaction comes to the fore. It is known that the South Caucasus direction is included in the zone of responsibility of the 3rd Field Army of Turkey, which traditionally covered the Soviet direction, and now almost the entire Eastern Anatolia from Artvin to Dogu Bayazet. Although the 3rd Field Army, which has about 80 thousand military personnel, is a rather impressive force, it is still inferior in power and equipment to the 1st and 2nd armies (it has one army corps less) and the objectives assigned to it are of a strategic nature. It is the 3rd Field Army of Turkey that is involved in interaction with units of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces in the Nakhchivan Autonomy, that is, with the Nakhchivan Separate Combined Arms Army. Today, in terms of strength and resources, the Nakhchivan Army is one of the most well-equipped, manned and combat-ready formations of the Azerbaijani armed forces, which is able to plan and implement strategic operations (Gyunnut operation in May 2018 is an example of this). Undoubtedly, the coordination of the 3rd Field Army (Turkey) with the Nakhchivan Separate Combined Arms Army (Azerbaijan) will improve the capabilities of the allies, both tactically and strategically, which is very important in ensuring lasting security in this region of the South Caucasus.

By Anar IBRAHIMOV

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