Author: Natig NAZIMOGHLU
The Azerbaijani-Turkish military exercises held almost in parallel in Konya, Baku, and Lachin were completed by mid-September. Manoeuvrers primarily focused on improving the skills of using modern military equipment in difficult terrain conditions were in line with the situation ongoing in the region. Particularly indicative were the joint military exercises of the two fraternal countries in the Lachin district of Azerbaijan including the special forces.
First of all, the location of exercises was important, as it was in the immediate vicinity of the Lachin Corridor, which, contrary to the provisions of the November 10, 2020 trilateral statement of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia, is continued to be used for the transfer of the Armenian military to Azerbaijan, to the area temporarily controlled by the Russian peacekeeping contingent. Baku has repeatedly pointed out the unacceptability of such a situation. Otherwise, Azerbaijan has no choice but to forcibly suppress Armenia's encroachments on its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Therefore, the exercises in Lachin demonstrate Azerbaijan's determination and readiness to carry out combat missions to prevent the actions of Armenia, which is using the Lachin corridor for illegal purposes.
The second important point making it necessary to hold joint Azerbaijani-Turkish military exercises in Lachin was related to the attempts of Armenia to disrupt the creation of the Zangezur Corridor - a transport link that, according to the November 10 statement shall connect the western districts of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Baku held the military exercise to make it clear that it is ready to use any options to achieve full and unconditional implementation by Armenia of the terms of the document, which is, in fact, an act of its surrender in the 44-day war.
Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani-Turkish military exercises in Lachin were also a clear signal to the peacekeeping forces of Russia, which are also responsible for the implementation of actions and tasks stipulated in the trilateral statement. In particular, these provisions do not suggest the preservation of the Armenian military in parts of the Garabagh region of Azerbaijan, which temporarily host the Russian peacekeeping contingent. Azerbaijan did not agree to provide its territory, namely the Lachin corridor, for the transfer and supply of Armenian military to Khankendi and adjacent areas. Therefore, Baku will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure that the defeated enemy has no illusions about the preservation, even at a minimum level, of its illegal military presence on Azerbaijani soil. And if the Russian peacekeeping contingent cannot or does not want to stop this illegal presence of Armenian military, then Azerbaijan is ready to solve this problem on its own.
Tactical manoeuvrers in Lachin and the intensity of the Azerbaijani-Turkish exercises in general also have a pronounced regional dimension. They manifest a new regional reality established as a result of Azerbaijan's victory in the 44-day war. Determining factors in this reality are the strengthening of the Azerbaijani-Turkish alliance and the establishment of regional cooperation formats with the key participation of Baku and Ankara, including joint efforts with Russia to establish long-term peace and multilateral cooperation in the region.
It is not surprising that Armenia tried to present the joint exercises of Azerbaijan and Turkey as a threat to regional security. Yerevan stated that the joint Azerbaijani-Turkish exercises in Lachin did not correspond to the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020, and were detrimental to peace and security. Baku, however, explained that it is the sovereign right of each state to conduct various exercises within its international borders. “We draw the attention of the Armenian Foreign Ministry to the fact that the threat to regional peace and security is not the conduct of military exercises by Azerbaijan on its territory, but Armenia’s long-standing territorial claims against other countries, while Armenia is pursuing a policy of military aggression, occupation and violation of the principles of international law. If Armenia wants to ensure peace and security in the region, then it must fulfil its obligations,” Leyla Abdullayeva, spokesperson of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said.
It is symbolic that the recent Azerbaijani-Turkish exercises took place on the 103rd anniversary of the liberation of Baku by Azerbaijani-Turkish troops.
In May 1918, when the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) was proclaimed, Baku and the Baku Governorate were ruled by the Dashnak-Bolshevik Baku Council, which pursued a policy of genocide against the Turkic-Muslim population. The Azerbaijani government understood that it was impossible to ensure national sovereignty without Baku. As the first head of ADR, Chairman of the National Council Mammad Emin Rasulzade said, “the Azerbaijani people, who have never abandoned a thought of regaining the independence of their country, cannot give up their desire to get Baku back. This issue is not only a question of expanding Azerbaijan’s territory, but also a prerequisite to ensure the nation’s viability...”
However, the newly founded state did not have sufficient military forces not only to liberate Baku, but even to resist the Baksovet troops, which launched an offensive on Ganja, the then temporary capital of Azerbaijan. One of the influential figures of the republic, the future Prime Minister of ADR, Nasib-bey Yusifbeyli, said: “Given the current state of affairs, when we cannot ensure our own defense, we have no other way but to ask for foreign intervention. Therefore, we can rejoice that the external force that should come here is a friendly and fraternal power, Turkey.”
It was the Batumi Treaty of Friendship signed on June 4, 1918, which included a clause on military assistance, that set up allied relations between Azerbaijan and Ottoman Turkey. This meant that Turkey took a responsibility to provide military assistance to ADR to assert its territorial integrity. Therefore, the Caucasian Islamic Army was formed under the command of the prominent Ottoman military leader Nuru Pasha. It was a joint Turkish-Azerbaijani military force, including, in particular, the Azerbaijani Muslim Corps under the command of General Aliagha Shikhlinsky and various detachments of Azerbaijani volunteers. The Azerbaijani co-head of the General Staff of the Caucasian Islamic Army was the future chief of the General Staff of ADR, Habib-bey Salimov. At the headquarters of Nuru Pasha, the Office of the Civil Unit was organised; the head of the unit was Nuru Pasha’s political adviser, one of the prominent figures of the Azerbaijani national movement, Ahmed-bey Aghayev (Aghaoghlu).
The path of the Azerbaijani-Turkish army to Baku lay through victorious battles in Kurdamir, Goychay, and Shamakhy. The Baku Soviet could not resist this offensive. First fell the Dashnak-Bolshevik regime led by Stepan Shaumyan, followed by the fall of the Dashnak-Socialist-Revolutionary-Menshevik Dictatorship of the Central Caspian. Even the Cossack troops of the former tsarist Colonel Lazar Bicherakhov and the British Expeditionary Force commanded by General Lionel Dunsterville could not save the enemy forces opposing the independence of Azerbaijan from defeat and collapse.
In early September, the Caucasian Islamic Army launched another offensive against Baku. By the end of September 15, the ships with Dunsterville’s troops were already leaving the Baku Bay. Following them was the government of the Dictatorship of the Central Caspian. Nuru Pasha telegraphed to the Azerbaijani government in Ganja: “By God's grace, our units captured Baku.” With good tidings from Baku, Minister of War of the Ottoman Empire, Enver Pasha, immediately called M. E. Rasulzade, who was holding talks in Istanbul with the Turkish leadership in those days: “Congratulations, Emin-bey, Baku is free now.”
Later in his book The Republic of Azerbaijan Rasulzadeh noted: “After six months of life full of fear, the Muslim population calmed down. On the holy day of Gurban Bayram, Baku again returned to its true owners... Liberation of Baku is like a miracle.”
The Azerbaijani population of Baku met the Turkish troops as saviours. The command of the Caucasian Islamic Army made it clear that its participation in the liberation of the city was in accordance with the will of the Azerbaijani government.
The ADR Prime Minister Fatali-Khan Khoysky assessed the significance of Baku’s liberation as follows: “We also have the right to live freely. Neither the armoured cars, seaplanes, airplanes, gunboats, barbed wire, mines and other technical structures, nor the British, any other powers and their patrons could resist the course of history. The fifty-thousandth army and equipment of the enemy could not resist the pressure of a small force. Let this be a lesson for those who are trying to build their happiness on someone else's misfortune.”
Liberation of Baku has secured the right of the Azerbaijani people to freedom and independence as a nation-state. In addition, it laid the foundation for the relations of interstate strategic alliance between Azerbaijan and Turkey, which is now one of the geopolitical realities of our time.
Evidence of strong fraternal ties
Republic of Turkey was the first country to recognise Azerbaijan’s independence back in 1991. It immediately supported Azerbaijan, which was especially important during the country’s exposure to the Armenian military aggression, followed by the occupation of the mountainous part of Garabagh and the adjacent Azerbaijani territories.
Cooperation in the military and military-technical spheres has been established as one of the priority directions of the Azerbaijani-Turkish alliance. Implementation of joint defense programs, joint military exercises, participation of Azerbaijani and Turkish military personnel in various international peacekeeping operations. These and other events have forged the Azerbaijani-Turkish strategic dialogue year after year.
On September 15, 2018, on the day of the centenary of the liberation of Baku, Azerbaijani and Turkish armies held a parade on the Azadlig Square in Baku. Speaking at the parade, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said: “This holiday of victory has become a symbol of brotherhood and loyalty and reflects the philosophy of the national leader Heydar Aliyev – One nation, two states. It shows the inviolability and eternity of Azerbaijani-Turkish unity and brotherhood. Today the whole world sees that Turkey and Azerbaijan are together, that our strong friendship and brotherhood are eternal.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Today we not only celebrate the centenary of the liberation of Baku from occupation thanks to the heroic struggle of the Caucasian Islamic Army and our Azerbaijani brothers, but we also strengthen the ties of brotherhood left to us by our martyrs and symbolised by our words One nation, Two states.”
True value of the statements of Azerbaijani and Turkish leaders became a reality during the 44-day war in 2020. Azerbaijani army crushed the Armenian occupation troops, expelled the enemy from the Azerbaijani lands, and restored the integrity and unity of the country. In this sacred war, Azerbaijani people felt the moral and political support of their Turkish brothers. At the joint military parade on December 10, 2020, President Ilham Aliyev said: “Today the Azerbaijani-Turkish union is significant not only for our peoples, but also for the region and for the world as a whole.”
A new milestone in the development of bilateral relations was the signing of the Shusha Declaration on June 15, 2021. The landmark visit of President Erdogan to Shusha, the pearl of Garabagh, and the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, as well as the signing of the Declaration of Alliance in by the leaders of both countries was a vivid confirmation that the great victory of Azerbaijan in the 44-day war changed the geopolitical climate in the entire region. By signing the Shusha Declaration, Azerbaijan and Turkey officially consolidated their allied relations both spiritually and formally. This alliance has risen to a new level, and meet the requirements and challenges of the new time to further strengthen the role of Baku and Ankara in regional and international affairs.