By Amber Coakley
March 5, 2021
Turkey and Azerbaijan have deepened their cultural relations, to the chagrin of the Armenian community. While the western media starts to buzz with the deepening ties, the history of the Turkic nations shows this as a natural progression of events.
The Turkish presidency’s Director of Communications, Fahrettin Altun, held talks with Azerbaijani Minister of Culture Anar Karimov on March 2 to push forward a cultural cooperation agreement. The pair signed protocols to enhance the fields of media, communication, television, and cinema with hopes of preserving shared cultural heritage between the countries. By enhancing these focused areas, a Joint Media Platform will be established to bridge the gap between cultural diplomacy and the unity of history.
This collaboration may trigger neighboring Armenia as it has continued to dispute the reoccupied lands of Azerbaijan. In the months to follow the pause in the Karabakh conflict, which halted officially with the Russian-brokered ceasefire of November, Armenia has spiraled into political chaos.
Disputes included politicians squabbling among themselves over the efficacy of Russian weapons, calls for Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan to resign, and mobs storming the parliament. The number of Armenians who demanded Pashinyan’s resignation was in the thousands. On March 4, The Economist reported that, despite the demands made by the public, Pashinyan continues to refuse to resign.
Following a 44-day war with Armenia over the occupied Karabakh territories, Azerbaijani officials cited strengthened bilateral ties with Turkey on part of its support for their liberation. Jeyhun Bayramov, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister, said the country received “political and moral support” during the contention. In contrast, Armenia has long asserted the contested region rightfully belongs to them. This newly established cultural agreement may elevate governmental tensions on all sides.
"We are strengthening the cooperation in the field of culture."
— Republic of Türkiye Directorate of Communications (@Communications) March 2, 2021
Meanwhile, some media outlets have portrayed this new partnership as a “strategic” move merely meant to push Armenians out. However, Turkey and Azerbaijan seemingly share the same culture, ethnicity, and language. Cultural cooperation between the two countries appears to align with their overall experiences.
— Department of State (@StateDept) February 25, 2021
According to the Turkish Director of Communications, joint TV series and film projects on historical events will help in the fight against misinformation campaigns. This is especially significant in the political arena. Collaboration on the depiction of events like the Karabakh Victory and the Khojaly Massacre will be on the top of the list.
Armenian-Azerbaijani hostilities date back to decades-old occurrences of ethnic territorial cleansing. The most recent dispute of lands falls in line with the initially built hatred between the groups, which has influenced Azerbaijan to seek a partnership with Turkey in an effort to bind history. This comes as Azerbaijan remains the only Shia-majority nation, where Orthodox Jews can practice their beliefs with less fear of suppression.
Controversy in the Western World
Over 100 U.S. politicians co-signed a bipartisan letter to President Joe Biden in support of the security of Armenia’s democracy, citing “ongoing threats” by Azerbaijan and Turkey. This February call to action, though heard, was bypassed by the administration. A U.S. State Department spokesman urged all parties to use restraint and avoid any escalatory actions. The official confirmed the U.S. supports Armenia’s democracy and urged the region to resolve their differences peacefully. Despite this stance on the matter, Turkey remains a strategic NATO partner for the U.S. Direct intervention on either side risks the possibility of making matters worse. Nonetheless, sanctions from a world economic power surely loom.
Views in the international community
Some media outlets portray the regional conflict to be caused by Azerbaijan’s alleged attack on Armenian democracy. However, it was Armenia that used force while occupying Azerbaijani territories decades ago. This use of military force has long been condemned by the international community. The United Nations adopted a resolution in 1993 in which the Nagorno-Karabakh region was confirmed to be Azerbaijan territory. Despite this, Armenia continued to occupy the area utilizing its military. As a result, catastrophic effects were felt by Azerbaijan’s cultural heritage. Sites of national importance were damaged and some were destroyed forever.
What’s next for Azerbaijan-Turkey?
Moving forward, the relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey are expected to remain tight as they continue to share ethnic, cultural, and historical ties.
This cooperation agreement may be the first of many to come with leaders from both governments looking forward to future negotiations and partnerships. In the era of digitalization, this new age deal opens the doors for creative industries in both Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Time will tell how the Armenians, caught in the middle, will choose to respond to this cultural alliance.