Armenian Turks become ‘target’ as Azerbaijan conflict escalates

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh in the southern Caucasus has renewed pressure on Turkey’s ethnic Armenian minority as Ankara increases support for its long-standing ally, Azerbaijan.

There are about 60,000 Armenian Turks, mostly in Istanbul, a huge drop from up to 2.4 million who lived across eastern Anatolia before the First World War.

At that time they faced massacres and expulsions by Ottoman forces.

The resumption of the conflict between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan has seen the re-emergence of anti-Armenian sentiment in Turkey, online and in traditional media.

A frame grab from handout video provided by the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Azerbaijan allegedly shows an Armenian tank being destroyed by Azerbaijan's military at Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. EPA

In this handout photo taken from a footage released by Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry, Azerbaijan's forces destroy Armenian anti-aircraft system at the contact line of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan. AP

In this photo released by the Armenian Foreign Ministry, a woman with her child sit in a bombshelter to protect against shelling, in Stepanakert, the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan. AP

In this handout photo released by Armenian Foreign Ministry, an Armenian church priest looks a a baby in a bombshelter to protect against shelling in Stepanakert, the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan. AP

In this photo released by the Armenian Foreign Ministry, people gather in a bombshelter to protect against shelling in Stepanakert, the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan. AP

This handout photo released by Armenian Foreign Ministry, shows a damaged after shelling flat in Stepanakert, the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan. AP

Volunteers and veterans, who are ready to go to the frontline in Nagorny Karabakh, gather in Yerevan. AFP

A handout photo released by the Armenian Foreign Ministry shows specialists delivering medical support to a man, who is said to be a civilian injured during clashes in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. REUTERS

A grab taken from a handout video released by the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR) Defense Army, or Artsakh Defence Army, via Youtube claims to show tanks allegedly destroyed in shelling, artillery and air attacks along the front at Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, on a border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. EPA

A grab taken from a handout video released by the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR) Defense Army, or Artsakh Defence Army, via Youtube claims to show Azerbaijani food rations in a tank allegedly destroyed in shelling, artillery and air attacks along the front at Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, on a border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. EPA

A handout photo made available by the Armenian Government Press Office shows Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan meeting with the military leaders in Yerevan, Armenia. EPA

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan meets with top military officials in Yerevan. AFP

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan gives a speech at the parliament in Yerevan. AFP

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Garo Paylan, an opposition MP of Armenian ancestry, said the Turkish government’s bellicose support for Azerbaijan and anti-Armenian speech was fuelled by “racist motives” that posed a danger to Armenian Turks.

“Why do you perceive Azerbaijanis as brothers and Armenians as the enemy when we have Azerbaijani and Armenian citizens?" Mr Paylan asked Vice President Fuat Oktay.

“Are you aware that your hate speech towards the Armenian people is making our Armenian citizens a target?”

At a demonstration outside the Istanbul headquarters of the Armenian Patriarchate on Monday, a convoy of cars decked in Azerbaijani and Turkish flags passed the building sounding their horns.

In the southern city of Sanliurfa, fire engines similarly covered in flags formed a procession around the city.

A group of Armenian men play cards in the local cafe in Vakifl in 2012. Vakfili is the only Armenian village left in Turkey. Courtesy Scout Tufankjian 
A group of Armenian men play cards in the local cafe in Vakifl in 2012. Vakfili is the only Armenian village left in Turkey. Courtesy Scout Tufankjian 

Mr Paylan called the Istanbul demonstration a “provocation” and demanded that the government address “hate crimes”.

Even before fighting resumed at the weekend around Nagorno-Karabakh, the enclave that broke away from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, a report identified Armenians as the group most attacked by hate speech in the Turkish media.

The Hrant Dink Foundation, named after a Turkish-Armenian journalist murdered in 2007, reported on September 18 that 803 articles were aimed at Armenians last year.

Many were written around the day that marks the 1915 Armenian genocide, a term that draws fierce reaction in Turkey.

Yetvart Danzikyan, editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian language Agos newspaper, said the conflict roused nationalist feelings in Turkey that were worrying the Armenian community.

“Whether it’s Karabakh or a decision taken by the US legislature on [recognising] the Armenian genocide, unfortunately, Turkish-Armenians feel that the spotlight is suddenly turning on them and of course it creates anxiety among them,” Danzikyan said.

Turkey’s affinity with Azerbaijan stems from their shared Turkic ethnicity, language and culture.

They say they are “one nation, two states”, although their citizens largely follow different strands of Islam.

The two states have deep economic ties, particularly regarding energy.

Much of Turkey’s natural gas comes from its neighbour, while Baku’s oil and gas reserves cross Turkey to reach overseas markets.

The two countries signed a defence pact 10 years ago and their armed forces regularly carry out joint exercises.

There is talk of Turkey establishing a permanent military base in Azerbaijan.

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijani leader Ilhan Aliyev also have a close personal relationship.

The renewal of hostilities on Sunday has killed 100 people, including civilians, in the heaviest clashes in the intermittant conflict since 2016.

The conflict threatens to draw in Turkey, which has denied sending air power and Syrian mercenaries to support Azerbaijan – as it has in Libya – while Russia supports Armenia, although Moscow also has good ties with Baku.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday repeated Mr Erdogan’s comments that Turkey would “stand by” its ally if it chose to solve the dispute “on the ground”.

Such remarks have been amplified in Turkey’s pro-government media, with a leading commentator in the Yeni Safak newspaper calling for Azerbaijan to launch all-out war.

The media has also sought to align Armenia with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which has fought a 36-year insurgency against Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the US and the EU, as well as Ankara.

The state-run Anadolu news agency on Monday reported claims by the Azerbaijani ambassador to Ankara that PKK fighters had been recruited to fight alongside Armenian forces.

It said an Armenian terrorist group that targeted Turkish diplomats and airlines in the 1970s and 1980s was also fighting, but it has not been active for more than two decades.

The claims were described as “absolute nonsense” by Armenian President Armen Sarkissian.

On Wednesday, Turkish media outlets reported that Armenians and “PKK sympathisers” were holding an “anti-Turkey” rally in Paris.

Rober Koptas, who runs Aras Publishing in Istanbul, compared the current climate to previous anti-Armenian pogroms.

“Armenians experience this fear very vividly,” Mr Koptas said. “It’s a community that’s already cowering and is closed.

"When this rhetoric is expressed on social media or in other forms, fears that already exist in Armenians are exaggerated and life gets a little more difficult.”

Updated: October 1, 2020 03:56 AM

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