Opinionista Elif Comoglu Ulgen 23 October 2020

South Africa should support Turkey in a peaceful resolution to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Why South Africa should support Azerbaijan in its right to defend its land and why the international community must not tolerate Armenia’s 30-year-long illegal occupation any more.

Elif Comoglu Ulgen

Elif Çomoğlu Ülgen is the Ambassador of Turkey in South Africa.

We may claim to live in an enlightened age but the forces of unreason continue to attack us. World wars, mass killings, fascism, xenophobia, racism, nihilism, dogmatism, violent extremism are nothing but reflections of unreason and the irrational lurking behind the facade of the modern era.

We can achieve wisdom not just by thinking but also by acting. This entails contemplation, spiritual wayfaring, ethical conduct and doing good deeds.

In this world of growing interdependence, no one is safe until everyone is safe. No single nation will enjoy prosperity in the full sense of the term until wealth is shared fairly. A world without justice cannot be a safe place for anyone. It only produces more conflict and suffering. And it makes everyone unsafe and insecure. Peace as an enduring value can be achieved only when it is based on justice. All other options are doomed to fail. The history of modern conflicts is a sad testimony to this simple fact.

South Africa, a country built on this principle, is well aware of the ethical requirements and the notion of justice to prevail for eternal peace. 

Right after South Africa’s election to the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member in 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa stressed in his speech that “South Africa’s tenure will be guided by our commitment to resolve regional, global and international conflicts”. More recently, during the Security Council Meeting on the Global Order post Covid-19, on 24 September 2020, President Ramaphosa further stated that: “South Africa calls on all parties to armed conflict to use this opportunity to work towards peaceful resolution, all the while addressing the humanitarian needs of their populations.”

Three days after that call, Armenia launched its offensive on Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was well prepared, repelled the attack and launched a counter-offensive. 

First and foremost, one must set the record straight: Illegal Armenian occupation lies at the heart of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia has occupied 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory for 30 years, despite four UN Security Council Resolutions and many UN General Assembly resolutions, which call for “the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of occupying Armenian forces”.

Second of all, all the fighting has actually taken place within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognised borders. Indeed, not a single shot has been fired towards the territory of the Republic of Armenia.

Armenian occupation has caused profound human suffering, displacing a million Azerbaijanis who are yearning for 30 years to return to their homes which remain under Armenian occupation. Those occupied lands are not only limited to Nagorno-Karabakh; Armenia also occupies seven adjacent Azeri rayons (regions).

Armenia’s stance is the biggest obstacle to peace and stability in the South Caucasus. It does not want to peacefully coexist with its neighbours, nor does it want a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It only wants to appear negotiating in order to consolidate its illegal gains.

Armenia, on the other hand, has attacked the civilian population and infrastructure well beyond the territory it occupies within Azerbaijan. Armenian occupation forces targeted major Azerbaijani cities like Gence, Mengiçevir, Abşeron, Hızı, Terter, Berde and Beylegan with long-range artillery and rocket fire, killing civilians.

Armenian forces also attacked the international gas and oil pipelines in Azerbaijan, threatening the energy security of a wider region, including the European Union.

Furthermore, there has been an ongoing Armenian public relations campaign to present Turkey as a party to the recent hostilities. Turkey has not been a party to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and was not involved in the recent clashes.

However, Turkey reiterates its support to Azerbaijan on all occasions. This support is not only based on Turkey’s special bonds with Azerbaijan; but it is  also based on international law. In an armed conflict we cannot treat both sides equally when it is clear who the aggressor is. It is our duty to support starting meaningful negotiations to ensure unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from illegally occupied Azerbaijani territories in line with relevant UNSC Resolutions. Otherwise, what would we say about rules based international systems, inviolability of international borders and inadmissibility of the use of force to acquire territory?

In these times, it is of paramount significance that one calls a spade a spade: When talking about the attacks we must be clear about the status of these territories, which are “occupied territories” of Azerbaijan and not “disputed land”; or when referring to Armenian  missile attacks killing civilians we cannot simply overlook this fatal act and classify as “alleged attacks”.

 Turkey does not want conflict and war close to its borders. Our heart goes out to any civilian caught up in the conflict. As is proven by the fact that we are looking after four million Syrian displaced persons for close to 10 years, at a huge expense. 

But let’s not miss the essence of the matter: the peace we need between Azerbaijan and Armenia needs to be a permanent and fair one, not a temporary Band Aid. This can only be achieved by ending Armenian occupation of all Azeri territory.

Let me wrap up  with the wise words of former President Nelson Mandela: “All conflicts, no matter how intractable, are capable of peaceful resolution.” Thus, no doubt, we believe that South Africa will also support  the promotion of peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through mediation, peace-making and reconstruction efforts. DM

Elif Çomoğlu Ülgen is the Ambassador of Turkey in South Africa.

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All Comments 3

  • Very well written piece. As I recall, Armenians are an ethnic majority in Nagorno- Karabakh even though it is located in Azerbaijan… so it’s not quite as simple as the eloquent ambassador states. Furthermore, Turkey supplies arms to Azerbaijan so to say Turkey is “not involved” is disingenuous. Also : the financial expenses of housing Syrian refugees are borne by the EU, not by Turkey. As recently as Oct 2019 president Erdogan threatened Europe with the release of more than 3 million refugees westward when Turkey was pinged about it’s occupation of Syria. Lastly: Turkish food is my all time favourite. Best there is.

  • If we change a few names around on the headline, and read the article again in the same context, we might detect some Turkish hypocrisy?
    e.g. Why South Africa should support Cyprus in its right to defend its land and why the international community must not tolerate Turkey’s 45-year-long illegal occupation any more.

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