By Pinar Tremblay
In early April, as renewed fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region made headlines in Turkey, there was little talk of the crucial role of Israeli weapons in the clashes. Only the daily Hurriyet reported on Azerbaijan’s use of the Israeli Harop armed drone, which generated Armenian protests.
Turkey’s Islamist and ultra-nationalists are curbing their opposition — at least outwardly — to Israel, which is supplying Azerbaijan with weapons to fight Armenia.
Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Omer Celik summarized why the issue should be important to the press: “Azerbaijan’s battle is our battle; their martyrs are our martyrs.” Indeed, Azerbaijan consistently scores as Turkey’s closest friend in Turkish public opinion polls, while Israel maintains its status as a serious threat in the same polls.
Intriguingly, Israel is Azerbaijan’s main arms supplier, a situation that poses a puzzle: Why have Turks remained silent as Azerbaijan, their closest friend, and Israel, their greatest rival — if not necessarily enemy — have grown closer? The silence of two sections of Turkish society is particularly noteworthy: One is Turkish ultra-nationalists, whose commitment to Azerbaijan is near-absolute; the other is Islamists, who miss no opportunity to bash Israel. Why are these two groups, whose protests are rarely if ever curtailed by the police in Turkey, ignoring this development?
The Israeli-Azeri cooperation has expanded as Israeli-Turkish relations have soured since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center (RSC), an independent think tank in Yerevan, Armenia, told Al-Monitor, “Israel has replaced Turkey as an essential military patron of Azerbaijan, as seen in the 2012 deal involving the Azerbaijani procurement of drones and anti-aircraft missile defense systems from the state-run Israel Aerospace Industries for $1.6 billion.”
Giragosian explained that the bilateral relations are not limited to the weapons trade. The countries’ interests converge in three main areas — “security and military, including intelligence cooperation; energy and trade; and geopolitical strategy,” he said.
So why are Turkish Islamists and ultra-nationalists remaining silent as their rival Israel expands its presence in Azerbaijan? There are at least two intertwined explanations for this rational ignorance: the media’s silence and political pragmatism.
There is an undeclared media gag order in Turkey on publishing, and not just on anti-AKP stories considered unpleasant for the government. The Israeli-Azerbaijani relationship is diligently ignored in mainstream media. Hence, several leading figures of grass-roots Islamist and nationalist movements told Al-Monitor they are not aware of the extent of the strategic friendship between Turkey’s best friend and its most outspoken rival in the region. It was particularly noteworthy that none of the ultra-nationalists and only one of the Islamists was willing to go on the record with their views on the subject.
A middle-aged, self-described bozkurt (a nickname for a member of the Gray Wolves, the Turkish ultra-nationalist group) who worked in organizing youth told Al-Monitor, “Our youth are happy to see Azerbaijan triumph. We all wish it was mostly Turkish-made weapons being used, but we are not there yet. In the meantime, we cannot fuss about the identity of the manufacturer.”Turkey sells arms to Azerbaijan as well.
When reminded of the increasing presence of Israeli intelligence in Azerbaijan, as well as in the oil and gas trade, realpolitik came to the fore. Approaching the question in a frivolous manner, the Gray Wolf said, “Our [Turkish] relations are much better with Israel now, so are the Azerbaijanis’. Who is going to call the kettle black? Times have changed.”
More on the story is available here