Turkey and Azerbaijan are continuing to deepen ties by starting a major joint military exercise Monday. The display of force comes as some analysts suggest Ankara could be on the verge of a foreign policy pivot away from the Middle East to Central Asia.
The 12-day military exercise involves tank divisions, airborne units, and “special forces.” Turkish-made weaponry is also set to play a prominent role.
Turkish-made drones were pivotal in Azerbaijan’s defeat in October of Armenian separatist forces, in a battle over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan.
The speed and decisiveness of Azerbaijan’s military success boosted Turkish influence in the Caucasus, further consolidating close ties between Ankara and Baku.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has traditionally positioned himself as the defender of global Muslim rights, in particular the Palestinians. Ankara is also a strong backer of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East, and Hamas, which is designated by the United States and European Union as a terrorist organization.
But analysts say Ankara is concerned about the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords that saw the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalize ties with Israel last year, with Sudan close behind.
With reports of other Arab countries, including Turkey’s close ally Qatar, ready to join the Abraham Accords, Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute says there is awareness in Ankara that Turkey is facing growing isolation in the Middle East.
Turkey hosts many migrant workers from across the Central Asian states, helping to develop and strengthen economic and cultural ties.