ISTANBUL — THE government of Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel says it is determined to seek a diplomatic solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute rather than resorting to force in favor of the Azeris.
The policy lessens fears, particularly in Western circles, about the possibility of a Turkish military intervention in the neighboring Azeri autonomous region of Nakhichevan and in the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
There has been a lot of talk here about Turkish military action in recent days, and the Demirel administration has come under strong pressure from opposition leaders and one section of public opinion to send troops to the area to stop Armenian attacks.
Pro-Armenian forces succeeded late last month in opening a corridor from Nagorno-Karabakh - the disputed region of Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians - to the Republic of Armenia through the Azerbaijan territory. They occupied the strategic town of Lachin, which is in the narrow strip of Azerbaijani territory that separates Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh - through which the Armenians are now sending trucks with supplies and other materiel. The fall of that Azeri stronghold, coupled with reported att acks by Armenian fighters against Azeris in Nakhichevan, which has a five-mile border with Turkey, provoked sharp reactions in Ankara.
Calls for immediate military action by Turkey to stop the Armenians came from several Turkish politicians, including President Turgut Ozal, noted diplomats and analysts, and many ordinary Turks volunteering to fight for their Azeri "brothers." Mr. Ozal leads the opposition in parliament.
The pressures on the government for military action came even from the ranks of Mr. Demirel's center-right party. Parliamentarian Coskun Kirca called for a number of measures "as a deterrent against Armenia," including the supply of arms to Azeri fighters, reconnaissance flights over Nakhichevan, and the massing of Turkish troops on the border.
But Demirel has instead embarked on a diplomatic campaign to mobilize world opinion against Armenia. The premier faced the task of appeasing the Turkish public and his political opponents. "It's easy to talk about intervention," he said. "If we enter Nakhichevan, we won't be able to leave it in 20 years." Demirel emphasized that Turkey would take such action only if "the world decided to do so."
The government's diplomatic efforts are aimed at ensuring condemnation of Armenia's recent attacks and seizure of Azeri land by force. The United States, the European Community, and Russia have put forward similar positions, which has helped Demirel to respond to domestic critics. "The world now acknowledges that seizure of territory by force, as the Armenians have done, is not acceptable and leads nowhere," Demirel said. "We have succeeded in turning the world's attention on this issue."
The mood in Turkey seems now to be shifting to moderation; Demirel's position is receiving more favorable comments in the press.
The government has refrained from force not only because it would lead to widespread condemnation of Turkey, but also, as Demirel put it, because it would take "the larger dimension of a Christian-Muslim conflict." Turks and Azeris are mostly Muslim; Armenians are predominantly Christian. Ankara is now working hard to establish close ties with the Turkic-Muslim republics in Central Asia even as it tries to maintain good relations with the "Christian" West.
The Turks believe that the turning of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict into a Christian-Muslim dispute would eventually result in most Western countries, including the US, siding with Armenia.