The OSCE Minsk Group, tasked with settling the unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, is used to criticism. In almost two decades it has not even managed to persuade the two sides to withdraw their snipers from the front lines, let alone forge a comprehensive political settlement. An upcoming meeting in Kazan in mid-June between the Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents is not expected to yield any breakthroughs.
But even weary OSCE diplomats were probably stung by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s comments to an Azerbaijani TV station on Sunday. Declaring that the Minsk Group was “useless”, the Turkish premier asked, “I wonder what the MG can do today, if it has failed during the past 20 years?” Unless Yerevan and Baku settle their own differences, he added, the conflict could not be settled.
Hardly front-page news, and hardly incorrect. Nevertheless, Mr Erdoğan is a heavyweight figure to be making such public criticisms. As the premier of a neighbouring state which has long and tangled histories with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, he is not entirely above reproach himself.
For instance, linking the 2009 thaw between Turkey and Armenia with progress on Nagorno-Karabakh was perhaps logical, but Ankara handled it badly, giving off misleading signals and managing the peculiar feat of angering both Baku and Yerevan.
Timing is everything at the moment, of course, with Turkey’s general election just a few days away. Mr Erdoğan’s affirmation that opening the border with Armenia was contingent upon a solution in Karabakh is a domestic message as much as an international one. The Armenia issue has sunk off the front pages, but it still has resonance amongst the nationalist constituency which Mr Erdoğan’s AKP is seeking to capture from its rivals. The prime minister’s statements may be borne out of genuine - and legitimate – frustration with the Minsk Group, but they were made with one eye on the streets of Turkey.