In general, we see that Sunni and Shia sects in Islam do not get along very well.

Why do Turkey and Azerbaijan have very close relations even though they are Sunni and Shia, respectively?


3 Answers 3


There's a lot going on here, but the main ones are:

"One nations, two states"

That's a term first used by Heydar Aliyev and later used by Recep Tayyip Erdogan to describe the special relationship between the two countries. Your typical "nation-state" is composed on one national identity within one state. The idea behind the phrase is that Turkey and Azerbaijan are two countries, but they share a nationality; they're both Turkic peoples with ties going back centuries.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Modern Azerbaijan gained its independence amid a war with fellow former Soviet state Armenia called The Nagorno-Karabakh War. The war ended with an Armenian victory and part of what had been part of Azerbaijan in de facto control of the Armenians. Unsurprisingly, the two states remained enemies (the war resumed in 2020).

Meanwhile, Armenia and Turkey also have terrible relations. To be blunt, the Armenian people only exist today because Turkey failed to finish the job in a genocide that they now refuse to acknowledge. Armenia pushes for diplomatic recognition of that genocide, Turkey threatens diplomatic retaliation against any country that does.

There was plenty of reasons for the two states to hate each other to begin with, but the natural enmity towards Armenia and the natural kinship with Azerbaijan led Turkey to back the Azerbaijanis in both wars with Armenia. Their continued relationship is largely an alliance against the Armenians.

Azerbaijanis are fairly secular anyway

Decades of atheistic Soviet rule have resulted in Azerbaijanis being largely secular, even though the vast majority of the country remains nominally Muslim. Polling shows they are among the least religious countries in the world, let alone among Muslim nations. Suffice it say, irreligious people tend not to care about sectarian differences.

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  • The amount of Armenians killed in the Armenian genocide (1.5 million) is estimated by an Armenian, so there is probably bias behind this. There are Turkish historians who say it was 250,000 or 700-800,000 which is still a lot of people but still isn't genocide. Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 3:10

An important fact that was not mentioned in the previous answer is that both Turkey and Azerbaijan are poulated by Turkic peoples. The languages of the countries are very similar. Azerbaijan is not a complete Shia state the division is just 30:70 in favor for Shia. Acording to this wikipedia article the split is 15:85 in favor for Shia. In difference to Iraq, Yemen or Afganistan, the division into Sunni and Shia doesn´t play such big role in Azerbaijan.

  • This answer could be improved by citing a source for the Sunni/Shia split and importance of religion in Azerbaijan.
    – xyldke
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 11:29
  • @xyldke Unfortunately the sorce about Sunni/Shia split in Azerbaijan is not in english.
    – convert
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 11:36

I think it is important that their biggest opponents are the Christians: Armenians and Nagorno-Karabakh. Schools of Islam are still closer than anything Christian.

Now I am making the conflict very black and white, but the lines in the conflict have historically been like this:

  • NATO would most likely have liked to support the Christians (Armenia). But because Turkey has called the show, the support of the West has been non-existent to both sides.

  • Russia has fairly consistently supported the Christians (Armenia).

  • Lately the USA has more openly supported the Christians, and that has generated the odd situation that Russia and USA are on the same side (supporting Armenian Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh). E.g. Pelosi just visited Armenia.

  • It is also very important that the USA has started to distance itself from Turkey. After the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt, the USA has moved its nuclear weapons out of Turkey and it is no longer as close an ally as it once was.

  • 3
    There is actually very little in this answer about the relations between Turkey and Azerbaidjan.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 12:34
  • @Evargalo I agree with your statement, and maybe some other post can be marked as answer to the specific question. I just felt I had to write the bigger picture because there are many post cold war alliances (and hatred) that must be understood to understand the local alliances. Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 12:54
  • France too, not just the USA. rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-criticizes-france-armenia-francophonie/… OTOH Europe needs Azerbaijani gas. France less than the others (due to Algeria IIRC.) In more distant times, France was competing with Russia as "protectors of Christianity" in the Middle East. Lebanon in particular. Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 10:17
  • As for US moving nukes out of Turkey, there were a lot of rumours but nothing's been officially confirmed, as far as I can tell. Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 10:25

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