BAKU: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to Azerbaijan yesterday that Baku's struggle with Armenia was not over as he hailed his close ally's "glorious victory" in a bloody conflict with Yerevan. Erdogan arrived in Baku to attend nationwide celebrations marking Azerbaijan's military triumph over Armenia in six weeks of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Turkey backed Azerbaijan during a conflict that erupted in late September and left more than 5,000 people dead. Azerbaijan's win against Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh last month was an important geopolitical coup for Erdogan who has cemented Turkey's leading role as a powerbroker in the ex-Soviet Caucasus region the Kremlin considers its sphere of influence.
Azerbaijan's army paraded military hardware and weapons seized from Armenia, and Turkish drones were also on full display. Hailing the parade, Turkish television announced that Turkish drones "turned the tide" of the Karabakh war. "We are here today to… celebrate this glorious victory," Erdogan said during the parade in Baku, the culmination of festivities marking Azerbaijan's victory. "Azerbaijan's saving its lands from occupation does not mean that the struggle is over," he added. "The struggle carried out in the political and military areas will continue from now on many other fronts."
National anthems of Azerbaijan and Turkey were performed ahead of the military display that was reviewed by Erdogan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev. Erdogan's attendance "shows to the whole world the unbreakable friendship of Azerbaijani and Turkish peoples," Aliyev said. More than 3,000 troops took part in the parade which has also been attended by 2,783 Turkish military-a symbolic equivalent of the number of Azerbaijani servicemen killed in clashes. A Turkish commando unit was also in attendance.
Ankara was accused of dispatching mercenaries from Syria to bolster Baku's army, but denied the charge. "Azerbaijan would not have been able to achieve military success in Karabakh without Turkey's open political backing," analyst Elhan Shahinoglu of Baku-based think-tank, Atlas said. The clashes ended with a peace deal brokered by Moscow after Baku's army overwhelmed separatist forces and drew closer to Karabakh's main city Stepanakert.
The deal sparked fury in Armenia, where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced large demonstrations calling for his resignation. Under the agreement, Armenia ceded control over parts of the enclave it lost during the fighting and seven adjacent districts it had seized during a war in the 1990s.
The deal also leaves Karabakh's political status in limbo. The enclave will see its future guaranteed by nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers deployed for a renewable five-year mandate and the truce will be monitored in Azerbaijan by Turkey's military. Separatists in Karabakh broke away from Baku in a war in the early 1990s that left some 30,000 people dead and displaced tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis. Their claim of autonomy has not been recognized internationally, not even by Armenia.
'One nation, two states'
Yesterday, Amnesty International said Azerbaijan and Armenia must urgently probe "war crimes" committed by both sides during the clashes. Amnesty said it had analyzed 22 videos depicting "extrajudicial executions, the mistreatment of prisoners of war and other captives, and desecration of the dead bodies of enemy soldiers". Armenia accused Turkey of direct involvement in the fighting, claims dismissed by Baku and Ankara. Their shared border has been closed since 1993 when the two countries cut diplomatic ties.
Armenia fights to recognize as genocide the World War I massacres of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman empire. Turkey has rejected the label. Erdogan in 2009 dismissed internationally mediated reconciliation efforts with Armenia and said ties could only be restored after Armenian forces withdrew from Karabakh. Referred to as "one nation, two states," Turkey's alliance with Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan was forged following the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and has deepened under Erdogan's tenure. Turkey has helped Azerbaijan train and arm its military. Azerbaijan for its part links NATO member Turkey with ex-Soviet nations in Central Asia and China. - AFP