BAKU (RFE/RL) — Turkish and Azerbaijani troops began on Monday joint military exercises in Azerbaijan highlighting close military ties between their states.
The Turkish military’s General Staff said late last week that the five-day drills are aimed at boosting “friendship” between Turkey and Azerbaijan and improving the interoperability and coordination of their armed forces. They will take place near Baku, it said in a statement.
There was no word on the number of Turkish soldiers participating in the drills. Official Azerbaijani photographs of their arrival at an airbase near Baku on April 22 suggest that there are roughly a hundred of them.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, for its part, said the “tactical” war games will also involve armored vehicles, artillery and anti-aircraft systems and military helicopters. It did not specify how many Azerbaijani soldiers are participating in them. According to Azerbaijani news agencies, the ministry also said drills stem from a Turkish-Azerbaijani agreement on military cooperation.
Ankara and Baku signed a treaty on “strategic partnership and mutual assistance” in 2010. It is not clear whether the treaty commits the Turkish military to fighting on the Azerbaijani side in case Baku attempts to forcibly regain control over Nagorno-Karabakh.
A senior Karabakh official, Davit Babayan, said the authorities in Stepanakert will be closely monitoring the Turkish-Azerbaijani exercises. “We consider it a regular exercise and are pursuing our policy accordingly,” he told Tert.am. “If there is any provocation, there will be a response.”
Babayan also accused Ankara of playing a “destructive” role in the region. “Turkey has always prodded Azerbaijan to take military action,” he claimed.
Armenia has sought to preclude direct Turkish military intervention in the Karabakh conflict with close defense links with Russia and, in particular, Russian military presence on its soil. A Russian-Armenian agreement signed in 2010 upgraded the security mission of a Russian army base headquartered in Gyumri, an Armenian city close to the Turkish border.