ANKARA — Turkey’s strong support for Azerbaijan makes it a party to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday.
“Turkey is also a party to the conflict, standing with a brotherly state and defending its rights,” Akar told the Turkish Anatolia news agency.
Successive Turkish governments have unconditionally backed Azerbaijan in the conflict, reflecting close cultural and ethnic ties between the two Turkic nations. They have refused to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia and kept the Turkish-Armenian border closed. They have has also provided military assistance to Azerbaijan.
Ankara voiced support for Baku in unusually strong terms during and after last month’s deadly clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The Armenian government decried the Turkish reaction, accusing Ankara of trying to destabilize the region, undercutting international efforts to resolve the conflict and posing a serious security threat to Armenia.
Akar again blamed Yerevan for the flare-up of violence which left at least 17 soldiers from both sides dead. “Armenia does not act reasonably by relying on forces standing behind it and punching above its weight,” he said, apparently alluding to Russia, the South Caucasus state’s main ally.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Ankara to exercise restraint in its reaction to the Armenian-Azerbaijani hostilities when they spoke with their Turkish counterparts by phone in late July.
A few days later the Turkish and Azerbaijani militaries began joint exercises in various parts of Azerbaijan which lasted for two weeks. Akar attended the concluding session of the drills.
“We will continue to support Azerbaijan in its just struggle,” the Turkish minister said on August 13.
The drills and the more aggressive statements made by Turkish leaders raised the possibility of Turkish military intervention in the Karabakh conflict. A senior official in Yerevan said on August 3 that Armenia counts on Russia’s support in its efforts to counter the Turkish threat.
Armenia hosts about 5,000 Russian troops on its soil as part of close military ties between the two states.