(Updated with Armenian Defence Ministry statement in paragraph 10; Russian Foreign Ministry statement in paragraph 14; further comments by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in paragraph 15)
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Turkey was proud of Azerbaijan’s military achievements against Armenian forces during fighting in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Sunday.
“You have shown the power of Turks to the whole world,” he told Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, according to Anadolu. “We are very proud. Hopefully, we will return our ancient lands through these successful operations.”
Turkey has thrown its firm support behind Azerbaijan, an ally it shares strong historical and cultural ties with, in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, saying it was ready to do whatever was necessary to eject Armenian forces from the region.
Çavuşoğlu said Turkish citizens were closely following the Karabakh issue and the ongoing operations. “They always tell us: “give Azerbaijan more support, do not leave it alone”. There are many who say: “Send us to the front”,” he said.
A month of fighting between Armenian separatists and the Azeri military, which began in late September, represents the latest flare-up in a decades-long dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Russia and the United States have brokered a total of three ceasefires to help end the clashes, which have reportedly left more than 1,200 people dead. The truces have failed and the battles threaten to spread beyond the de facto independent state, which is located within Azerbaijan’s borders but controlled by ethnic Armenians.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Al Jazeera that the latest round of fighting would not have started without Turkey’s provocation, Armenian state news agency Armenpress reported on Sunday.
“Based on the already internationally accepted fact, Turkey has recruited mercenaries, terrorists and transferred them to the conflict zone,” Pashinyan said. “High-ranking Turkish military officers are involved in the war against Karabakh.”
Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied allegations by Armenia, France and Russia that they have deployed hardened Syrian mercenaries in support of Azeri troops. Armenia has also repeatedly accused Turkey of providing Azerbaijan with air support, another accusation Ankara denies.
The Armenian Defence Ministry said a second militant from Syria had been captured on the battlefield. Azerbaijan has previously denied the presence of foreign fighters, Reuters reported on Sunday.
Pashinyan said that Turkey’s actions were part of an imperialistic policy.
“We see what policy Turkey is pursuing in Syria, Iraq, the Mediterranean Sea and the South Caucasus. Turkey pursues a policy of restoration of the Ottoman Empire,” he said.
Aliyev said Armenia has now admitted a military defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh, pointing to a letter Pashinyan sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijan-based News.Az Online news agency said. Russian news outlets have reported that Pashinyan asked Putin for security support in a letter sent on Saturday.
In response to the letter, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it would provide “all assistance required” should the conflict spill onto “the territory of Armenia” – land that is outside Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Reuters.
“That letter, is, in fact, an acknowledgement of defeat because they wanted military support from Russia although there are no grounds for that,” Aliyev said, according to News.Az Online. The president said Armenia had “no basis” for requesting Russian assistance, Reuters reported.
Russia is the dominant player in the Caucasus region and maintains a security pact with Armenia, a close ally. The agreement does not cover Nagorno-Karabakh. Moscow has also cultivated warmer relations with Azerbaijan in recent years. It sells weapons to both sides.
Aliyev said that if Armenia admitted defeat and withdrew from Azerbaijan’s occupied lands, his government would agree to peace negotiations, according to News.Az Online.