At the start of what turned out to be a second day of heavy fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Armenia must immediately withdraw from the territory in Azerbaijan that he said it was illegally occupying.
“It is time to end the crisis in the region, which started with the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. The region will once again see peace after Armenia immediately withdraws from the Azerbaijani lands it is occupying,” Erdogan told an event in Istanbul.
He said the Minsk group—which is led by Russia, France and the US and mediates between Armenia and Azerbaijan—had failed to solve the issue for almost 30 years and Azerbaijan “had to take matters into its own hands whether it likes it or not”.
“Turkey will continue to stand with...Azerbaijan with all its resources and heart,” Erdogan said, while not directly addressing whether Turkey was currently playing an active role in the conflict, as Armenia has claimed. Azerbaijan denies the claim but, for instance, various news reports on September 28, including one in the Guardian that reported from on the ground within the last rebel stronghold in Syria, appeared to provide evidence that Turkey is signing up Syrian militiamen as mercenaries to fight on Azerbaijan’s side in the conflict.
Russia has military bases in Armenia, of which it is a strategic partner, but it is also on friendly terms with Azerbaijan. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 28 that Russia was monitoring the situation closely and that the current priority was to "stop the hostilities, not to deal with who is right and who is wrong".
The fighting reportedly involves air power and heavy armour and numerous reports indicate at least dozens of fatalities on each side.
The Economist on September 28 reported analysts as saying that the scale of the current fighting suggests a broader military offensive and a return to a more dangerous conflict than in the summer. “This is a more serious escalation, much better prepared, with more troops, and happening simultaneously on all parts of the front line,” Olesya Vartanyan, a Caucasus analyst at Crisis Group, an international think-tank, was quoted as saying. “In addition to heavy weaponry, we see infantry, we see many more helicopters, and masses of drones,” she added.
The clashes could conceivably spill over into civilian areas close to the front lines.“The Russians don’t want to be involved and prefer to play a balancing act and be a mediator,” Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, another think-tank, was cited as saying. “But if Armenian territory is under attack, they have no option but to defend Armenia.”
Turkey and Russia are already tangled up in two proxy wars in Libya and Syria. There’s a danger they could end up fighting a third one in the South Caucasus.
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