Erdogan in Azerbaijan to hail 'glorious' Karabakh victory
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Azerbaijan Thursday to join nationwide celebrations marking his close ally's decisive military victory against Armenia in their conflict for control of disputed territory.
Azerbaijan's army paraded military hardware and weapons seized from Armenia during the six-week war through the capital Baku ahead of Erdogan's arrival to rehearse for a large-scale victory parade on Thursday.
The Turkish leader's visit to Azerbaijan was an opportunity to celebrate together the "glorious victory" against Armenia for control of the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region, Erdogan's office said ahead of his arrival.
Azerbaijan's historic 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.
Turkey backed Azerbaijan during the six weeks of fighting that erupted in late September and left more than 5,000 people dead. Ankara was widely accused of dispatching mercenaries from Syria to bolster Baku's army, but repeatedly denied the charge.
- Erdogan's support crucial: analyst -
"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, told AFP.
"If not for Erdogan's support, Yerevan's ally Russia -- which competes with Ankara for influence in the Caucasus -- would have pressured Baku to stop fighting."
The clashes were ended by a peace deal brokered by Moscow after Baku's army overwhelmed separatist forces and drew closer to Nagorno-Karabakh's main city Stepanakert.
The deal spurred mass celebrations in Azerbaijan but was met with fury in Armenia, where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced large demonstrations calling for his resignation.
The deal saw Armenia cede control over parts of the enclave it lost during the recent fighting and seven adjacent districts it had seized during a war in the 1990s.
But the agreement leaves Nagorno-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 Turkish military.
Separatists in Nagorno-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.
But their claim of autonomy has not recognised internationally, even by Armenia.
- 'One nation, two states' -
Armenia accused Turkey of direct involvement in the recent fighting -- including sending foreign fighters to the battlefield -- allegations dismissed by both Baku and Ankara.
Their shared border has been closed since 1993 when the two countries cut diplomatic ties.
Erdogan in 2009 dismissed internationally mediated reconciliation efforts with Armenia and said ties could only be restored after Armenian forces withdrew from Nagorno-Karabakh.
The two countries share a deep and mutual distrust over Armenia's efforts to recognise as genocide the World War I massacres of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman empire.
Turkey has furiously rejected the genocide label.
Turkey has helped Azerbaijan train and arm its military and serves as the main route for energy exports to Europe, bypassing Russia.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan links Turkey with ex-Soviet Turkic nations in Central Asia and with China.