BAKU, (AFP) - Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Devlet Bahceli said on Tuesday his country's blockade on neighboring Armenia would stand until Armenians relinquish control over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Bahceli made the pledge at the end of a two-day visit to the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, Turkey's close ally which lost control of Karabakh during a bitter war in the early 1990s.
"Normalisation of relations between Turkey and Armenia depends on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and the liberation of the occupied territories," Bahceli said at a meeting with Azeri President Heydar Aliev.
Turkish Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu, accompanying Bahceli on the visit, said earlier on Tuesday that Ankara "will support Baku on the question (of Karabakh), whatever decision it takes."
However, Aliev slapped down his own Defense Minister Safar Abiev who said on Tuesday that Azerbaijan's military was ready to seize control of the enclave by force if necessary.
"I have thought a lot about this and analysed the question and I have arrived at the view that we must try to solve this problem through peaceful means," said the Azeri president.
The conflict broke out in 1989 when Karabakh's mainly Armenian population declared independence from Azerbaijan. A ceasefire in 1994 ended the fighting but Baku still claims the enclave is being illegally occupied by Armenia.
This week's visit by the delegation of Turkish cabinet ministers cemented the already close relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey. The two countries share a common culture and language, Azerbaijan has modelled its secular constitution on Turkey's and they have growing economic, political and military ties.
Among other issues discussed by the delegation were plans to increase Azerbaijan's military co-operation with Turkey, a member of the NATO alliance. The two sides talked about joint measures to create a "security corridor" to protect the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline which will export Azeri crude oil via Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean.
The delegation also discussed a collective effort to tackle terrorism and international crime in the region. Abiev pointed the finger at Karabakh's Armenian rulers, claiming they were letting the territory be used as a base for international terrorists, weapons smugglers and the illegal drugs trade.