Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to back Azerbaijan "to the end" and held U.S., Russian and French mediators responsible for the worst escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in over two decades.
"We pray our Azerbaijani brothers will prevail in these clashes with the least casualties," Erdogan’s office quoted him on Sunday as telling an Azerbaijani reporter during a visit to the United States.
"We will support Azerbaijan to the end," he said, according to the AFP news agency.
Erdogan also hit out at the OSCE Minsk Group led by the U.S., Russia and France. “If the Minsk Group had taken fair and decisive steps over this, such incidents would not have happened,” he charged. “However, the weaknesses of the Minsk Group unfortunately led the situation to this point."
Erdogan phoned Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev shortly after fierce fighting broke out in and around Karabakh on Saturday morning. The Turkish leader voiced solidarity with Baku and offered his condolences in connection with Azerbaijani soldiers killed in action.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz had separate phone conversations with their Azerbaijani counterparts.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry blamed Armenia when it officially reacted to the hostilities along the “line of contact” around Karabakh. “For about a quarter century, Armenia has been occupying one-fifth of Azerbaijan's territory,” it said in a statement. “Unless this occupation comes to an end and Armenia abandons its aggressive stance, unfortunately, the risk of experiencing similar clashes will continue.”
Official Yerevan angrily rejected the Turkish statements on Sunday. “With such racist statements, Turkey is encouraging the continuation of the [Azerbaijani] aggressor’s actions against the self-determined Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian said.
“This fits into the logic of the current Turkish leadership’s policies, which have spread a wave of instability, terrorism and bloodshed both inside and outside Turkey,” Kocharian added in written comments.
Successive Turkish governments have unconditionally and fully backed Azerbaijan, a country with which Turkey shares close ethnic affinity, throughout the Karabakh conflict. They have refused to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia and open the Turkish-Armenian border out of solidarity with their Turkic ally.
Turkey seemed ready to delink normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations from the Karabakh conflict when it signed U.S.-brokered agreements with Armenia in 2009. However, Erdogan subsequently made Turkish ratification of the two protocols conditional on a Karabakh settlement acceptable to Azerbaijan. The U.S. has repeatedly urged the Turkish government to drop this precondition.