Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has travelled to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region as part of a trip reaffirming his nation’s political support to Azerbaijan.
He and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev promised on Tuesday to also boost bilateral cooperation in trade and security.
The pair traveled to Shusha, which Armenians call Shushi, a city that Azerbaijan seized from Armenia’s forces in a bruising war over Nagorno-Karabakh last autumn.
Erdogan, a key backer of Azerbaijan in the conflict, is the first foreign leader to visit the city, and he’s now promised to open a Turkish consulate there. The two leaders also signed a declaration pledging to deepen commercial, political and military ties.
“It is a condition for everyone who wishes to contribute to the new status of the region, to step back from politics of hatred and provocation, and engage in peace and cooperation,” Erdogan said.
“Once such a climate emerges, we repeat on each occasion that we will do our part to normalise relations with Armenia.”
Turkish influence, Armenian outrage
The military victory of Turkish-speaking Azerbaijan over Armenia was an important coup for Erdogan – as Ankara seeks to cement its influence in the former Soviet Caucasus region.
In contrast, the loss of key parts of Nagorno-Karabakh was a huge blow for Armenia, and it sparked a major political crisis there. Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets in recent months to protest the terms of the ceasefire, and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Pashinyan has been under such pressure to step down that snap elections are scheduled for Sunday (June 20).
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry condemned Erdogan’s and Aliyev’s visit to Shusha in a statement on Tuesday, calling it “provocative actions” that “significantly harm international efforts to establish stability in the region and (that) are absolutely unacceptable.”
The trip has also stirred painful memories for scores of Armenian families who were forced to flee their homes when the area was seized by Azerbaijani forces in November.
Watch Bastien Borie’s report from Yerevan.