Turkey has inserted itself into an escalating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan by offering the latter its military technology, including missiles and drones, after Baku threatened to bomb an Armenian nuclear power plant.
Armenia and Azerbaijan, both located to Turkey’s east, have engaged in sporadic border conflicts since the fall of the Soviet Union over Nagorno-Karabakh, a legally Azerbaijani territory occupied by ethnic Armenians. The last time the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute turned deadly was in 2016, when both sides brought in tanks to defend their sovereign territories.
Last week, however, Armenian and Azerbaijani troops exchanged fire in the Tavush region, where they share a border but have not historically engaged in territorial disputes.
The clash on Sunday resulted in at least 16 deaths on both sides. It remains unclear what triggered the conflict, though Azerbaijan claims the Armenian military attacked first. At press time, neither side has reported subsequent skirmishes on the border.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department issued a remark demanding that both sides stop using deadly force against each other.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the violence along the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border. We urge the sides to stop using force immediately, use the existing direct communication links between them to avoid further escalation, and strictly adhere to the ceasefire,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
Since Azerbaijanis are an ethnically Turkic people and their nation enjoys friendly ties with Turkey, Ankara weighed in on Friday offering military assistance.
“Our armed unmanned aerial vehicles, ammunition and missiles with our experience, technology, and capabilities are at Azerbaijan’s service,” İsmail Demir, the head of Presidency of Defense Industries, a government-related entity, said, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. “We need to show the world that the two brother countries are in full unity. One nation, two states.”
Demir reportedly met with Azerbaijani Deputy Defense Minister Ramiz Tahirov prior to making the comment.
Turkey’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, had vowed the day before that “Armenia will pay for what they have done.”
“[Armenia] will be drowned under the plot they’ve initiated and will definitely pay for what they’ve done,” Akar reportedly said following a meeting with Azerbaijani Deputy Defense Minister Ramiz Tahirov. “We strongly condemn the treacherous attack on the Tovuz region of Azerbaijan. The pain of Azerbaijani Turks is our pain. I want all of you to know that any troubles you live there are felt very deeply here.”
The Turkish Parliament also weighed in, issuing a declaration on Thursday condemning Armenia.
“Armenia is on the wrong path […] the attacks, which are an example of known Armenian hostility, are the biggest obstacle in front of permanent peace in the south Caucasus,” the statement read. “Armenia should obey the decisions of the UN Security Council and OSCE and should withdraw from occupied Azerbaijani territories. Turkey, with its all capabilities, will continue to side with Azerbaijan in its struggle to ensure its territorial integrity.”
Turkey’s offer of weaponry to Azerbaijan is especially alarming in the context of a statement Thursday by an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman threatening to bomb the Metsamor nuclear power plant, considered one of the world’s most dangerous because of its location in an active earthquake zone, its lack of modern containment safeguards, and overall age.
“The Armenian side must not forget that our army’s state-of-the-art missile systems allow us to strike the Metsamor nuclear plant with precision, which could lead to a great catastrophe for Armenia,” Vagif Dargahli, the spokesman, said on Thursday.
Metsamor lies close to the Armenian border with Turkey, so a strike on the power plant would likely cause significant environmental devastation to Turkey as well as Azerbaijan, which lies on Armenia’s eastern border. The government of Turkey has not addressed, much less condemned, the threat.
Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Azerbaijan of threatening the genocide of the Armenian people, a goal famously attempted by the Ottoman Turkish government in the first half of the 20th century. Between 1915 and 1918, Ottoman Turkish soldiers killed as many as 1.5 million Armenians; the nation of Armenia is currently home to about 3 million people. Turkey also eradicated other Christian populations from its territory, waging genocide against Greeks and Assyrians.
To this day, the government of Turkey denies that it committed the Armenian genocide, claiming the deaths came about in a war in which a comparable number of Turks also died.
“The threats voiced by the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan to launch missile attacks at the Armenian Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant indicate the level of desperation and the crisis of mind of the political-military leadership of Azerbaijan,” the ministry said in a statement. “Such threats are an explicit demonstration of state terrorism and genocidal intent of Azerbaijan. Moreover, with such statements, the leadership of Azerbaijan acts as a menace to all the peoples of the region, including its own people. ”