Turkey calls Armenia ‘aggressive’ while reportedly sending troops to help Azerbaijan

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Turkey has “delicate” relations with Armenia because Armenia is pursuing an aggressive and expansionist path in the region, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday, while choosing to ignore Turkey’s own violent history with Armenians.

“If our relations with Armenia are delicate, it is because Armenia has chosen an aggressive path in the region and fails to adopt a policy capable of becoming a constructive and responsible partner for peace in the region - not even with Azerbaijan,” said Cavusoglu in an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa.

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Cavusoglu did not mention the systematic genocide of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915 during World War I, which Turkish authorities continue to deny to this day, as contributing to the fragile relationship.

Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh

Turkey has been involved in the recent flare-up of a decades-long conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the ethnic Armenian province Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey has backed Azerbaijan’s claims in the region, and has committed to sending troops in support of Azeri claims, according to world leaders.

Nagorno-Karabakh – which is populated mostly by ethnic Armenians - declared it would unite with Armenia in 1988, and the two countries have contested the territory ever since.

Over 240 lives have already been claimed by the most recent spate of conflict, which began on September 27.

While Cavusoglu accuses Armenia of illegally occupying the territory, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian told Al Arabiya on Wednesday that the area is part of “historic Armenia” and that Armenians have lived there for thousands of years.

“It is only for less than 70 years [that] Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, gave that land to Azerbaijan,” Sarkissian said.

Stalin placed the province under the control of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan in 1921.

In July 1988, the local government declared the area’s transfer to Armenian jurisdiction, which the Azerbaijani government annulled and declared illegal.

War in the province broke out following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and though a ceasefire was reached in 1994, fighting renewed in April 2016 and now again in 2020.

Accusations of ‘expansionism’

In the interview, Cavusoglu went on to accuse Armenia of having an “expansionist policy in clear violation of international law.”

“Armenia continues to be the principal obstacle to peace and to lasting stability in the region,” he said.

However critics of the Turkish government have accused Ankara of attempting to revive Ottoman expansionism through involvement in conflicts in Syria, Libya, the eastern Mediterranean, and now Azerbaijan.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced Thursday that there was clear evidence of Syrian extremist fighters being sent through Turkey to fight against Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, and condemned Turkey’s “reckless and dangerous statements” backing Azerbaijan.

Sarkissian also accused Turkey of sending mercenaries and generals to Azerbaijan.

Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that at least 64 pro-Turkey Syrian fighters have been killed in clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ankara denies sending Syrian fighters to assist Azerbaijan, a similar claim that Turkish authorities have made of its involvement in Libya.

Turkey sent an estimated 3,800 Syrian mercenaries to Libya in the first three months of this year, however, according to the US Pentagon.

The soldiers have been sent in support of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) – with whom Turkey recently signed military and economic agreements - against the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Ankara and the GNA also signed an agreement last year on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea, which complicated disputes over energy exploration with Greece and Cyprus, among other countries, and prompted international condemnation.

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