Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived for a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev as thousands of ethnic Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh after Baku defeated the breakaway region’s fighters in a military operation last week.
Erdogan is on a one-day visit to Azerbaijan’s autonomous Nakhchivan exclave on Monday to discuss the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to the Turkish president’s office.
Erdogan told a joint news conference with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev that the successful completion of Azerbaijan’s victory in Karabakh inspired pride.
“It is a matter of pride that the operation was successfully completed in a short period of time, with utmost sensitivity to the rights of civilians,” Erdogan said.
“I wholeheartedly congratulate the victorious Azerbaijani army for both its historic success and its humanitarian attitude towards civilians,” he added.
Erdogan’s government provided military support to Azerbaijan in 2020 when its forces wrested back control of large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian separatists.
State media said Erdogan will also attend a groundbreaking and an opening ceremony in the region.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov meanwhile said that Russia expects meetings between the Azerbaijani leader and foreign counterparts, including Erdogan, to help ensure security and normalcy in Karabakh.
Peskov said at a news conference in Moscow, “We hope every time that all of the meetings held by the president of Azerbaijan, including with the president of Türkiye, will contribute to security in the region, normalization of life in Karabakh.”
Russia welcomes all efforts to help resolve the Karabakh issue, Peskov said.
Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory that is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but has an ethnic Armenian majority, were forced into a ceasefire last week after a 24-hour military operation by the much larger Azerbaijani military.
The majority of Karabakh Armenians do not accept Azerbaijan’s promises to guarantee their rights.
Valery Airapetyan, a Nagorno-Karabakh resident who spoke to Al Jazeera, is one of them. He is leaving the region for Armenia.
“We found a litre of gasoline, ran away and came here,” he said in the middle of his journey out of the region.
As of 5am (01:00 GMT) on Monday, more than 2,900 people had crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian government said in a statement.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Sunday that he expected about 120,000 civilians to leave the region for Armenia due to “the danger of ethnic cleansing”.
Armenia has called on the United Nations to set up a mission to monitor human rights and security in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Also on Monday, senior Biden administration officials arrived in Armenia, a day after ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh began fleeing following Azerbaijan’s defeat.
The visit by US Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power and US State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim is the first by senior US officials to Armenia since the Karabakh Armenians were forced into a ceasefire last week.
Power will meet with senior Armenian government officials on the trip, first reported by Reuters, and will affirm the US partnership with the country and “express deep concern for the ethnic Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh and to discuss measures to address the humanitarian crisis there,” a US official said.
Power will be the first USAID Administrator to go to Armenia, the official added.
“The United States is deeply concerned about reports on the humanitarian conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh and calls for unimpeded access for international humanitarian organizations and commercial traffic,” USAID said in the announcement of the trip.
Decades of fighting
Nagorno-Karabakh is located in a region that has come under the control of Persians, Turks, Russians, Ottomans and Soviets over centuries.
After the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917, it was claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia. It was designated an autonomous region within Azerbaijan before the Soviet Union collapsed.
After the fall of the USSR, the region’s Armenians overthrew Azerbaijani control in the First Karabakh War from 1988 to 1994, which killed tens of thousands of people.
Azerbaijan regained swathes of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in the second war over the region in 2020.
Erdogan last week expressed his support for Azerbaijan’s latest military operation, which it launched on Tuesday.
According to Yerevan, more than 200 people were killed and 400 wounded in last week’s operation, which was slammed by Western countries.
Pashinyan has blamed Russia for failing Armenia. He is facing protests and calls for his resignation for failing ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Al Jazeera reports.