A new proxy war is brewing in the Middle East today as Turkey flexes its muscles by backing Azerbaijan’s offensive against Armenian separatists – amid heavy fighting which has left at least 39 people dead.
Azerbaijan’s armed forces on Sunday launched an armoured offensive against separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh region near Armenia in the Caucasus region of former Soviet republics that bridges Russia and the Middle East.
And fighting continued today after Armenian separatists claimed they were attacked by Turkish mercenaries and F-16 fighter jets in the disputed region, which belongs to Azerbaijan but is mainly inhabited by ethnic Armenians.
Separatist leader Arayik Harutyunyan accused Turkey of an ‘aggressive and expansionist policy’ in the region while Ankara vowed complete support for ‘our Azerbaijani brothers’ following some of the worst clashes in years.
Both sides accuse each other of firing heavy artillery in clashes which left hundreds injured, with claims of ‘dozens of corpses of Azerbaijani soldiers’ on territory that was fought over last night.
Armenia is predominantly Christian while oil-rich Azerbaijan is a Muslim-majority country and they have been locked in a territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades.
While Azerbaijan and Turkey are close allies, sharing cultural and linguistic ties, relations between Turkey and Armenia are still scarred by the early 20th-century genocide in which which as many as 1.5million Armenians were deported and killed by their Ottoman rulers.
The proxy conflict could also draw in Russia, an ally of Armenia which has a military base in the country, and bring chaos to global oil and gas supplies which pass through pipelines in the South Caucasus region.
A Kremlin spokesman today urged Azerbaijan and Armenia to stop all military activity and said the fighting was a cause for serious concern in Moscow.
Crossroads between the Middle East and Russia: The fighting is in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh of Azerbaijan which is controlled by separatists allied to Armenia. Turkey borders Aremenia but is an ally of Azerbaijan, and Ankara’s support for Baku is the latest military adventure in the region after incursions into Syria and Libya. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are former Soviet republics that border Iran. Moscow has called for both sides to stop the fighting
Footage released by the Nagorno-Karabakh breakaway region shows bodies of men in military uniform, said to be Azerbaijani military personnel killed during the clashes over the disputed region
Azerbaijani troops conducting a combat operation during clashes between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh
Rocket fire from the Azerbaijani side during some of the worst violence in the disputed region since a 1990s war ended in stalemate