Azerbaijan, Turkey launch joint military exercise as Fidan meets Armenia FM

Oct 23 2023
The joint military exercise coincided with a five-country summit in Tehran between Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran and Russia.

Ezgi Akin

ANKARA — Azerbaijan and Turkey on Monday launched a joint military exercise, including in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, as Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met with his Armenian counterpart on the sidelines of a five-country regional summit in Iran. 

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced that up to 3,000 military personnel, 130 armored vehicles and 100 artillery would participate in the drill, which will be held in various parts of Azerbaijan, including its exclave of Nakhchivan bordering Turkey and the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which saw an Armenian exodus following an Azeri military offensive in September against the Armenian separatists.  

Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler also traveled to Baku on Monday to follow the drill, dubbed Mustafa Kemal Ataturk 2023 exercise, after the founder of modern Turkey. The country will celebrate the republic’s centennial on Oct. 29. 

The exercise comes after the 24-hour Azeri offensive last month that ended the Armenian separatists' self-rule in the contested territories that are internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory and put it under the full control of Baku, prompting a massive Armenian exodus. Prior to the Azeri offensive, the United States and Armenia held combined military exercises last month designed to train Armenian troops to participate in international peacekeeping missions.

The exercise also coincided with the regional summit in Tehran on Monday between Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran and Russia, aiming to boost cooperation and stability in the southern Caucasus.  

The gathering marked the first meeting where all regional actors, except Georgia, came together after Azerbaijan's offensive, which drew the ire of both Tehran and Moscow as well as the Western capitals. 

While Turkey backs its ethnic kin in Azerbaijan, Iran has been a leading regional backer of Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where Russian peacekeepers have been stationed to maintain a cease-fire between Azeri and Armenian troops. 

Fidan stressed the need for a comprehensive peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia during the summit, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. The two countries have been fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region for decades.

Fidan also stressed the need for transport links, in a thinly veiled reference to the so-called Zangezour corridor. Ankara and Baku have been pressing Armenia to allow the corridor linking Nakhichevan to the Azerbaijani mainland through Armenian territories. 

Turkey’s top diplomat also held one-on-one meetings with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, as well as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on the sidelines of the summit, the ministry said. 

The Fidan-Mirzoyan meeting marked the first between the duo after the Azeri offensive, which Turkey vocally supported. Ankara and Yerevan have been engaged in normalization talks since 2021 in a bid to establish diplomatic ties and open the land border between the two countries. Turkey sealed off its land border with Armenia in the 1990s in solidarity with Baku over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. 

As part of the ongoing normalization talks, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was among the foreign leaders who attended Erdogan’s inauguration in June.