U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo criticizes Turkey’s involvement in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Turkey’s role in stoking the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and increasing the risk of the conflict spreading. Diplomacy was the only way to resolve the issue, said Pompeo.

“We now have the Turks, who have stepped in and provided resources to Azerbaijan, increasing the risk, increasing the firepower that’s taking place in this historic fight,” Pompeo said in an interview with broadcaster WSB Atlanta.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

A humanitarian ceasefire agreement brokered between the two sides by Moscow on 10 October lasted little more than a few hours. One week on, it is in tatters with violations being committed by both sides.

“The resolution of that conflict ought to be done through negotiation and peaceful discussions, not through armed conflict, and certainly not with third party countries coming in to lend their firepower to what is already a powder keg of a situation,” Pompeo continued. “We’re hopeful that the Armenians will be able to defend against what the Azerbaijanis are doing, and that they will all, before that takes place, get the ceasefire right, and then sit down at the table and try and sort through this.”

Hundreds, possibly thousands, have been killed in the latest round of hostilities which began in late September as Azerbaijan, bolstered by Turkish support and Syrian mercenaries, launched an all-out offensive against the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades long dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. From 1988 to 1994, a war was fought between the majority ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh backed by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan. By the wars end, Armenian was in full control of the territory with few exceptions, including areas of Azerbaijan outside Nagorno-Karabakh connecting the enclave with Armenia.

In July of this year, clashes erupted after an Azerbaijani patrol attempted to cross the border and were met with fire from Armenian forces. Artillery and drone strikes were exchanged between the two sides for days, resulting in over a dozen casualties.

Turkish involvement in the conflict has escalated the levels of violence, with the recent fighting the deadliest since the out break of war in the 80s.

With a population more than three times that of Armenia’s and a modernized army equipped with drones, loitering munitions, and guided munitions purchased from Turkey and Israel with its vast oil wealth, Azerbaijan is much better positioned in the conflict.

An unexploded BM-30 Smerch rocketis seen on the outskirts of Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, on 12 October 2020. (Image: Aris Messinis / AFP)

Turkish involvement has been key to Azerbaijan’s success.

Turkish military exports to Azerbaijan increased six-fold in 2020, with $77 million in sales of drones and other equipment in September alone according to figures compiled by the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly.

Turkey’s military exports to its ally Azerbaijan have risen six-fold this year, with sales of drones and other military equipment rising to $77 million last month alone before fighting broke out over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, according to exports data.

Most of the purchases came shortly after the skirmishes in July of this year.

In August, Turkey and Azerbaijan held large-scale military exercises in Azerbaijan which involved nearly a dozen Turkish F-16 jet fighters. Several apparently stayed behind in an effort to “deter Armenian attacks”, according to Azerbaijan’s 17-year President Ilham Aliyev.

Armenian officials, however, have claimed that a Turkish F-16 shot down an Armenian Su-25 ground-attack aircraft in late-September.