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23 October 2023

Azerbaijan Hosts Military Drills With Turkey Near Armenia As Foreign Ministers Meet In Tehran

Azerbaijan and Turkey conduct joint military exercises near the Armenian border while foreign ministers from these countries, Iran, and Russia meet in Tehran to discuss regional issues, including Karabakh.

Azerbaijan Hosts Military Drills With Turkey Near Armenia As Foreign Ministers Meet In Tehran

Image: mod.gov.az

(RFE.RL) Azerbaijan said on October 23 that it had begun joint military exercises with its ally Turkiye near the border with Armenia as foreign ministers from the three countries are meeting their Iranian and Russian counterparts in Tehran to discuss a number of issues, including the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that up to 3,000 military personnel were participating in the exercises, named for the founder of modern Turkiye, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The exercises are being held in Baku; in Azerbaijani territories seized from ethnic Armenian control since 2020; and in the Azerbaijani exclave of Naxcivan. They will run until October 25.

The drills come as Iran hosts a meeting of foreign ministers on October 23 from the so-called 3+3 nations, although Georgia is not present.

The meeting is the first since Azerbaijan staged a lightning offensive in September to regain control of Nagorno-Karabakh, the region where ethnic Armenians had enjoyed de facto independence since breaking away in the 1990s.

More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians were forced to flee and Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of carrying out ethnic cleansing -- a claim Azerbaijan denies, saying people were free to stay and be integrated into Azerbaijan.

The two countries have fought two wars in the past three decades and have so far failed to reach a peace deal.

Russia regards itself as the security guarantor between Azerbaijan and Armenia and has peacekeepers in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, but its war in Ukraine has led some analysts to say Moscow's influence in the area has weakened.

Turkiye has close linguistic and cultural links to Azerbaijan and offered Baku military and political support during its three decade-long conflict with Armenia, with which Ankara has no formal diplomatic relations.

Iran’s IRNA news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying the countries wanted to talk about regional issues “without the interference of nonregional and Western countries.”

That was an implicit reference to the United States and the European Union, which have been trying to mediate a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The first talks in the 3+3 South Caucasus Platform were held in 2021. Georgia has not attended the meetings, as it says it would prefer to have the three Caucasus nations meet without the involvement of Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran.