Azerbaijan ally Turkey says it played no direct role in Karabakh operation

ANKARA (Reuters) -Turkey is using “all means”, including military training and modernisation, to support its close ally Azerbaijan but it did not play a direct role in Baku’s military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, a Turkish defence ministry official said on Thursday.

Azerbaijan mounted a lightning offensive to retake control of its breakaway Karabakh region on Tuesday. It later announced a ceasefire that would disarm the ethnic Armenian separatists who had held much of the region – regarded internationally as part of Azerbaijan – since the 1990s.

On Wednesday, NATO ally Turkey publicly threw its support behind Baku’s “steps to preserve its territorial integrity” but it had been unclear whether Ankara played any active role in the 24-hour military operation.

“It was Azerbaijan army’s own operation, there was no direct involvement of Turkey,” a Turkish defence ministry official told reporters on Thursday.

“Turkey’s cooperation with Azerbaijan in military training and army modernisation has been underway for a long time. The Azerbaijani army’s success in the latest operation clearly shows the level they achieved,” the official said.

He also said a joint Turkish-Russian monitoring centre was still operating and was reporting on any ceasefire violations.

Turkey, which has close linguistic, cultural and economic ties with Azerbaijan, supports efforts by Baku and Yerevan to build peaceful relations, the official added.

Speaking to reporters in New York after the United Nations General Assembly, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Baku’s offensive was in response to a “group of Armenian marauders”, according to Turkish broadcasters.

“This last development is not about (Armenian Prime Minister Nikol) Pashinyan. It is not about the Armenian state either. It is a matter about a group of Armenian marauders,” he was quoted as saying.

“Their attempt to hold a presidential election on their own seriously annoyed Pashinyan and Azerbaijan,” he said, referring to Karabakh’s parliament choosing a new president of its self-proclaimed independent republic last week.

The move was condemned by Azerbaijan, Turkey and Ukraine.

In a phone call with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev late on Wednesday, Erdogan reiterated Turkey’s “heartfelt support” of Azerbaijan, his office said.

(Reporting by Huseyin Hayatsever; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay, Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson)