France accuses Turkey of ‘military involvement’ in Azerbaijan
PARIS — France accused Turkey on Wednesday of “military involvement” on the side of Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, the latest volley in a war of words between Paris and Ankara.
“The new aspect is that there is military involvement by Turkey which risks fuelling the internationalisation of the conflict,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yvez Le Drian told French parliament.
Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics, have for decades been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian area which broke away from Azerbaijan in a 1990s war that cost about 30,000 lives.
Heavy fighting erupted again on September 27, with both sides blaming each other for reigniting hostilities.
The conflict has drawn in regional players, with Turkey urging support for Azerbaijan and Armenia hoping that its ally Russia — which has so far stayed on the sidelines — will step in.
Turkey has been accused of deploying militants and mercenaries from Syria to support Azerbaijan in the fighting.
French President Emmanuel Macron recently said Ankara had sent Syrian “jihadists” to the region, accusing Turkey of crossing a “red line.”
Turkey has not responded publicly to the accusationsMacron has a tense relationship with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the two sparring over issues ranging from the state of Islam to NATO and maritime rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Le Drian said Wednesday France deplored “a large number of civilian casualties for little territorial progress on the part of Azerbaijan, given it is Azerbaijan that initiated the conflict.”
He repeated the call for an immediate end to the fighting and a return to negotiations “without conditions” under mediation by the Minsk group co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States.
“There will be meetings tomorrow in Geneva, another on Monday in Moscow and we hope that this will lead to the opening of negotiations,” the minister said.
On Thursday, Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenians fought new clashes before talks at which the United States, France and Russia are set to discuss how to secure a ceasefire and avert a wider war in the South Caucasus.
Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov will meet US, Russian and French envoys in Geneva on Thursday and Armenia’s foreign minister, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, is expected to meet officials from the three countries in Moscow on Monday.
The talks mark the start of a concerted drive by the three powers to halt fighting that flared on September 27, increasing concerns about the security of pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry natural gas and oil to Europe.
Washington, Paris and Moscow are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group that has led mediation in decades of conflict over the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan but it is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians, who broke away in a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000.