ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey sharply criticised Armenia on Sunday following clashes between Armenian and Azeri forces over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, saying Yerevan was an obstacle to peace and vowing to continue its support for Azerbaijan.
In a statement on Twitter following a phone call with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called on Armenian people to stand against leaders who he said were “dragging them to catastrophe”, adding that Ankara’s solidarity with Baku would “increasingly continue”.
“Armenia, which has added another to its attacks against Azerbaijan, has shown once again that it is the biggest threat to peace in the region,” Erdogan said, and added that international reaction to the conflict had been insufficient.
Turkey calls on “the entire world to stand with Azerbaijan in their battle against invasion and cruelty,” Erdogan said.
Armenia hit back at the comments, saying Azeri forces had fired first in Sunday’s clashes. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan urged the international community to ensure Turkey does not involve itself in the conflict.
Turkey has traditionally backed Muslim-majority Azerbaijan in the long-running conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inside Azerbaijan where the population is predominantly ethnic Armenian. It declared independence in 1991.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Armenia must immediately cease what he called hostility towards Azerbaijan that could “throw the region into fire”. Akar later spoke with his Azeri counterpart and voiced support for Baku.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Armenia had violated international laws by carrying out attacks and accused it of being “reckless” and showing no interest in negotiations.
Later on Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was talking to members of the Minsk group, which mediates between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia, France and the United States are co-presidents.
Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Daren Butler; Editing by Catherine Evans and Timothy Heritage
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