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Azerbaijan hosts joint drills with Turkey near Armenia: ministry

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Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said on Monday it had begun joint drills with its ally Turkey near the border with Armenia, weeks after Baku recaptured Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian separatists, Agence France-Presse reported.

Azerbaijan last month took control of the long-disputed region in a 24-hour offensive that ended decades of Armenian separatist rule.

The ministry said “up to 3,000” troops would take part in the tactical drills held in capital Baku, the Nakhichevan exclave between Iran and Armenia, as well as territories retaken from Armenian separatists.

The exercises — dubbed “Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 2023” — involve dozens of artillery weapons and aviation.

Baku said they were aimed at “ensuring combat interoperability” between the allies.

The drills came as Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Iran and Russia were set to send their foreign ministers to hold talks in Tehran in a diplomatic format initiated by Moscow in 2020 — after Baku and Yerevan went to war over Karabakh.

The talks are seen as Moscow’s attempt to reduce growing Western influence in a region it has long considered as its backyard.

The European Union and United States have in recent years taken a lead role in mediating a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Russia, which has traditionally mediated the conflict, has seen its role diminished since being focused on its invasion of Ukraine.

Azerbaijan’s Armenian-populated enclave of Karabakh was at the center of two wars between the Caucasus arch-foe neighbors — in 2020 and in the 1990s.

On Sept. 19, Azerbaijan launched a lightning offensive against Armenian separatist forces.

After less than a day of fighting, separatist authorities agreed to lay down arms and reintegrate with Azerbaijan.

Almost all of Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population — some 100,000 people — fled for Armenia after the offensive, sparking a refugee crisis.

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