Turkey sold $120m of arms to Azerbaijan before offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh

Sales of ammunition, rocket launchers and drones gave Azeris significant edge in conflict with Armenia

People inspect the damage following overnight shelling by Armenian forces, in the city of Terter, Azerbaijan, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues for a third week despite a Russia-brokered cease-fire deal, as both sides exchanged accusations and claims of new attacks over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. (Can Erok/DHA via AP)
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Major arms sales from Turkey gave Azerbaijan’s forces a “huge advantage” just before the offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh began, senior defence analysts have said.

New figures show that military equipment sales from Turkish companies to the Azeris surged six-fold over the summer with $123 million sold this year compared to $21m in 2019.

Analysts believe that the transactions demonstrate that President Recep Erdogan had planned the offensive in conjunction with Azerbaijan several weeks before the fighting broke out.

“As soon as the offensive began it was clearly Turkish drones that were being used which show this had been in the planning for some time,” said Prof Michael Clarke, of the Royal United Services Institute. “Sales of this magnitude would give the Azeris a huge advantage over Armenian forces.”

Figures from the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly, reveal that sales to Azerbaijan totalled $278,000 in July but then leapt to $36m in August and to $77m in the weeks before the offensive broke out on 27 September.

The purchase of ammunition, rocket launchers and, in particular, drones gave the Azeri forces a significant edge in firepower. “The Turkish drones allow the Azeris to bomb targets in Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh with impunity as they are virtually undetectable from the Armenian side,” said Prof Clarke.

Battlefield observers have identified the Turkish-made Bayraktar drone than can fly for 24 hours non-stop, carries effective surveillance equipment and, more importantly, is able to conduct precision strikes using a range of thermobaric or anti-tank munitions.

While Turkey has already deployed up to 900 Syrian mercenaries it has used in Libya to the fighting, it is understood that another 1,000 are ready to deploy into the area in weeks.

“The Turkish recruiting office has just signed them up for the next operation,” said Prof Clarke. “Also, the immediacy with which the Syrian mercenaries were deployed suggests that this was planned well in advance.”

Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountain enclave which is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan but is governed and populated by ethnic Armenians.

“Azerbaijan clearly turned to Turkey for help,” said Istanbul-based defence analyst Turan Oguz. “Ankara is very determined in providing Baku with its needs.”

Turkish-made ‘smart ammunition’ is also apparent in battlefield videos released by Azerbaijan’s defence ministry, Mr Oguz said.

President Erdogan, who denies Turkish forces are directly involved in the fighting, has backed Azerbaijan and said Armenians must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh.

The surge in arms sales reflects Turkey’s growing cross-border influence in the region, and is one measure of how quickly Azerbaijan embraced Ankara before the flare-up of the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Asked about the data, a Turkish defence ministry representative referred to statements by Minister Hulusi Akar, who said late last month Turkey would support Azerbaijan “with all our means”.

Russia has long been the chief weapons supplier to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, with which it has a defence pact.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Reuters on Tuesday that only a change in Turkey’s stance could prompt Azeris to halt military action in Nagorno-Karabakh, but he gave no indication he saw any sign of such a shift.