UPDATE - Lachin road is Azerbaijan's territory: Turkish foreign minister

UPDATE - Lachin road is Azerbaijan's territory: Turkish foreign minister

'Taking measures on Lachin road is one of Azerbaijan's greatest sovereign rights,' Hakan Fidan says

ADDS MORE REMARKS FROM TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER AND BACKGROUND

By Diyar Guldogan

Türkiye's foreign minister on Monday said the Lachin road, the only land route giving Armenia access to the Karabakh region, is Azerbaijan's territory and that Baku can take any measure on it.

"Lachin road is Azerbaijan's territory. Therefore, Azerbaijan takes whatever measures it deems necessary. Taking (measures) is also one of its greatest sovereign rights.

"We see that Azerbaijan is making every effort there on humanitarian considerations. Medical transitions are also possible. Other routes, which are suitable for extensive material transport, have also been allocated. When we look at all these evaluations, we think that there is no justification for criticizing Azerbaijan on this issue," Hakan Fidan said at a news conference with his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov in the capital Ankara.

Azerbaijan has called on countries and international organizations that have made anti-Azerbaijani statements to respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially concerning developments in Karabakh and the Lachin road.

Despite ongoing talks on a peace agreement following a war in 2020, tensions between Baku and Yerevan have risen in recent months concerning the Lachin road, as well as Azerbaijan’s establishment of a border checkpoint on the road.

Fidan said it is "extremely important" that the peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia come to a conclusion.

The minister added that agreements between Armenia and Azerbaijan should be signed soon, adding: "This represents a great opportunity for other countries in the region."

About the key Zangezur corridor land route in the southern Caucasus, Fidan said its opening is “vital”.

"The road to regional stability is through a comprehensive peace agreement. For this, the opening of the Zangezur corridor is of great importance," he added.

The minister also called on the international community not to discriminate between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

"Do not discriminate between parties, support peace. Don't be a hindrance instead of a support," he added.

The Zangezur region was originally part of Azerbaijan, though the Soviets gave it to Armenia in the 1920s, leaving Azerbaijan deprived of a direct overland route to its exclave of Nakhchivan.

Following its 44-day war with Armenia in fall 2020, Azerbaijan has focused on planned connections including motorways and a 43-kilometer (26.7-mile) railway through the corridor.

The corridor would be near or adjacent to Armenia’s border with Iran, reportedly making Tehran concerned the project might cut off its frontier with Yerevan.

On Türkiye's normalization process with Armenia, Fidan said dialogue continues on what steps should be taken with respect to relations between the two nations.

"Our belief is that the agreements between Armenia and Azerbaijan should be signed as soon as possible," he said, expressing hope that economic, stability, and development process in the Caucasus starts right away, with Azerbaijan, Türkiye, and Armenia at the center.

Despite Türkiye being one of the first countries to recognize Armenia's independence in 1991, the two countries have been divided on a range of issues, including Yerevan's occupation of Azerbaijani territories, the events of 1915 during the reign of the Ottoman Empire and the border closure between the two neighboring countries since 1993.

In 2021, Ankara and Yerevan appointed special representatives to normalize ties.


- OIC meeting on desecrations of Quran

The Turkish foreign minister also commented on a recent string of attacks on the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

Fidan said he held phone calls over the weekend with his counterparts from Sweden, Tobias Billstrom, and Denmark, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, to convey Ankara's concerns over the Quran burnings, and urged them to take concrete steps.

"The fact that the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) were meeting solely on this subject was a great diplomatic message in essence.

"Here, we see this; after these phone calls, both countries made a written statement at the government level, not at the ministerial level," he added.

Türkiye understands that they are beginning to see the potential harm and threats posed by this problem, he said.

"In particular, the Swedish prime minister's (Ulf Kristersson) written statement includes the following: 'We are experiencing the most serious security situation after World War II.'

"This is important. Allowing provocation on such a sensitive issue in your own country and the inability of the system and organs you established to prevent this brings along some problems related to the existence of a state together with its institutions," Fidan stressed.

Türkiye will wait and watch whether these countries take steps to prevent such attacks on the Quran, Fidan said, adding: "but in this process, we will continue to do what is necessary."

Later on Monday, Fidan will attend an online meeting of OIC member states' foreign ministers concerning repeated acts of "provocative desecration" of the Quran in Sweden and Denmark.

"The meeting will take into consideration the increasing Islamophobia in Europe and the possible concrete steps to be taken against this phenomenon and to establish a common position within in the OIC against these heinous attacks," according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Recent months have seen repeated acts of Quran burning or desecration, or attempts to do so, by Islamophobic figures or groups, especially in northern European and Nordic countries.


- Bilateral ties with Azerbaijan

With Bayramov, Fidan said they discussed bilateral relations and regional issues, in detail.

"Our economic relations are pleasing. Our mutual investments are over $30 billion. While we are advancing our cooperation in the field of energy, we are working within a holistic strategy based on common interests," he added.

Türkiye-Azerbaijan energy cooperation has turned from a matter that only serves the interests of the two countries to a more strategic level, Fidan said, adding: "In this context, we also contribute to the energy security of Europe."

With the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, an energy crisis on the global level was experienced, he said.

"Meanwhile, there may be a new crisis in Europe next winter. For this reason, uncertainties in the energy markets continue. There are problems not only in supply quantities, but also in price stability," the minister added.

"Türkiye's strategic dialogue and preparations for these issues continue with Azerbaijan for the coming years," Fidan said.

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