Turkish military exports to its ally Azerbaijan have risen six-fold this year, with sales of drones and other military equipment rising to $77 million last month before fighting broke out over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, according to export data.
The figures, compiled by the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly which groups more than 95 000 exporting companies in 61 sectors, show Azerbaijan bought $123 million in defence and aviation equipment from Turkey in the first nine months of 2020.
Most purchases of drones, rocket launchers, ammunition and other weapons arrived after July, when border clashes between Armenian and Azeri forces prompted Turkey and Azerbaijan to conduct joint military exercises.
Sales jumped from $278 880 in July to $36 million in August, and $77.1 million in September, data showed. Military sales to Azerbaijan in the first nine months of 2019 totalled $20.7 million.
Fighting between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces broke out on September 27 over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain enclave recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan but governed and populated by ethnic Armenians.
“Azerbaijan clearly turned to Turkey for help and wasted no time realising the threat would grow,” said Istanbul-based defence analyst Turan Oguz.
“Ankara is determined to provide Baku with its needs,” he said. “Strong defence co-operation between Azerbaijan and Turkey is increasing by the day.”
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan backs Azerbaijan and said Armenians must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ankara wants a role in ceasefire talks and says it is not directly involved in fighting. Azeri officials tout their use of Turkish armed drones, spearheading Ankara’s military operations in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
The surge in arms sales reflects Turkey’s growing cross-border influence in the region and is a 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 Turkey will 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 only a change in Turkey’s stance could prompt Azeris to halt military action in Nagorno-Karabakh, but gave no indication of any sign of a shift.
In September, Azerbaijan jumped to the top of the list of Turkish arms buyers, followed by Oman and the US with $63 million each, the export data shows.
Authorities in Turkey say the country is the world’s fourth largest drone producer after Erdogan increased domestic production to reduce reliance on Western arms.
Oguz, the analyst, said drones in Nagorno-Karabakh included the Bayraktar TB2, produced by a company launched by Selcuk Bayraktar, an aerospace engineer who in 2016 married Erdogan’s daughter.
Turkish-made smart ammunition is apparent in battlefield videos released by Azerbaijan’s defence ministry, Oguz said.