The Turkish parliament on Tuesday authorized President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to deploy peacekeepers to Azerbaijan to oversee a ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia aimed at ending the conflict in the region.
In a handshake, lawmakers voted for a one-year mandate that allowed the government to send troops to Azerbaijan, where they would observe possible ceasefire violations from a joint Turkish-Russian monitoring center. The ceasefire ended six weeks of intense fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Erdogan’s government would decide the number of troops to be sent and it was not immediately clear how many the country planned to deploy. The movement states that civilian personnel could also be deployed as part of peacekeeping missions.
Last week, Russia’s and Turkey’s defense ministers signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a joint monitoring center in Azerbaijan, although technical details of the mission are still being worked out.
Azerbaijan has been pushing for its ally Turkey, which has supported Baku in the conflict, to take an active role in the peace talks and was the first to announce its commitment to monitoring the ceasefire agreement.
Russian officials have said Ankara’s involvement will be limited to the work of the monitoring center on Azerbaijani soil, and Turkish peacekeepers would not go to Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the center will operate remotely using drones and other technical means to monitor possible violations.
The mandate extends Turkey’s military involvement further from the Middle East to Africa. The country, which has sought to play a role as a regional power, has sent troops to Iraq and Syria to fight Kurdish militants and to Libya where its presence helped change the balance in a conflict there in favor of the Tripoli-based government. . Ankara also maintains a military presence in Qatar, Somalia and Cyprus and has peacekeepers in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Africa and the Balkans.
The proposal to deploy in Azerbaijan was supported by four out of five parties in Turkey’s parliament. Erdogan’s government said Turkish peacekeepers were crucial to the region’s peace and prosperity and to Turkey’s national interests.
“Turkey and Azerbaijan, which see themselves as one state and two people, will continue to fight together for their independence and future,” said Ismet Yilmaz, chair of Parliament’s Defense Committee. “It is our historical and strategic responsibility to ensure that (Turkish troops) take up their duties at the Joint Center to maintain the ceasefire and prevent violations.”
Ahad Andican, a lawmaker from the nationalist opposition Good Party, said the presence of the Turkish troops would help prevent Armenian attempts to “arm”.
Russia, which negotiated the ceasefire, is sending about 2,000 peacekeepers under a five-year mandate.
Nagorno-Karabakh is located in Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces with the support of Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.