(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to a part of Azerbaijan that’s cut off from the rest of the country on Monday as he seeks to capitalize on regional turbulence to advance plans for a trade route through the Caucasus.
Erdogan visited Naxcivan, an exclave that borders Turkey, Armenia and Iran, less than a week after Azerbaijan carried out a military campaign to take full control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that’s been at the center of a territorial dispute with neighboring Armenia for more than three decades.
“Windows of opportunity for regional normalization have opened and should be seized,” Erdogan said during a groundbreaking ceremony for a pipeline transporting gas from Turkey to Naxcivan. “Armenia must grasp the hand of peace extended to them.”
The Turkish leader’s push could stoke tensions further as he backs Azerbaijan’s demand for a transport corridor across southern Armenia to Naxcivan following last week’s attack in Nagorno-Karabakh that drew condemnation from the US and Europe before a belated intervention by Russia pushed the Armenians in the territory effectively to surrender.
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Armenia rejects Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s demand and the corridor doesn’t exist in a truce agreement brokered by Russia that ended a 2020 war between the neighboring states. That document provides only for the opening of borders and transport links including to Naxcivan. Armenia has a defense pact with Russia to protect it against attack, though relations with the Kremlin are strained after the government in Yerevan accused Moscow of failing to support it in last week’s fighting.
Iran has also rejected the idea, which would risk cutting the Islamic Republic off from vital trade routes to Russia, and has staged military drills near its border with Azerbaijan amid deteriorating relations with Aliyev.
Turkey regards the corridor to Azerbaijan as key to its aspirations to become a trade route linking London and Beijing with railroads and highways. At the same time, Erdogan and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan are in talks on establishing formal diplomatic relations and opening their border, which Turkey closed in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
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Relations between Baku and Tehran deteriorated after the 2020 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armed with Israeli and Turkish drones, Azerbaijan’s forces reclaimed control of large swaths of its territory occupied by Armenia since the early 1990s before Russia brokered the cease-fire.
(Updates with Erdogan’s comments in third paragraph.)
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