ISTANBUL: Azerbaijan’s close ally Turkey on Tuesday defended Baku’s military operation against Nagorno-Karabakh, saying it was addressing “justified” security concerns in the ethnically Armenian breakaway region.

“As a result of the legitimate and justified concerns it has repeatedly expressed regarding the situation on the ground in the nearly three years since the end of the Second Karabakh War, Azerbaijan has had to take the measures it deems necessary on its own sovereign territory,” the Turkish foreign ministry said.

Ankara said the operation was sparked by “long-standing armed attacks and provocations” against Azerbaijani forces in the region.

But it added that only direct talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan could permanently resolve the decades-long conflict.

“We believe that ensuring the continuation of the comprehensive negotiation process between Azerbaijan and Armenia… is the only way to establish peace, security, prosperity and permanent stability in the region,” the Turkish statement said.

Turkey is a historic ally of predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan and views mostly Christian Armenia as one of its main regional rivals.

Ankara supplied Azerbaijan with combat drones and other military equipment that helped Baku win back swathes of the breakaway region in a short but brutal war three years ago.

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