Turkey's Erdogan to visit symbolic Karabakh city

BAKU (AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on Tuesday to visit the symbolic town of Shusha recaptured by ally Azerbaijan during last year’s war with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Turkey was a key backer of Azerbaijan during the conflict, which erupted in September and ended in a Russian-brokered ceasefire after six weeks of fighting and some 6,000 deaths.

The truce agreement saw Yerevan cede territories it had controlled for decades, including Shusha, which both Armenians and Azerbaijanis claim as a cradle of their culture.

The fortress town sits on cliffs around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Karabakh’s largest city Stepanakert and its fall to Azerbaijani forces in November marked the turning point of the war.

Erdogan arrived in Baku in the early hours on Tuesday, Azerbaijan’s state-run news agency AzerTag reported, while a senior Azerbaijani diplomat told AFP the Turkish leader "will meet later in the afternoon with President Ilham Aliyev in Shusha."

During his visit Erdogan is also to deliver a speech to the Azerbaijani parliament and on Wednesday attend the Euro 2020 football match in Baku between Turkey and Wales.

Ankara -- which has for years helped to arm and train the Azerbaijani military -- was widely accused of dispatching mercenaries from Syria to bolster Baku’s army, but denied the claim.

Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan’s military triumph over Armenia was an important geopolitical coup for Erdogan as Ankara seeks to cement its influence in the ex-Soviet Caucasus region.