UPDATE – Erdogan: Solving Upper Karabakh issue is 'sine qua non'


By Enes Kaplan and Kemal Karadag

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AA) – Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said solution to the Upper Karabakh issue is "sine qua non" for mending relations with Armenia.

Speaking at an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Baku by the Caucasian Islamic Army, Erdogan recalled the 1992 Khojaly massacre that killed hundreds of Azerbaijani citizens.

"Those who cannot explain what happened in Khojaly 26 years ago, the massacre in Upper Karabakh, and declare the killers heroes, should not give Turkey any kind of history lesson," Erdogan said, referring to Armenia.

Erdogan also added that "those who occupy 20 percent of Azerbaijani lands and prevent over 1 million Azerbaijanis to return to their land should not expect Turkey to open its borders".

The Khojaly Massacre is regarded as one of the bloodiest and most controversial incidents of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan for control of the now-occupied Upper Karabakh region.

On the heels of the Soviet Union's dissolution, Armenian forces took over the town of Khojaly in Karabakh on Feb. 26, 1992, after battering it with heavy artillery and tanks, assisted by an infantry regiment.

The two-hour offensive killed 613 Azerbaijani citizens, including 116 women and 63 children, and critically injured 487 others, according to Azerbaijani figures. Also, 150 of the 1,275 Azerbaijanis that the Armenians captured during the massacre remain missing.

Erdogan landed at 12.30 p.m. local time (0830GMT) at Heydar Aliyev Airport, where he was greeted by Azerbaijan's Vice President Yagub Eyyubov, Deputy Foreign Minister Ramiz Hasanov, Azerbaijan's envoy in Ankara Hazar Ibrahim and Turkey's envoy in Baku Erkan Ozoral.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar accompanied Erdogan on his visit.

Erdogan had a one-on-one meeting with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev on the sidelines of his visit.

The two presidents also visited the Alley of Honors to pay tribute to national leader of the modern Azerbaijani state Heydar Aliyev, as well as the Alley of Martyrs in Baku to pay tribute to fallen Turk soldiers.

On Sept. 15, 1918, Baku was liberated by the Caucasian Islamic Army, comprised of Azerbaijani and Turkish soldiers.