Turkey's military exports to its ally Azerbaijan have risen six-fold this year, with sales of drones and other military equipment rising to $77 million last month alone before fighting broke out over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, according to exports data.
The figures compiled by the Turkish Exporters' Assembly, which groups more than 95,000 exporting companies in 61 sectors, show Azerbaijan bought $123 million in defence and aviation equipment from Turkey in the first nine months of 2020.
Most of the purchases of drones, rocket launchers, ammunition and other weapons arrived were after July, when border clashes between Armenian and Azeri forces prompted Turkey and Azerbaijan to conduct joint military exercises.
Sales jumped from $278,880 in the month of July to $36 million in the month of August, and $77.1 million in just September, the data showed. Military sales to Azerbaijan in the first nine months of 2019 totalled $20.7 million.
Fighting between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces broke out on Sept. 27 over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain enclave which is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan but is governed and populated by ethnic Armenians.
"Azerbaijan clearly turned to Turkey for help ... and wasted no time realising that the threat would grow," said Istanbul-based defence analyst Turan Oguz.
"Ankara is very determined in providing Baku with its needs," he said. "The strong defence cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey is getting stronger by the day."
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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has backed Azerbaijan and said Armenians must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ankara, which wants a role in ceasefire talks, says it is not directly involved in the fighting. But Azeri officials have touted their use of Turkish armed drones, which have spearheaded Ankara's military operations in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
The surge in arms sales reflects Turkey's growing cross-border influence in the region, and is one measure of how quickly Azerbaijan embraced Ankara before the flare-up of the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Asked about the data, a Turkish defence ministry representative referred to statements by Minister Hulusi Akar, who said late last month Turkey will support Azerbaijan "with all our means."
Russia has long been the chief weapons supplier to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, with which it has a defence pact.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Reuters on Tuesday that only a change in Turkey's stance could prompt Azeris to halt military action in Nagorno-Karabakh, but he gave no indication he saw any sign of a shift.
In September, Azerbaijan jumped to the top of the list of Turkish arms buyers, followed by Oman and the United States with $63 million each, the exports data shows.
Authorities in Turkey say the country has become the world's fourth largest drone producer since Erdogan increased domestic production to reduce reliance on Western arms.
Oguz, the analyst, said drones being used in Nagorno-Karabakh included the Bayraktar TB2, produced by a company launched by Selcuk Bayraktar, an aerospace engineer who in 2016 married Erdogan's daughter.
Turkish-made smart ammunition is also apparent in battlefield videos released by Azerbaijan's defence ministry, Oguz said.
(Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Timothy Heritage)