(Vatican Radio) Armenia backed separatists have condemned joined military exercises by Turkey and Azerbaijan. The drills, which last until Friday, come amid tensions between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Listen to the report by Stefan Bos:
Defense officials confirmed that at at least 1,000 Azerbaijani and Turkish troops began the drills in Azerbaijan on Monday, which will last last to Friday May 5, despite criticism.
They are said to also include armored vehicles, artillery batteries, airplanes and helicopters as well as air defense systems.
Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said the exercise is part of a broader military agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan to improve coordination between the armed forces of both countries.
Yet Azerbaijan's breakaway province of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has a majority Armenian population, has condemned the military activities. The spokesman for the region's pro-Armenian leadership, David Babajan, warned in a statement: "If there are provocations, we will react."
Armenian separatists declared their independence from Azerbaijan in the 1990s. They formed the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which includes some of Azerbaijan's seized borderlands.
Despite a cease-fire dating from 1994, there are regularly clashes on the heavily fortified frontier, with some 120 people dying in fighting a year ago.
The latest drills also come while relations between Turkey and Armenia have been strained for decades over the mass killing and deportation of some 1.5 million mainly Christian Armenians during World War I by the Ottoman Empire.
Those atrocities suffered by Armenians have been described as genocide by more than a dozen states and leaders, including Pope Francis.
But Turkey denies that the mass killings amounted to genocide.