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'Everyone wants a flag': Turkey support lifts spirits in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijanis have been rushing to buy not just their own national flag, but that of Turkey
Azerbaijanis have been rushing to buy not just their own national flag, but that of Turkey TOFIK BABAYEV AFP
4 min
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Ganja (Azerbaijan) (AFP)

Azerbaijani store owner Ibrahim Mammadov bought a fabric press machine and began selling Turkish flags the moment the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict flared back up last month.

He says it could not have been a wiser investment.

Mammadov sells up to 100 of them a day in the second city of Ganja as fighting between Azerbaijanis and ethnic Armenian rumbles on in the mountains hovering on the horizon.

Sales have been especially brisk since the western Azerbaijan city was hit last weekend by a missile that killed 10 civilians in the middle of the night.

"Everyone wants to buy a Turkish flag," Mammadov said. "Everyone wants to hang a Turkish flag next to the Azerbaijani one."

Strong pro-Turkish feelings have enveloped Azerbaijan since the latest bout of fighting broke out.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly thanked Turkey for support that analysts have described as a game-changing factor in the current conflict.

"We are ready to give all kinds of support to our Azerbaijani brothers and we would do this again," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed in a speech on Wednesday.

- 'Gratitude' -

Armenians on the other side of the fighting say Turkey's backing of Azerbaijan only confirms the attitude of a country that refuses to acknowledge the genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

Turkey's involvement has also exasperated its NATO allies. French President Emmanuel Macron accuses Turkey of crossing a "red line" by sending Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan. Erdogan on Wednesday denied the claim.

Turkey and Azerbaijan share only a sliver of a land border -- between eastern Turkey and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan.

But the two countries have strong cultural links and their people can understand each other's languages without interpreters.

The enthusiasm Azerbaijanis display for the Turks appears mutual: hundreds have been driving around Istanbul in organised rallies and flying the two Muslim nations' flags since the latest Karabakh hostilities resumed on September 27.

The phrase "one nation, two countries" has become the mantra of top politicians in both countries in the past weeks.

"Of course we support the honourable Recep Tayyip Erdogan," Ganja mayor Niyazi Bayramov told AFP while inspecting the missile's strike damage on Tuesday.

"We express our gratitude to him. The Turkish people are always with us."

Turkey is now pushing for four-way talks with the warring sides and Russia to finally resolve hostilities that have festered since the Soviet Union's collapse.

Armenia is resolutely against Turkey's involvement but Mammadov is all for it. "That is what we need," said the hardware store owner.

"Every time we hear that Turkey is supporting us, it lifts our spirits."

- 'Big brother' -

Turkey's push into the former Soviet south Caucasus has tested the limits of Erdogan's alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Analysts fear Turkey and Russia getting directly drawn into the conflict and sparking an even graver regional war.

Yet none of the civilians AFP has talked with on the Azerbaijani side of the conflict in the past week have said they wanted Turkey to send in tanks or troops.

"We can win this," said pensioner Natiq Alizade while drinking tea on a veranda with his friends.

"We have defeated the Armenians before and we will defeat them again if they don't involve third parties," he said, a reference to Armenia's military ally Russia.

A 1994 ceasefire ended a six-year war that claimed 30,000 lives and left Armenians controlling Karabakh and several surrounding regions of Azerbaijan.

But Baku has never hidden its desire to regain control of Karabakh, whose self-declared independence has never been recognised by any other state.

"No one was hearing our voice in that war," said the hardware store owner. "Our expectation from Turkey now is their moral support."

Nearby shop owner Alifsalam Aledinov said Azerbaijan expected Turkey to be "the first nation to stand at our side. The second one is Pakistan."

"We see President (Erdogan) as our big brother," said the pensioner Alizade.

"We love him and all his statements make us hopeful. Because we know that tomorrow, with him, it will be a much better day."

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