More pro-Turkish Syrian mercenaries die in Azeri-Armenian fighting
LONDON--At least 36 pro-Turkey Syrian mercenaries have been killed in clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over Nagorny Karabakh, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Saturday.
The killed fighters were among more than 850 militants and guns-for-hire from pro-Ankara Syrian factions which Turkey has sent to fight for the Azeris since last week, SOHR pointed out.
The opposition war monitor added that “the Turkish government has thrown Syrian mercenaries into the ongoing battles in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia” after being hired to work as security guards.
” After having been told that their task was confined to the “guarding of oil fields and borders” in Azerbaijan, Turkish-backed Syrian factions have been noticeably involved into the Nagorno-Karabakh battles,” added SOHR
Relatives of three fighters confirmed to Agence France Presse they had been killed, while social media users shared pictures of four fighters who had died in the clashes.
Intelligence reports had established that at least 300 Syrian fighters drawn from “jihadist groups” from the Syrian city of Aleppo had passed through Gaziantep in Turkey en route for Azerbaijan, he said.
Clashes have raged between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces since Sunday over Nagorny Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian province that broke away from Baku in a bitterly fought war in the 1990s.
Armenia has accused Turkey of dispatching Syrian fighters to fight on the Azeri side in Nagorny Karabakh, despite Azerbaijani and Turkish denials.
Guns for hire
CNN spoke to a Syrian mercenary who was travelling from northern Syria to Azerbaijan. He said he belonged to a faction of the Syrian National Army, an umbrella rebel group involving several pro-Turkish armed militias. “I voluntarily did that and 90% of my unit signed up,” he told CNN. “They told us that they will give us $1,500 a month.
“Our contracts are for three months, and every month we will be getting paid by the unit commander,” he added,
He said he accepted the offer “because of the money, and all the world knows that the Syrians living here are dying of hunger.”
Some of the fighters helping the Azeris are being drawn from the contingent of militants and mercenaries sent by Turkey to Libya in recent months to back the Islamist-dominated Government of National Accord.
Citing “reliable sources,” SOHR said the total number of Turkish-dispatched mercenaries who returned from Libya to Syria to “more than 2,200 in just one week.”
According to the organisation’s statistics, the number of mercenary recruits sent by Turkey to Libya reached 18,000.
On Friday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told French newspaper Le Figaro that Turkey had “transported thousands of mercenaries and terrorists” to Azerbaijan from northern Syria.
Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a phone call, expressed “serious concern” over the reported “involvement in military action of militants of illegal armed groups from the Middle East”, the Kremlin said.
French President Emmanuel Macron also weighed in, demanding that Turkey explain what he said was the arrival of jihadist fighters in Azerbaijan.
“A red line has been crossed, which is unacceptable,” said Macron.
According to Macron, intelligence reports indicate 300 fighters drawn from “jihadist groups” from the Syrian city of Aleppo have passed through Gaziantep in Turkey en route for Azerbaijan.
“These fighters are known, tracked and identified,” he said.
Commenting on the allegations, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “We (already) saw Syrian fighters taken from the battlefields in Syria to Libya,” adding that it “created more instability, more turbulence, more conflict, more fighting, less peace”.
“I think it would do the same thing in the conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh as well. So I hope that reporting proves inaccurate.
“This is a longstanding conflict in this border space, when those tensions rise, internationalising this, third parties bringing ammunitions, weapon systems … you increase the complexity, you increase the risk of loss of lives, you decrease the capacity for peace.”
As in Libya, he said, “we’ve urged everyone to just stay out of this other than to urge that there be a ceasefire and that dialogue be the methodology by which order is restored, peace is restored. At least we hope that’s the case.
“We’ve certainly communicated that to both the Azerbaijanis and Armenian leaders, and to the Turks as well,” he added.
Clashes have raged between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces since last week over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian province that broke away from Baku in a bitterly fought war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives.