Syrian rebels reportedly sent to fight in Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict

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The ongoing bloody battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh border area is quickly seen as a potential proxy war between Ankara and Moscow, which lie on either side of the long-standing conflict.

Reports and accusations have emerged this week that impoverished and desperate Syrian opposition fighters, defeated by the throes of nearly 10 years of civil war and backed by Turkey in their last stronghold of Idlib, have been recruited. by private Turkish defense contractors and summoned to take up arms in Nagorno-Karabakh.

A Syrian fighter, who requested anonymity given his proximity to Turkey, told Fox News on Friday that four men from his hometown of Rastan – a small ancient town and an anti-Assad bulwark in Homs governorate – had been killed on the battlefield this week. One was a relative, Kinan Ferzat, a 35-year-old major in the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) unit known as the Syrian National Army.

In this image from footage released by the Armenian Defense Ministry on Sunday, September 27, 2020, Armenian forces destroy an Azerbaijani military vehicle at the contact line of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in Azerbaijan.
(Armenian Ministry of Defense via AP)

“Kinan defected from the Syrian regime’s army in 2012 and joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the First Corps faction as head of the artillery brigade, the army,” said declared a member of his family. “In 2018, he refused reconciliation with the regime and was deported to northern Syria, like other army officers who defected. Kinan had two options, either he would go to Idlib and join the Islamic and terrorist organizations, or he would go to Afrin. and join the Turkish National Army. ”

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He chose to go to Afrin and joined Sultan Murad’s faction, which operates under the Turkish army, sued the relative, saying he was approached to travel to Azerbaijan and feared refusing – to travel from Gaziantep airport in Istanbul, then in Azerbaijan. .

“It was heartbreaking news for the family,” said the parent. “We are revolutionaries and have our cause; we don’t want to be international mercenaries. “

Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted around the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian Defense Ministry announced that two Azerbaijani helicopters had been shot down.
(Armenian Ministry of Defense via AP))

Nonetheless, French President Emmanuel Macron gave credence to last week’s claims, announcing that he had evidence that fighters had indeed passed through the Turkish town of Gaziantep en route to the South Caucasus conflict, which has already killed more. than 200 people since it was reignited last month.

“We have today information which indicates with certainty that the Syrian fighters of the jihadist groups have passed through Gaziantep to reach the Nagorno-Karabakh theater of operations,” Macron proclaimed when arriving for a summit with the leaders of the European Union in Brussels. “This is a very serious new development. ”

A spokesman for the Armenian embassy in Washington further underlined in a statement to Fox News that “jihadist terrorists are being transferred from Syria by Turkey to Azerbaijan to fight the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh”.

Adding to the woes of an upcoming proxy war, the Russian Foreign Ministry – a military and diplomatic ally of Armenia – also said in a statement this week that it had been informed of “illegal armed units” sent from Syria and Libya to the region.

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Fox News could not independently confirm the alleged travel route or death on the battlefield, and Azerbaijani and Turkish officials have categorically denied that such a Syrian national visited the ancient theater of Soviet war this week.

“The reports of some mysterious Syrian fighters in Azerbaijan are a complete and utter lie. There is not the slightest credible proof of this. This is a clear effort to wage a Soviet-style propaganda war by the Armenian side, which tries to cover up its own links with terrorists and distract attention due to the illegal occupation of Azerbaijani lands ”, a statement issued to Fox News by the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington. “Such an information warfare effort on fake news has become a new battleground and has serious consequences. I hope the media will make a more in-depth fact-checking effort in the future. ”

Nonetheless, the Syrian relative also showed photos regarding the identities of three other men – in their 20s and 30s, apparently from the FSA and from Rastan – who are believed to have died this week.

It is still unclear how many Syrian nationals died in this week’s skirmishes, with a Washington Post report predicting Friday that the figure could be at least 20.

In addition, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that more than 300 Syrian fighters had been deployed in Azerbaijan.

“These Syrian fighters come from two ethnic Turkmen armed groups, including the Sultan Murad division and the Suleyman Shah brigade,” Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory, told VOA.

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Reports indicate that combatants are offered more than $ 1,500 per month for work abroad, a handsome sum after years of internal war and poverty.

Omer Celik, a spokesperson for the AKP ruled by President Erdogan, tweeted that the accusations were only “lies and a provocation against Turkey”.

“Likewise, the information on Turkish military involvement in the war is false,” the statement continued.

A building in a residential area burns down after a night bombardment by Azerbaijani artillery during a military conflict in the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Stepanakert, Azerbaijan, Sunday, October 4, 2020. Armenian officials accused Azerbaijan on Sunday for carrying out strikes on Stepanakert.  The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said Armenian forces were attacking the towns of Terter and Horadiz from Stepanakert.  (Areg Balayan / ArmGov PAN Photo via AP)

A building in a residential area burns down after a night bombardment by Azerbaijani artillery during a military conflict in the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Stepanakert, Azerbaijan, Sunday, October 4, 2020. Armenian officials accused Azerbaijan on Sunday for carrying out strikes on Stepanakert. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said Armenian forces were attacking the towns of Terter and Horadiz from Stepanakert. (Areg Balayan / ArmGov PAN Photo via AP)

Ankara also this week accused Armenia of sending Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish militants to the PKK – its long-standing foe due to decades of violence amid a separatist push – to the besieged border, but no other evidence has not been provided.

Given the multitude of accusations and claims of foreign combat imprints, international observers have expressed apprehension that the long frozen and largely unresolved territorial dispute could have far-reaching implications.

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Nagorno-Karabakh has been a source of skirmishes since the 1994 ceasefire between the two former Soviet nations. The land technically lies in Azerbaijan, in accordance with international law, but it is generally defined as controlled and populated by ethnic Armenians – with the support of Armenia to run its affairs independently of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan since the fall of the Soviet Union nearly three decades. since.

A destroyed house damaged by bombing during the fighting in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Terter, Azerbaijan, Saturday, October 3, 2020. Armenia and Azerbaijan say heavy fighting continues in their conflict over separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.  The president said on Saturday evening that his troops had taken a village.  (AP Photo / Aziz Karimov)

A destroyed house damaged by bombing during the fighting in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Terter, Azerbaijan, Saturday, October 3, 2020. Armenia and Azerbaijan say heavy fighting continues in their conflict over separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. The president said on Saturday evening that his troops had taken a village. (AP Photo / Aziz Karimov)

The prized plot – rich in minerals, mulberry trees and alpine meadows – is a point of patriotic pride both for the Muslim majority in Azerbaijan and for the predominantly Christian Armenia.

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The OSCE Minsk Group – co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States – was established in 1992 with the aim of finding an amicable solution. While a ceasefire was declared two years later, the dispute remains – punctuated by violent outbreaks – like the ongoing one, involving air power, missiles and heavy armor.

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