YREVAN (Azatutyun.am) —France expects Turkey to withdraw Syrian mercenaries recruited for Azerbaijan during the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh, a senior French official said on Saturday visiting Armenia.
“French President Emmanuel Macron was the first to call it what it is and to declare that Turkey has transported Syrian mercenaries from the Turkish city of Gaziantep in Nagorno-Karabakh,” said Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, secretary State at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. press conference in Yerevan following his two-day visit.
“France expects concrete actions from Turkey so that Turkey withdraws the mercenaries from the region”, he declared. “Paris will discuss sanctions against Turkey with its European partners. ”
France has pressured the European Union to impose the sanctions over Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean where Turkey and EU members Greece and Cyprus are locked in a dispute over the natural gas rights. Relations between Ankara and Paris have been increasingly strained in recent months.
Macron accused Turkey of recruiting jihadist fighters from Syria for the Azerbaijani army shortly after large-scale hostilities broke out in and around Karabakh on September 27.
Russia also expressed serious concern in the following weeks over the deployment of “terrorists and mercenaries” from Syria and Libya in the Karabakh conflict zone. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign and defense ministers have repeatedly raised the issue with their Turkish counterparts.
Ankara has denied sending members of Turkish-backed groups to fight in Karabakh on the Azerbaijani side. Azerbaijan also denies the presence of these mercenaries in the ranks of the Azerbaijani army.
Numerous Western media reports have quoted members of Islamist rebel groups in Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria as saying in late September and October that they are deploying to Azerbaijan in coordination with the Turkish government. Armenia presented these reports as further evidence of Turkey’s direct involvement in the war stopped by a ceasefire brokered by Russia on November 10.
The Armenian-backed army in Karabakh claimed to have captured two Syrian fighters during the fighting. The two men are now being prosecuted in Armenia on relevant charges.
Lemoyne discussed the issue in a meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan earlier on Saturday. According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, they stressed “the importance of returning the foreign armed terrorists brought to the region by Turkey”.
Lemoyne arrived in Yerevan with a delegation of French officials, aid workers and activists from the Franco-Armenian community aboard a plane that brought a second batch of French humanitarian aid to Armenian victims of the Karabakh conflict. These were mainly medical supplies for Armenian soldiers and civilians wounded during the war. The delegation led by Lemoyne visited two hospitals in Yerevan treating them.
Lemoyne said the French government was planning to send more such aid to Armenia when it met Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Saturday.
“We are grateful to friendly France for providing humanitarian aid and for properly presenting the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh to the international community,” Pashinyan told the French official.
France is home to a large and influential Armenian ethnic community. He was instrumental in the adoption by the French Senate on November 18 of a resolution calling on the French government to recognize Karabakh as an independent republic.
Lemoyne voiced the Macron administration’s opposition to the resolution when he addressed the Senate in a debate. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated on November 19 that “France does not recognize the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.”