Hundreds of Syrian army fighters allied with Turkey have joined the fight between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh divorce, and hundreds more are preparing to go, according to two Syrians involved in the effort.
In the escalating conflict between the two former Soviet republics near the border with Russia, Turkey quickly announced its support for the Muslim-majority Azerbaijan, whose people speak the Turkish language, which has historically been Moscow historically influential in the region.
On Monday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu raised the issue of Middle East fighters over the phone with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar. And on Tuesday, Russia warned of the possibility of a “migration of former terrorist fighters” from the Middle East to Nagorno-Karabakh.
A senior Turkish official has denied claims that Ankara was involved in sending Syrian fighters to the Caucasus. “These claims, which have been made with the intention of diverting attention from Armenia’s 30-year occupation of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory, are not true,” the official said.
Azeri officials have also refused to use foreign mercenaries.
Azerbaijan and Armenia, a province populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, but internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, have been fighting one after another over Nagorno-Karabakh for three decades. Fighting between Russia and Armenia and Azerbaijan on Saturday has failed to stop the fighting, with each side accusing the other of violations. Officials from both parties said dozens of civilians had been killed and many more injured since the clashes began last month.
After the first clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh in July, word spread among Syrian rebel groups that Turkey was listing fighters to fight in the enclave, according to four people with direct knowledge of sign-ups.
The Syrian rebels involved in the deployment said the fighters had been there since mid-September – just before the last round of clashes in groups of about 100 at a time. An estimated hundreds of other Syrians with ties to rebel groups also fled. Dozens have also returned, terrified of the fierce fighting, the man said.
According to Turkish officials, Turkey held a two-week ground and air military exercise in Azerbaijan after the July clashes, and according to Turkish officials, the Azeri government was provided with attack drones. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said Turkish aircraft have sharpened his country’s military in the Nagorno-Karabakh battle.
Turkey has registered to pursue the foreign-policy objectives of Syrian fighters. U.S. A June report by the Department of Defense said that earlier this year, Ankara had sent about 1,000 Syrian fighters to support an internationally recognized government in Libya’s civil war.
By sending Syrians, as well as deploying its own troops, Turkey increased its influence in negotiations on the outcome of the conflict in the oil-rich North African country. He also clashed with Russia and some Arab states that support opponents of the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Moscow and Ankara, which also intervened on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria, each seek the role of a regional power broker and use mercenaries to further their goals. Turkey’s claim to Nagorno-Karabakh, however, is being seen in Moscow as an intrusion into an area it has firmly considered in its sphere of influence.
The Syrian rebel, who has been accused of preparing spreadsheets of men heading to Nagorno-Karabakh, said many were attracted to Syria’s war-torn economy with a significant monthly salary of up to $ 2,000.
“Going to Libya or Azerbaijan has become a common thing,” Fighter said, adding that he plans to sign up soon as he struggles to support his family.
Behind the battle in Nagorno-Karabakh
“People no longer care who they are fighting with or against, now the money they ask for is money.” “Where there’s money going.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has praised the Syrian people fighting in Libya under the supervision of Turkish military advisers. “These brothers who are with us consider this unity an honor for themselves,” he said in February. “There is a spiritual dimension for them to go [to Libya]”
According to European and Libyan officials, Russia has deployed private military contractors from Russia as well as the Syrian army to support its preferred caliph Haftar in the fight in Libya.
Turkey has supported Syrian rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since the early days of the war, with the United States at one stage jointly training and equipping the rebels. Also involved is running a program.
But the U.S. And after other Western and Arab allies pulled the support of the hapless rebels, Turkey became their last remaining ally. It still provides salaries to fighters from various rebel groups, which it calls the National Army.
“Except for Turkey, no one is supporting us,” said one rebel commander. “So just as Turkey strengthened and supported us in Syria … why shouldn’t we stand with it and help it elsewhere?”
Last month, the 38-year-old Syrian rebel signed up to fight in Azerbaijan, motivated by a promised monthly salary of Az 1,500.
“We are being sent to our deaths,” the man said. “But in the end we take care to provide bread for our families.”
The rebels, who said they were waiting to be deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh, plan to move from Syria to Turkey, where they said chartered flights take fighters to Azerbaijan.
A Syrian who has long worked with rebel groups and who has been in direct contact with two Syrian men fighting in Azerbaijan said he had been told that casualties among Syrian fighters were increasing rapidly.
“They say it’s hell,” said the man, who added that about 200 people had asked to return. “Those who have gone there and have not been killed or injured in any way are exceptions. Some fighters already want to come back. ”
Officials from both sides have described an extremely brutal conflict, in which civilians have been attacked by artillery fire and air strikes, while soldiers have had to hunt in mud ditches reminiscent of World War I.
Armenia says 429 of its soldiers have been killed in fighting so far. Azerbaijan has not disclosed how many of its soldiers have been killed.
On Tuesday, officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said Azeri forces bombed civilian locations. Meanwhile, the Azeri government said that Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city, has been targeted for the second time. The Azeri Defense Ministry said its army adheres to combat.
I David Gauthier-Willers in Istanbul and Ann Simmons in Moscow, contribute to this article.
Write to Raja Abdul Rahim at [email protected]
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