Officials from France and Russia have claimed that fighters from northern Syria are operating in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Azerbaijan and Armenian forces have been locked in deadly clashes since Sunday.
On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said there was evidence of fighters traveling from Syria to Azerbaijan through Turkey. “We have information today that indicates with certainty that Syrian fighters from jihadist groups have transited through Gaziantep (a Turkish city) to reach the theatre of operations in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Macron said.
Russia’s foreign ministry released a similar statement on Wednesday that said fighters of “illegal armed groups” from Syria and Libya “are being deployed to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone in order to directly take part in fighting.” A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry reiterated the comments and said Moscow has proof that foreign militants are being moved to the conflict zone in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia has accused Turkey of sending mercenaries from northern Syria to support Azerbaijan in the fighting. On Wednesday, the Guardian reported at least three Syrian fighters were killed in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Guardian spoke with family members of Syrians who were sent to Azerbaijan with the Hamza Division, a Turkish-backed Syrian opposition group that Ankara has previously deployed to Libya.
Turkey was quick to voice its support for Azerbaijan when the fighting first broke out on Sunday. Macron has been critical of Turkey’s support for the Azeris and said on Wednesday that Ankara’s “warlike” rhetoric was fueling the conflict.
On Thursday, the US, Russia, and France released a joint statement on the conflict that called for a ceasefire and negotiations between the two sides. The three countries co-chair the Minsk Group, an organization set up in 1992 to promote a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rebuked the statement from the three powers. “Given that the USA, Russia and France have neglected this problem for nearly 30 years, it is unacceptable that they are involved in a search for a ceasefire,” he said.