“The Armenian sides are in total control of the situation. We are confident in our capacities to protect Armenia and Artsakh, and ensure the security and rights of the Armenian people in their homeland,” an Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson exclusively told Greek City Times.
Credible reports have emerged that Turkey is transferring its militant proxies based in northern Syria to Azerbaijan as tensions and skirmishes with Armenia rapidly increase.
Award winning journalist Lindsey Snell, who was once kidnapped by Turkish-backed terrorists in northern Syria and then thrown into a Turkish jail for two months after her escape from Syria, wrote on Twitter that fighters from the Hamza Division had arrived in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku via Turkey.
Earlier this year, the Hamza Division were exposed for holding naked and abused women in prison. They are made up mostly of Arabs and Turkmen, and have become a moveable proxy force for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
With the Libyan War escalating earlier this year, the Hamza Division were one of the main fighting groups transferred by Turkey to fight in the North African country on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood Government of National Accords whose United Nations mandate to rule over Libya expired in December 2017. The promise of a $2000 monthly wage was to much of a temptation for many of the Syrian jihadists, however, as Adnan, a leader of Hamza division, said in June, “Now we regret coming. The price we paid is high.”
When asked on Twitter whether most of the fighters going to Azerbaijan are coming from Syria or Libya, Snell revealed they are mostly coming from Syria but that around 70 militants had also been in Libya.
Snell also uploaded a voice recording of a militant claiming that up to 1,000 fighters will be transferred to Azerbaijan.
Kevork Almassian, founder of Syriana Analysis and a Syrian-born Armenian whose brother was once kidnapped by Turkish-backed jihadists, also reported that Syrian opposition sources revealed that jihadists are being offered a $600 a month salary to fight with Azerbaijan against Armenia.
However, when asked by Greek City Times about reports that Turkey is transferring Hamza Division militants from Syria to Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs flatly denied the accusations.
“The allegations are groundless and completely misleading. Recently, we observed in some foreign media a slanderous campaign against Azerbaijan, spreading absolutely groundless and fake information in this regard,” an Azerbaijani spokesperson told Greek City Times.
Rather, the Azerbaijani Foreign ministry spokesperson told Greek City Times that Armenia is “behind this fake campaign.”
“It is nothing else but desperate attempts by Armenia to divert the attention of the international community, while facing a mobilization and planning problem to recruit armed groups on a voluntary basis, including foreign mercenaries. There is no doubt that Armenia, which has recruited mercenaries and terrorists from the Middle East as part of its aggressive policy against Azerbaijan, is behind this fake campaign,” the spokesperson said.
Although Baku says that the claims that Syrian jihadists are being transferred to Azerbaijan is a “fake campaign” orchestrated by Armenia, the sources used by Snell and Almassian are from the so-called “Syrian National Army” that are armed, trained and backed by Turkey.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at loggerheads with each other over the territory of Artsakh, or more commonly known as Nagorno-Karabakh, since the Soviet Union begun collapsing in the late 1980’s.
Although Stalin promised Artsakh to the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, he ultimately granted the region to the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic, albeit with autonomy. This served two purposes – a continuation of the Soviet divide-and-rule strategy in the Caucasus, and a hope to turn Turkey into a socialist state by appeasing their Azeri Turkish kin.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, which resulted in the creation of 15 new countries including Armenia and Azerbaijan, created chaos throughout the Caucasus as wars broke out as a result of Stalin’s artificial borders that left ethnic groups detached from their kin.
In 1921, it was estimated that Artsakh was 94% Armenian. According to the 1989 census, Artsakh’s population was approximately 75% ethnic Armenian (145,000) and 25% ethnic Azeri (40,688). Although there was a significant increase in the Azeri population in Artsakh in the 20th Century, former Soviet Azerbaijani leader Heydar Aliyev, father of current dictator Ilham Aliyev, revealed why this occurred in 2002.
“I tried to change demographics there. Nagorno-Karabakh petitioned for the opening of an institute of higher education there. [In Azerbaijan] everybody was against it. After deliberations I decided to open one, but on condition that there would be three sectors — Azerbaijani, Russian and Armenian. After [the institute] opened we no longer sent Azerbaijanis from the neighboring regions to Baku [and] instead [sent them] there. With these and other measures I tried to increase the number of Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh and the number of Armenians decreased.”
Despite these efforts of systematic demographic change, Artsakh today is 95% ethnic Armenian.
The collapse of the Soviet Union unsurprisingly led to the Artsakh War, which ended in a ceasefire on May 12, 1994 after a decisive Armenian victory led to a de facto independence for Artsakh, albeit unrecognized by no state, including Armenia, but being almost entirely reliant on Yerevan.
Skirmishes have been commonplace since 1994, with serious escalations in April 2016 and July this year when Azerbaijan launched an attack on Armenia’s northeast Tavush province. Although Azerbaijan’s defense budget is $2.267 billion, about five times larger than Armenia’s, the July clashes proved costly with 21 soldiers killed, 13 UAV’s downed and three tanks destroyed to Armenia’s five soldiers and two police officers killed in action.
An Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Greek City Times that the July clashes were a result of a “massive miscalculation by Azerbaijan.”
“The main reason for sparking this escalation was a massive miscalculation by Azerbaijan that thought the use of force and a maximalist stance can produce desirable results for them on the ground and bring a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The July battles clearly showed the total failure of this policy by Azerbaijan to the extent that Azerbaijan, who were openly portraying itself as a dominating military force, began seeking politico-military assistance from external forces in the region,” Anna Naghdalyan, a spokeswoman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, told Greek City Times.
When asked about the transfer of Turkish-backed Syrian militants to Azerbaijan, the spokeswoman said “transnational threats, including that of movement or transfer of foreign terrorist fighters to conflict areas are of great concern, they are deplorable and they should be addressed.”
“As Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan stated during his official visit to Egypt, we are getting reports about the use of foreign terrorist fighters to be transferred to Azerbaijan or maybe they are already transferred. Given the precedents of the use of extremists by Azerbaijan back in 1992-93 and the exportation of terrorist elements to different regions by Turkey, we take such a threat very seriously,” she added.
During the Artsakh War in the early 1990’s, Azerbaijan recruited an assortment of foreign jihadists and Turkish ultra-nationalists like leftover mujahedeen from Afghanistan that fought the Soviet Union in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Chechen and other North Caucasian jihadists, and Turkish Far-Right Grey Wolves terrorists.
Although the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry claimed it is Armenia recruiting “foreign mercenaries,” the example they use is Monte Melkonian, a California-born revolutionary and academic who descended from Armenian Genocide survivors
“The name of Monte Melkonian, leader of the ASALA terrorist organization in Lebanon, who participated in the occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and has been glorified later by the Government of Armenia, is a vivid example of the policy of recruiting terrorist mercenaries by Armenia,” the Azerbaijani spokesperson told Greek City Times.
Melkonian, who was declared a National Hero of Armenia in 1996, believed that if Artsakh was lost, the Armenians would “turn the final page of our people’s history.”
In another move by the Soviet Union to appease Turkey in the hope it would become a Soviet Socialist state, the historically Armenian region of Nakhchivan was gifted to Azerbaijan after Moscow and Turkey signed the Treaty of Kars in 1921, creating the unusual borders that exist today.
Melkonian believed that if the Armenians lost Artsakh to Azerbaijan, they would next lose Syunik Province, the thin strip of land separating Artsakh and Nakhchivan. This would not only give Turkey direct access to the oil and gas rich Caspian Sea at the expense of historically Armenian territory, but it could have also led to a union between Turkey and Azerbaijan as millions of nationalists in their respective countries want.
The Turks and Azeris, as linguistic and cultural kin, do not hide away from their close knit relations.
At the beginning of this month, Aliyev told the newly appointed Greek ambassador to Azerbaijan, Nikolaos Piperigos, that “we support them [Turkey] on all issues, including the issue of intelligence in the Eastern Mediterranean.”.
“I can tell you, and it is no secret, that Turkey is not only our friend and partner, but also a brotherly country for us. Without any hesitation whatsoever, we support Turkey and will support it under any circumstances,” the Azerbaijani dictator added.
Erdoğan in a joint speech in 2010 with his Azeri counterpart stated that “Turkish-Azerbaijani cooperation is based not only on strong solidarity between our states, but also on common history and unity of our hearts. Turkish and Azerbaijani people speak the same language, have common history. Our relations built on this sound foundation and strengthening on the basis of the ‘one nation, two states’ principle.”
This brotherly sentiment was continued by Aliyev after Erdoğan, saying that “we are also paying tribute to the great son of the Turkic world, outstanding leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who will always live in the hearts of Azerbaijani people.”
Just weeks after this years clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey conducted a 13-day joint military exercise with their Azeri kin in a show of force against Armenia.
When asked by Greek City Times about the military situation in Armenia, Naghdalyan said “the Armenian sides are in total control of the situation. We are confident in our capacities to protect Armenia and Artsakh, ensure the security and rights of the Armenian people in their homeland.”
“And it’s with this full confidence that we underline – there is no alternative to the strictly peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – the military solution is totally ruled out,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman added.
Although Baku denies Syrian jihadists are being relocated by Turkey to its territory, it must be considered that Ankara openly announced that they transferred Syrian fighters to Libya earlier this year, the Azerbaijani’s have undoubtedly used jihadists in the first Artsakh war, and most reports of Syrian fighters being transferred to Azerbaijan are coming from Turkish-backed militants themselves.
Snell also added on Twitter that the brother of a Hamza terrorist told her that another batch of Syrian jihadists were in transit to Azerbaijan.
The spokespersons of both Armenia and Azerbaijan emphasized to Greek City Times that they want to resolve their disputes peacefully and through negotiations. However, this appears to be unlikely with Turkey conducting a show of military might against Armenia so shortly after the July clashes and as it gears up transfers of Syrian militants to Azerbaijan, according to Turkish-backed militants themselves.
Aliyev said only days ago that Azerbaijan and Turkey conduct military exercises every year and that “there is nothing unusual here.”
“Yes, this time it coincided with the [July] Tovuz incident. Armenia should think about whether it was coincidence or not. These drills once again demonstrate our unity. There are only 80 kilometers (49 miles) between the Azerbaijan-Armenia border in Nakhchivan and Yerevan. Armenia knows it, and this intimidates them. I think that they stress out because of this fear,” he said provocatively.
The distance between Nakhchivan and Artsakh is even less than that of Nakhchivan to Yerevan. If Aliyev is already making indirect threats to the Armenian capital, then there would be little doubt that he would also be eyeing Syunik Province that Melkonian had desperately defended by fighting and dying in Artsakh.
Will Turkish-backed Syrian jihadists be used to not only take Artsakh, but also Syunik Province?