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October 23, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8986

Presence Of Fighters From Syria In Nagorno Karabakh Ramps Up The Pressure On Russia To Intervene

October 23, 2020
Russia, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 8986

So far Russia has refrained from intervening militarily in the Nagorno Karabakh fighting, preferring to nudge Armenia and Azerbaijan to a truce that Russian peacekeeping forces will enforce. A new complication arose when on October 14, 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that " Hundreds of fighters from Syrian militias allied with Turkey have joined the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, and hundreds more are preparing to go, according to two Syrians involved in the effort."[1]

This could serve as a pretext for Russian military intervention. In Syria, Russia justified its intervention not only as a response to the invitation of Bashar Assad, but also by the need to root out Islamist terror. Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs, said that the Armenian authorities should officially notify Moscow that Syrian militants are fighting on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, in that case Russia can announce the start of a counter-terrorist operation in this region. Nikol Pashinyan, the Armenian Prime Minister, had charged earlier that Syrian militants were participating in the Karabakh conflict on Azerbaijan's side, and therefore Russia has the legitimate right to conduct a military operation in Karabakh.

Kosachev qualified his remarks: "It is necessary to assess the reliability of this information, the danger and risks that will arise. Naturally, Yerevan must send us an official appeal, and not just a conclusion that Russia has grounds [to conduct an operation]," explained Kosachev.[2]

An article by Andrey Kots in the state-operated Ria Novosti news agency titled "Real Animals" reached the firm conclusion that the charges were true, although it did note denials and countercharges from Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Kots' article follows below:[3]


Islamist fighters (Source: Freeazerbaijan.com)

 “Fanatical, armed to the teeth, motivated and prepared” - the fact that Syrian militants are taking part in a new Karabakh war was confirmed by several high-level sources. As the American Wall Street Journal recently reported, extremists are being thrown into the conflict zone in groups of about a hundred people. They are being paid well. RIA Novosti tried to figure out how everything is organized and what kind of people those militants are.

"Arabs On A Video

"According to Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, thousands of radicals are active in Nagorno-Karabakh. They are militants of the international terrorist organizations “Jabhat al-Nusra”, “Firkat Hamza”, “Sultan Murad”, as well as of several Kurdish groups."


Sergei Naryshkin (Source: Ria.ru)

"Earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron said that 300 radicals were redeployed from Syria to Baku via the Turkish [city of] Gaziantep. The President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev demanded an apology from France, stressing that his military does not use the services of mercenaries. But numerous videos on the Web suggest otherwise.

"The Azerbaijani military does not publish videos from their positions, but the Syrian militants are not bashful. For example, the author of one of the videos walks along an earthen embankment past the corpses of Armenian soldiers and calls them “pigs” in Arabic and intersperses the commentary with whoops of “Allah Akbar!” In another video, a group of militants dressed in mismatched camouflage suits are firing from personal firearms and a heavy caliber machinegun mounted onto the back of a pickup truck. Gun trucks are the Syrian terrorists’ weapon of choice. Clearly audible orders in Arabic leave no doubt about their nationality.

"'Up to five thousand militants mostly from the so-called “Syrian National Army” (based in Idlib) are active in Nagorno-Karabakh. This is a rather motley formation of many groups. For example, SNA has the "Al-Hamza Division". It was the militants of this gang, who appeared in the first reliable video, proving their participation in the Karabakh conflict. [In the video] they directly indicated their affiliation to the gang and called on their “colleagues” to hurry to Azerbaijan. The experts have determined the geolocation of the video to be the Azerbaijani city of Horadiz.” - Abbas Juma, an international journalist and Middle East expert, told RIA Novosti."


Abbas Juma (Source: Radio.kp.ru)

"The expert is certain that the Al-Hamza militants arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh from Libya, where they fought against the army of Marshal Khalifa Haftar on the side of the Transitional National Council supported by Turkey. They were redeployed to Azerbaijan by Turkish transport planes, and got to the battle zone by automobile. According to the Armenian side, about two thousand militants are directly involved in the battles. Yerevan and Stepanakert explain the absence of the dead radicals' bodies by the fact that the extremists quickly remove their dead and wounded from the battlefield. Last week, the  “Al-Arabiya” TV channel, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that about a hundred odd mercenaries had been killed in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"Elite Militants

"The "Al-Hamza" division is considered to be one of the most combat-ready groups in the SNA. Its militants have been fighting continuously since 2013. Since its formation, the gang has enjoyed active financial and material support from the United States and Turkey. In particular, in the Syrian arsenals of “Al Hamza” has plenty of BGN-71 TOW American anti-tank missile systems. The leader of the gang is the Turkish military intelligence officer Seif Abu Bakr, who for many years was Ankara’s secret agent in ISIS.

"Turkey actively used the services of 'Al-Hamza' and other SNA groups in Syria. During Operation “Euphrates Shield” in August 2016, the militants of the 'division' were among the first to enter Jerabulus and Karkamysh in the north of the country.

"The radicals, advancing in unified battle formations with the Turkish army and using its air and artillery support, displayed extreme cruelty towards the local Kurdish population. In 2018, “Al-Hamza” participated in the Turkish invasion of Afrin as part of Operation “Olive Branch”, and in 2019-2020 it actively supported its handlers from Ankara during the advance in Idlib.

"Al-Hamza has an extensive network of training camps equipped with the latest technology. The command staff is trained in two full-fledged academies. Material support is also at the highest level: last year they announced the launch of production of their own armored cars in Idlib. Even like-minded people in the SNA consider them to be “scumbags” capable of any atrocities against the civilian population.

"Cannon Fodder

“'This group is one of the most pugnacious in the SNA. For the Karabakh “business trip” they selected militants, who possessed vast experience. Karabakh is more attractive for them than Syria or Libya: they are being paid more and the conditions are not so difficult. Many see this war as “paid leave”. The SNA militants in general and “Al-Hamza” militants in particular are well armed, equipped and trained by Turkish instructors.' – emphasized Abbas Juma.

"The expert admits that Azerbaijan has a numerical and technological advantage over Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Actually, this card is being played by Baku, when it denies cooperation with the militants: 'Why do we need mercenaries, if we have a fine army of our own?' However, the Syrians have a lot of combat experience. They are in the vanguard, solve the most difficult challenges, [and] do the dirty work. In fact, they are cannon fodder, which is not being saved. For the population, the death of “random” militants, who have nothing to do with Azerbaijan, does not mean anything, unlike a procession of coffins filled with soldiers of their regular army.

"However, for these hardy cut-throats, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh was not a cakewalk easy. As The Wall Street Journal reported (citing its own sources) losses among Syrian militants are growing very quickly and about 200 radicals are already wanting to go home - apparently, “paid vacation” did not work out well for them.

"Counter Accusations

"The Azerbaijani authorities and Turkey categorically deny the participation of foreign mercenaries in combat on the side of Baku and, in turn, accuse Yerevan of attracting militants to their side. For example, Ankara’s ambassador to the United States, Serdar Kilic, stated during the first week of the conflict, that Iraqi Kurds were fighting on Armenia’s side.

"'There are indeed mercenaries and terrorists in the battle zone in the South Caucasus, but they are fighting on the side of the Armenian Armed Forces. I’m talking about the militants from the terrorist organization “Kurdish Workers' Party”. There is clear evidence of the transfer of PKK terrorists from the north of Iraq to Armenia.” - the Turkish agency “Anadolu” quoted the diplomat.

"The ambassador called the information that Turkey is sending militants from Syria to Azerbaijan a fantasy. “Ankara did not send Syrian mercenaries to the conflict zone and does not finance them.” - stressed the diplomat.

"Earlier, the state security service of Azerbaijan reported that it had intercepted the discussions of mercenaries, who participated in the hostilities in Karabakh. The ministry claimed that “terrorists associated with the Kurdish Workers' Party” communicated by radio. President Armen Sarkissian, in turn, categorically denied these accusations, stressing that Kurds and Yezidis live in his country, but they are citizens of Armenia.


Andrey Kots (Source: Newokruga.ru)

 

[1] Wsj.com, October 14, 2020.

[2] Mk.ru, October 20, 2020.

[3] Ria.ru, October 19, 2020.

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