The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has confirmed the presence of the militia on Azeri soil during the clashes with Armenia in which at least 30 people lost their lives

Turkey transfers mercenaries to Azerbaijan border

AFP / AZERBAIJANI MINISTRY OF DEFENCE - Azeri troops conducting a combat operation during the clashes on 28 September 2020 between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh border region

The old ghosts of the past return to the Caucasus. The escalation of tension in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, has completely exploded. Last Friday's rumours that a group of Turkish mercenaries had been transferred from Libya and Syria to the Azeri country have been confirmed. 

Very reliable sources have informed the Syrian Observatory that a batch of Syrian fighters of Turkish-backed factions has arrived in Azerbaijan from Turkey. This batch arrived in Turkey a few days earlier from Afrin in north-western countryside of Aleppo.

SOHR sources have confirmed that there is another batch being prepared to be sent to Azerbaijan. These developments come as a part of Turkey’s policy of turning the Syrian fighters into mercenaries.

At the end of last week, nobody could confirm this information. But reliable sources informed SOHR that the Turkish government transported over 300 fighters of the Turkish-backed Syrian factions, mostly of “Sultan Murad” and “Al-Amshat” factions, from the villages and towns of Afrin canton in north-western Aleppo.

The fighters themselves said that they were taken to Azerbaijan in order to guard the state’s border in return for salaries of 1,500 to 2,000 USD. However, SOHR did not verify if the mercenaries’ destination would be Azerbaijan, Libya or somewhere else.

Tropas azerbaiyanas
Martial law and the resumption of direct confrontation 

Recent months have seen an unprecedented escalation in tension, although the area has always been a hot spot between the two countries. Since the ceasefire in 1994, Armenia has controlled 20% of the Azerbaijani territory surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh region, self-proclaimed an Independent Republic of Artsaj in 1991 (no UN country has recognised this state). 

Azerbaijan wants to regain control of the territory, both of Nagorno-Karabakh and of the area occupied by Armenia, and has the support of Turkey for this purpose. On the other hand, Armenia has had the veiled support of Russia, which has not yet proclaimed itself in view of the breakdown of the ceasefire last weekend. 

At least 31 soldiers of the independent Republic of Artsaj have died since Sunday as a result of the Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes in this border region. The president of Nagorno-Karabakh, Arayik Harutyunyan, reported on Sunday on his Facebook page that "dozens" of military personnel died or were injured. “Dozens of servicemen were killed, many were injured. There are civilian casualties,” the leader added. 

Harutyunyan said that Azerbaijan had used "Turkish F-16 fighters", which had arrived in the country "a month ago" under the pretext of participating in military exercises, in the attack. 

mapa Armenia y Azerbaiyán

Although Harutyunyan did not specify the number of soldiers killed at first, the Ministry of Defence of Nagorno-Karabakh has been updating the number of casualties throughout Sunday night, publishing the identity of the dead soldiers, according to the Armenian press. 

Like the chronicle of a death foretold, this confrontation was seen coming hours before, as both the authorities of Nagorno Karabakh and the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, decreed martial law and a general mobilisation. 

"The authoritarian regime of [Azerbaijani President Ilham] Aliyev has resumed its hostilities", said the President of Armenia, Pashinyan added. 

The question of who started first has been left up in the air. For its part, Azerbaijan has reported this Sunday on attacks by the Armenian army on its military installations in the region, as well as on civilians, although it has not yet determined the number of casualties and wounded.

Previous conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan

The last major violence in Nagorno-Karabakh took place in 2016. Baku and Yerevan clashed in a four-day war that began on April 2 after the death of an Armenian soldier. More than 300 people were killed. 

The parties agreed to lay down their weapons after a series of negotiations in Moscow, but the fighting has continued sporadically. Last July, there was fighting in the area separating the Azeri region of Tovuz from the Armenian province of Tavush, near Georgia, several hundred kilometres from Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Turkey, which clearly shares a position with Azerbaijan in this conflict, has taken advantage of recent events to point to "Armenia's aggressive attitude" as "the biggest obstacle to peace and stability in the Caucasus". 

"Because Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian military forces are positioned close to each other and have little to no communication, there is a high risk that inadvertent military action could lead to an escalation of the conflict", explained the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) in a recent report. 

In this connection, the think tank explains that "both sides have domestic political interests that could lead their respective leaders to launch an attack", to which it adds that "Russia has promised to defend Armenia, Turkey has given support to Azerbaijan and Iran, which has a large Azeri minority, could become involved".

Presidente Azerbaiyán
Nagorno-Karabakh, a territorial conflict without economic interests. 

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over this territory (which has an Armenian ethnic majority) since the beginning of the last century, but it was after the fall of the Soviet Union that a war took place between the two countries (1991-1994). 

Approximately 30,000 people died before a ceasefire was declared in 1994, which has been broken intermittently since then. After the ceasefire, Armenia, which supports the right to self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh, took control by occupying some of Azerbaijan's territories (which account for 20% of the country's territory), making any cessation of hostilities conditional on the return of these areas. 

In order to seek a negotiated solution to the conflict, the so-called Minsk Group (Belarus), co-chaired by the United States, Russia and France, was set up in 1994. This group also includes Belarus, Finland, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Turkey, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the leadership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). 

Primer ministro armenio

On two occasions there have been possibilities of signing the peace. One in Madrid in 2009, where both sides agreed on three points: that the inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh could decide whether to be from Armenia or Azerbaijan, that the Armenian army should withdraw to its borders and cease to control the surroundings of the Republic of Artsaj and, finally, that Azerbaijan would guarantee a corridor between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

But these three points remained unresolved until 2020, when the Munich Security Conference was held in February. This was the first time that the Armenian prime minister Niko Pashinyan and the Azeri president Ilham Aliyev were seen together in public and debated the historical belonging to one territory or another.  

During this conference they had time to meet in private and discuss the future of the region. They never declared to the media an upcoming scale of hostilities like the one that occurred this weekend, but it seems that the conflict is rekindling and external countries like Turkey will not miss the opportunity to support its allies.

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