Turkey Claims Armenia Sending Syrian Kurds to Fight Azerbaijan

Armenian servicemen of the self-defense army of Nagorno-Karabakh fire an artillery shell towards Azeri forces from their positions in the town of Martakert in Armenian-seized Azerbaijani region of Nagorny Karabakh on April 3, 2016. Clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces rumbled on April 3, despite Baku announcing a ceasefire after …
VAHRAM BAGHDASARYAN/AFP via Getty Images

Turkish officials and state media outlets have repeatedly accused Armenia this week of recruiting Kurdish fighters from Syria and Iraq to aid in their ongoing military engagement against Azerbaijan, a claim the president of Armenia dismissed as “nonsense” on Wednesday.

The Turkish allegation — most recently published by the state-run Anadolu news agency on Tuesday — asserts that Yerevan has imported members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group, and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), to the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The YPG is a U.S.-allied militia that played a major role in the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), particularly in the capital of the ISIS “caliphate,” Raqqa.

Turkey treats the U.S. allies and the U.S.-designated terror group as the same organization and has invaded both Syria and Iraq to bomb alleged PKK positions, angering both governments. Erdogan’s government has also persecuted Kurds living within Turkey, including Kurdish politicians imprisoned on dubious charges of alliances with “terrorist” groups. In Diyarbakir, the southern Turkish city considered the nation’s most important Kurdish stronghold, Turkish law enforcement officers have imposed curfews on civilians for years and stand accused of a wide variety of human rights atrocities against locals.

Azerbaijan and Armenia are engaged in heavy fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh that erupted this weekend; both sides claim the other fired the first shot. Nagorno-Karabakh is technically within Azeri territory but is majority-Armenian and run by a separatist group that asserts the region’s sovereignty. It is not widely recognized as a country, though Armenian officials teased that they may soon do so.

Turkey is involved in Nagorno-Karabakh as an ally of Azerbaijan, as Ankara considers Azeris ethnic Turks and perpetrated a genocide in 1915 that almost eradicated Armenians entirely. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered any help to Baku that Azerbaijan requests.

Anadolu Agency reported on Tuesday that unnamed “security sources” had revealed that militias “trained by” the Kurdish forces were now active in Nagorno-Karabakh on behalf of the Armenians.

“Over the past few months, Armenia has brought some 300 YPG/PKK terrorists from Middle Eastern countries to the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region to train Armenian militias, said the sources, requesting anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media,” Anadolu claimed, offering no evidence. “Armenian militias trained by YPG/PKK terrorists in Nagorno-Karabakh are the ones being used to target Azerbaijani civilians, the sources added.”

The Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan, Khazar Ibrahim, told Anadolu on the record on Monday that the PKK was active in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“They [Armenia] adopted a new national security strategy which specifically indicated that they want to occupy new territories of Azerbaijan,” Ibrahim said. “And we know that within the last several months, Armenia started a volunteer program gathering the people, providing them with training, including women.”

The accusation appears to have first surfaced last week, however, before the outburst of military activity over the weekend, in the pro-Erdogan Sabah newspaper.

“YPG/PKK terrorists who received training in Iraq and Syria were transferred to Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region occupied by Armenia to train Armenian militias against Azerbaijan and ultimately open a new front against Turkey,” Sabah claimed, citing “reports.”

“Earlier in September, Armenia proposed to establish a militia of volunteers following tensions with Azerbaijan in the Tovuz region. The YPG/PKK terrorists are expected to train these volunteer fighters, reports said,” Sabah asserted, accusing the Armenian ambassador to Iraq of spearheading the training program.

Yeni Safak, another pro-Erdogan Turkish newspaper and one cited in the Sabah report, has enthusiastically embraced war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Its editor-in-chief, the excitable Ibrahim Karagül, wrote in a column on Monday that “victory is due in the Caucasus” to Turkey soon.

“Armenia is assuming a role in the great showdown against Turkey. It is turning itself into a front. The mission given to Yerevan is one and the same as the mission given to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK] and Daesh [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria, and to terror baron Khalifa Haftar in Libya,” Karagül wrote.

Pro-Erdogan outlets rarely acknowledge that the PKK, a Marxist group, has actively fought radical Islamist groups like ISIS, particularly in Iraq. Haftar is a warlord that Turkey sent troops to fight throughout the past year; there is no clear relationship between Haftar, an ally of Russia’s, and the PKK. Haftar’s militia, the Libyan National Army (LNA), has publicized the capture of at least one Kurdish fighter that traveled to Libya on behalf of Turkey to fight Haftar.

“This is because Armenian attacks do not target Azerbaijan only. It is striking Turkey,” Karagül affirmed this week. “As a country that spoiled their plans to siege from Iraq, from Syria, from the East Mediterranean and the Aegean, Turkey will neither allow the opening of an eastern front nor strategies to siege from the east.”

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian asserted in an interview published Wednesday that claims of PKK fighters present in Nagorno-Karabakh were “nonsense.”

“Turkey can invent or pretend that there are issues with Armenia. This is absolute nonsense that there are PKK fighters in Armenia. Absolute nonsense,” Sarkissian told the Saudi news agency al-Arabiya. “They are also saying that Armenians are targeting the international oil and gas pipelines in Azerbaijan. Again, a nonsense.”

“Turkey can pretend or declare there are PKK fighters, Armenians who want to hit the pipeline. These are all excuses to have their strong presence in Azerbaijan and I think that strong presence of Turkish military in Azerbaijan is another increasing threat to Armenia,” he added.

The campaign to accuse Armenia of importing Kurdish mercenaries is unfolding while multiple news agencies have published evidence that Turkey itself is importing jihadist fighters from Syria, fresh off of fighting the YPG in areas liberated from ISIS. Both Reuters and The Guardian interviewed Syrian fighters who said they were en route to Azerbaijan and offered generous payments for going; some said Turkish private firms had recruited them.

Armenian Ambassador to Moscow Vardan Toganyan accused Turkey of importing 4,000 Syrian jihadists to the Nagorno-Karabakh war theater in remarks this week.

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