Armenian public radio published video footage on Thursday allegedly depicting an imam in Syria recruiting mercenaries to fight for Azerbaijan against Armenia in its ongoing conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The footage was reportedly shot in the northern Syrian city of Afrin, less than 20 miles from the Turkish border. In the video, an Islamic religious leader “is seen calling on those present to join in waging a war against Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] on the part of Azerbaijan, as they did in Syria and Libya,” according to Public Radio of Armenia.
Afrin’s close proximity to Turkey is notable, as recent reports indicate that Ankara has been recruiting Syrian militants to join Azerbaijani forces in their fight against Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway territory. Turkey and Azerbaijan deny these claims.
Ethnic Armenian separatists seized Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The uprising ignited a war that killed at least 30,000 people. An uneasy ceasefire in 1994 ended the war, although sporadic skirmishes between the two sides in the region have continued ever since. The most recent fighting, which began on September 27, has already surpassed any previous clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh since 1994.
The territory is inhabited by a majority of ethnic Armenians but legally belongs to Azerbaijan. It is ruled not by the state of Armenia, but by a separatist government comprised of ethnic Armenians who have declared the region the Republic of Artsakh. Both Artsakh and Armenia are majority Christian, while Azerbaijan is majority Muslim. Turkey considers Azerbaijan, with its ethnically Turkic population, a sibling state.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tweeted his support for Baku immediately after fighting broke out late last month.
“The Turkish people will support our Azerbaijani brothers with all our means as always,” he wrote.
Since then, countries including Syria, France, and Armenia, as well as the U.K. newspaper the Guardian, have accused Turkey of sending Syrian mercenaries to Azerbaijan to help bolster its ground forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
French President Emmanuel Macron last week cited intelligence reports allegedly establishing that “300 Syrian fighters drawn from ‘jihadist groups’ from the Syrian city of Aleppo had passed through the Turkish city of Gaziantep en route for Azerbaijan.”
The city of Afrin, where Thursday’s alleged recruiting video was reportedly shot, is located halfway between Aleppo and the Turkish border.
“These fighters are known, tracked, and identified,” Macron claimed. The French leader promised on October 2 to call Erdoğan “in the coming days” to confront him over the crossing of a “red line.” Macron said he urged “all NATO partners to face up to the behavior of a NATO member.”