French President Macron with Armenian President Sarkissian

October 24 Update: Turkish/Foreign Fighters and FM Visit to Washington

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WASHINGTON — On October 23, Foreign Minister of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, who is on a working visit to the United States, met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

According to Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the main subject of the discussion was the situation in Artsakh resulting from the Azerbaijani large-scale aggression. Minister Mnatsakanyan informed the US Secretary of State about the war crimes committed by the Azerbaijani armed forces during the hostilities, which are manifested by the deliberate targeting of the civilian population of Artsakh, humiliating treatment of civilians and prisoners of war, beheadings and murders.

Pompeo expressed his condolences.

Mnatsakanyan highlighted that the Azerbaijani aggression is accompanied by the direct involvement of Turkey, which is manifested in its immediate military-technical support and transferring of foreign terrorist fighters to the region. According to Minister Mnatsakanyan, Azerbaijan’s decision to turn itself into Turkey’s zone of influence and a hotbed of international terrorism is a serious threat to regional security.

He added that the violation of the ceasefire agreements by Azerbaijan and the continuation of hostilities against the people of Artsakh once again demonstrate Azerbaijan’s goal of resolving the issue by military means.

Both sides reiterated the need for the immediate implementation of the agreements on cessation of hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, as well as the continuation of the peace process within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-Chairs.

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The participation of international fighters as well as Turkish weaponry in Azerbaijan has been the topic of the past few days.

According to RFE/RL, senior Russian and Armenian diplomats demanded the immediate removal of foreign mercenaries from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone when they discussed continuing hostilities there on Friday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov and the Armenian ambassador in Moscow, Vartan Toghanian, “exchanged thoughts in the context of the continuing escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.”

Destruction in Stepanakert as a result of cluster bombs

“They emphasized the unacceptability of the deployment to the region of militants of illegal armed groups from a number of Middle Eastern and North African countries and the necessity of their immediate withdrawal from there,” the ministry said in a short statement.

Russia implicitly accused Turkey of recruiting “terrorists and mercenaries” from Syria and Libya for the Azerbaijani army shortly after the outbreak of the ongoing war over Karabakh on September 27. The Russian foreign intelligence chief, Sergei Naryshkin, warned on October 6 that the region could become a “launch pad” for Islamist militants to enter Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign and defense ministers have raised the matter with their Turkish counterparts in phone calls reported in recent weeks.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on October 22 that Russian “military experts” and other officials are serious dealing with “this issue.” She did not elaborate.

“I can assure you that very active work is being done in a non-public manner,” Zakharova told reporters. “This is a really serious problem for us.”

Ankara strongly denies sending members of Turkish-backed groups to fight in Karabakh on Azerbaijan’s side. Baku also denies the presence of such mercenaries in the Azerbaijani army ranks.

Multiple reports by Western media have quoted members of Islamist rebel groups in areas of northern Syria under Turkish control as saying over the past month that they are deploying to Azerbaijan in coordination with the Turkish government.

France also stepped up on October 23 criticism of Turkey’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that it is hampering international efforts to stop fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

“Our objective is clear: to see the ceasefire applied,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said after President Emmanuel Macron met with his Armenian counterpart Armen Sarkissian in Paris.

“The President [Macron] is working closely with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin for this,” tweeted Attal. “The solution to this conflict can only be found in appeasement. That is why it is imperative that Turkey cease its dangerous provocations in the region.”

Shortly after the outbreak of large-scale hostilities in and around Karabakh on September 27 Macron accused Turkey of recruiting jihadist fighters in Syria and sending them to Azerbaijan. “I urge all NATO partners to face up to the behavior of a NATO member,” the French leader said on October 1.

The situation in the conflict zone was the main focus of Macron’s talks with Sarkissian. A statement by the Armenian presidential press office said the two leaders agreed on the need for an unconditional implementation of Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire agreements that were brokered by Moscow and Paris earlier this month.

The statement cited Sarkissian as saying that Turkey’s military support for Azerbaijan is “further escalating the situation and endangering regional peace and stability.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week that “the only country which isn’t calling for respect of the ceasefire is Turkey.”

However, Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay told the CNN Turk broadcaster on October 20 that Ankara will not hesitate to send troops to Azerbaijan if such a request is made by Baku.

Finally, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Azerbaijan on Friday, October 23, of repeatedly using widely banned cluster munitions in the shelling of civilian areas in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“During an on-site investigation in Nagorno-Karabakh in October 2020, Human Rights Watch documented four incidents in which Azerbaijan used cluster munitions,” the U.S.-based group said in a report.

The report says that HRW researchers have identified the “remnants of Israeli-produced LAR-160 series cluster munition rockets” in the Karabakh capital Stepanakert and the town of Hadrut and examined damage caused by them.

“Azerbaijan received these surface-to-surface rockets and launchers from Israel in 2008–2009,” it says.

“The continued use of cluster munitions – particularly in populated areas – shows flagrant disregard for the safety of civilians,” said Stephen Goose, the head of HRW’s arms division sector.

“The repeated use of cluster munitions by Azerbaijan should cease immediately as their continued use serves to heighten the danger for civilians for years to come,” Goose said.

London-based Amnesty International also condemned the use of cluster rockets against residential areas in Karabakh following the September 27 outbreak of large-scale hostilities between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. In an October 5 statement, it described the practice as “appalling and unacceptable.”

 

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