Syrian recruit describes role of foreign fighters in Nagorno-Karabakh

Deployment of 1,000 Syrians to Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict shows Ankara’s rise in region

A Syrian fighter sent into combat with Azerbaijani forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh has detailed the extent of foreign involvement in the new conflict with Armenia that, after six days of clashes, is taking on a regional dimension.

The deployment of 1,000 Syrian fighters working for a private Turkish security firm, as well as Ankara’s outspoken support for Azerbaijan in the worst fighting between the two neighbours since 1994, confirms Turkey’s rise as a regional power – and threatens to upset the fragile status quo in the Caucasus, long seen as Russia’s domain.

The fresh fighting showed no signs of abating on Friday as Armenia accused Azerbaijan of striking civilian infrastructure in Stepanakert, the main city in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as targeting artillery fire at a bus carrying Russian and Armenian journalists.

Azerbaijan rejected a statement from Armenia saying Yerevan was ready to work with mediators for a ceasefire, saying Armenia must first withdraw its troops.

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Ankara is now facing off with Moscow in three different theatres: the two countries support opposite sides in Syria, Libya and now Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey has longstanding cultural and economic ties with Azerbaijan. Russia has a military alliance with Armenia, but also maintains links to Baku’s ruling elite and sells weapons to both sides.

The fresh fighting and presence of hostile Syrian forces so close to its borders will also alarm Iran.

Read more: The Guardian