Turkey may be in the process of sending Afghan fighters to the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Christian nonprofit International Rescue Committee (ICC) said on Sunday.
ICC made its claim after citing a statement from the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh’s foreign minister, who warned that Turkey was deploying the fighters to the territory where it supports its ally Azerbaijan’s claims to the region.
“In the occupied parts of Nagorno-Karabakh there are already a lot of international terrorist groups controlled by Turkey that are out of Azerbaijani control. This way Turkey is strengthening its position in Azerbaijan,” Nagorno-Karabakh Foreign Minister David Babayan told the Armenian outlet news.am.
Artsakh is the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh and the Republic of Artsakh is a country that is not recognized by any other country, including Armenia.
“After the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, some of the Al Qaeda militants were immediately deployed in the Artsakh Republic territories [now] occupied by Azerbaijan,” Babayan told news.am in an interview on August 30. He accused Turkey of deploying these militants as a way to exert pressure on Azerbaijan.
It is unclear what evidence Babayan was relying on to make his assertion about Afghan fighters being transported to the region. Turkey has sought out a limited role in securing Kabul’s international airport after the Taliban’s takeover of the country last month.
During last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey was widely reported to have deployed Syrian mercenaries to support Azerbaijan amidst its 44-day war against Armenia. The conflict came to an end after a truce was brokered by Russia that allowed Azerbaijan to maintain swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh and deployed Russian peacekeepers to the region.
The peace has been tense, owing to skirmishes along the border that Armenia and Russia accuse Azerbaijan of instigating. Baku denies the charges and has pushed Russia to better monitor ceasefire violations.
Turkey has claimed that it is ready for talks about reconciliation with Armenia with whom it has no diplomatic relations. On Sunday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is “not closed to talks” with Armenia if it takes steps in that direction.
Armenia’s Foreign Minister Nikol Pashinyan for his part has said he sees the possibility for normalization, but the Armenian foreign ministry has said any talks between the two states are only ongoing in a multilateral format.