Caucasus Reality 17 october — 15:49

Russian media refute Armenian version of Syrian mercenaries in Karabakh



The topic of attracting foreign mercenaries to participate in the armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is being overgrown with new details in the world media, but it still does not receive a solid argumentation base. The evidential foundation used in most cases by the Western quality press is either messenger correspondence with alleged soldiers of fortune, social media posts, or information disseminated by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). This situation raises the question of biased coverage. This is stated in an article published in the Russian 'Nezavisimaya Gazeta' newspaper.

Recently, many media outlets have reported on Azerbaijan allegedly attracting human resources from Syria: The Guardian, The Times, Reuters, Wall Street Journal and BBC. The latter are practically similar in how the texture is presented. In the report of an American business publication from Karabakh, two unnamed sources appear, who say about the same thing: about the number of mercenaries, about their moods and feelings. Characteristically, the BBC explained that the 'Syrian mercenaries' gave comments to journalists through the messenger, while the Wall Street Journal does not enter into the course of exactly how the exclusive information was obtained.

The publication notes that, of course, social networks remain the way of disseminating messages about Syrian mercenaries' participation in the conflict on the side of Azerbaijan. This is stated in a study by the Caspian and Black Sea Analysis Foundation (CCBS), an analytical centre in Bulgaria.

Lindsey Snell

The Centre draws attention to the fact that one of the first publications of September 21 on this matter was based on the message of a certain Syrian of Armenian origin Kevork Almasyan. On the same day, there was a tweet from Munich journalist Lindsay Snell, who, referring to Almasyan's statement, wrote that 'the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army is leaving for Karabakh.' As proof, she attached a photo of unknown military men on the plane, expressing her confidence that they were fighters of the Khamza division who were allegedly flying to Baku.

Paradoxically, it was her tweet that became the primary source for many publications in serious publications, as CCBS found out, although when studying Snell's account, it becomes clear that she is not impartial.

It is interesting that many of the photographs of Syrian 'mercenaries' allegedly killed in Karabakh turned out to be photographs of those Syrians who had died long ago and under different circumstances. For example, Abdurrahman Temelli, the uncle of the deceased soldier Serdar Temelli, wrote on social networks that his nephew, whose photo was disseminated by the officials of the Armenian Defence Ministry, was killed during the Turkish operation 'Tiger Claw' in Iraq. It is sad that almost no one of the journalists paid attention to his message.

Often, the materials of SOHR (the centre, with the information activity of which the Russian side actively fought) become the basis for reports. For example, the official representative of the Russian Defence Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov said that SOHR's statements 'with reference to anonymous "eyewitnesses" or "volunteers" are traditionally unfounded and serve as an information cover for the actions of frankly radical groups.' In April 2017, the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, stated that the SOHR video evidence was staged, and any messages from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and some other organisations were unreliable. Russian media have tried repeatedly to expose the centre, which has never proven the existence of a network of sources in Syria.

It's interesting, that on the basis of SOHR reports, some Arab media reported that 'the task of the Syrian mercenaries was exclusively to protect the oil fields in Azerbaijan.' However, it is common knowledge that they are located on the shelf of the Caspian Sea - hundreds of kilometres from Karabakh - and are managed by a consortium of leading international companies. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev drew the line under the controversy, speaking on September 29 on the air of the program '60 minutes' on the TV channel 'Rossiya 1.' He stressed that Azerbaijan has a trained army and a large mobilisation reserve, and there is no need to attract foreigners.

Assistant to the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan Elchin Amirbayov, in a conversation with the Al-Arabiya TV channel, called the rumours about the use of the Syrians by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces as false. Baku presents counter claims to Yerevan, and there are grounds for these accusations. Amirbayov stressed that it was Armenia that has attracted thousands of militants from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) since the 1990s, as well as citizens of Europe, the United States and the Middle East with Armenian roots. And this, by and large, falls under the definition of 'mercenary' in many countries of the civilised world. The Russian media also wrote about these phenomena.

However, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan openly admits the fact of the arrival of 'volunteers' to Karabakh. The only question is whether the involvement of the Kurdish left-wing radicals in the war will be recognised.

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