YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—France expects Turkey to withdraw Syrian mercenaries recruited for Azerbaijan during the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh, a senior French official visiting Armenia said late on Saturday.
“French President Emmanuel Macron was the first to call things what they are and state that Turkey transported Syrian mercenaries from the Turkish city of Gaziantep to Nagorno-Karabakh,” Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, a secretary of state at the French Foreign Ministry, told a news conference in Yerevan held at the end of his two-day visit.
“France expects concrete actions from Turkey so that Turkey removes the mercenaries from the region,” he said. “Paris is going to discuss with its European partners sanctions against Turkey.”
France has been pressing the European Union to impose the sanctions because of Turkish actions in the eastern Mediterranean where Turkey and EU members Greece and Cyprus are locked in a dispute over natural gas rights. Relations between Ankara and Paris have been increasingly tense in recent months.
Macron accused Turkey of recruiting jihadist fighters from Syria for the Azerbaijani army shortly after the outbreak of large-scale hostilities in and around Karabakh on September 27.
Russia also expressed serious concern in the following weeks about the deployment of “terrorists and mercenaries” from Syria and Libya in the Karabakh conflict zone. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign and defense ministers repeatedly raised the matter with their Turkish counterparts.
Ankara has denied sending members of Turkish-backed groups to fight in Karabakh on Azerbaijan’s side. Azerbaijan also denies the presence of such mercenaries in the Azerbaijani army ranks.
Multiple reports by Western media quoted members of Islamist rebel groups in areas of northern Syria under Turkish control as saying in late September and October that they are deploying to Azerbaijan in coordination with the Turkish government. Armenia has portrayed those reports as further proof of Turkey’s direct involvement in the war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army claimed to have captured two Syrian fighters during the fighting. Both men are now prosecuted in Armenia on relevant charges.
Lemoyne discussed the issue at a meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan held earlier on Saturday. According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, they stressed “the importance of removing foreign armed terrorists brought to the region by Turkey.”
Lemoyne arrived in Yerevan with a delegation of French officials, aid workers and French-Armenian community activists on a board a plane that brought a second batch of French humanitarian assistance to Armenian victims of the Karabakh conflict. It mainly consisted of medical supplies for Armenian soldiers and civilians wounded during the war. The delegation headed by Lemoyne visited two Yerevan hospitals treating them.
Lemoyne said the French government plans to send more such aid to Armenia when he met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Saturday.
“We are grateful to friendly France for providing humanitarian assistance and correctly presenting the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh to the international community,” Pashinyan told the French official.
France is home to a sizable and influential ethnic Armenian community. It was instrumental in the passage by France’s Senate on November 18 of a resolution calling on the French government to recognize Karabakh as an independent republic.
Lemoyne expressed the Macron administration’s opposition to the resolution when he addressed the Senate during a debate. The French Foreign Ministry reiterated on November 19 that “France does not recognize the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.”