SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan of being the main instigator in the deadliest fighting between Armenian and Azeri forces for more than 25 years.
In an interview published on Tuesday that is likely to exacerbate international frictions over the clashes in the South Caucasus region, Assad also said militants from Syria were being deployed to the conflict area.
Turkey has denied involvement in the fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain enclave that belongs to Azerbaijan under international law but is governed by ethnic Armenians, and has dismissed accusations that it sent mercenaries to the area.
But Assad told Russian news agency RIA: “He (Erdogan) … was the main instigator and the initiator of the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”
Reiterating accusations first levelled by French President Emmanuel Macron that Turkey has sent Syrian jihadists to fight in the conflict, Assad said: “Damascus can confirm this.”
Assad appeared, however, to provide no evidence for his allegation. Ankara did not immediately respond but has described similar accusations as part of attempts by Armenia to create “dark propaganda” about Turkey.
The fighting that broke out on Sept. 27 has increased concern that a wider conflict could be triggered, dragging in Turkey, which has expressed solidarity with Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have accused each other of starting the fighting – the latest in long-running conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh that is closely watched abroad partly because of its proximity to pipelines that carry Azeri gas and oil to Europe.
More than 250 people have been reported killed – and many more are feared dead – in clashes that have been fought with artillery, drones and tanks. The sides have also posted footage of devastated and burning buildings, and people taking cover during heavy bombardments.
Azerbaijan says Azeri cities outside Nagorno-Karabakh have been struck, and Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of targeting densely populated areas. Both deny targeting civilians.