The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Europe’s largest intergovernmental body that promotes the rule of law, identified Turkey as a country that sent Syrian jihadists to help Azerbaijan in last year’s conflict with neighboring Armenia.
In a resolution and annexed report that were approved after a heated debate on September 27, 2021, PACE noted that “there is worrying evidence of the use by Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s assistance, of Syrian mercenaries …” It urged Turkey to cooperate fully with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on complaints lodged against Turkey over this action.
PACE made reference to the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries and said, “Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s assistance, used Syrian fighters during the six-week war, including on the frontline.”
“The fighters appeared to be motivated primarily by private gain and in the case of death their relatives were reportedly promised financial compensation as well as Turkish nationality,” it added.
The findings of the report were challenged by members of the Turkish and Azerbaijani delegations, who submitted a series of amendments to remove references to mercenaries in the report. They, however, failed to secure enough votes, and their move was opposed by the rapporteur and the relevant committee that had approved them in an earlier meeting.
“We had high expectations of this report from Mr Paul Gavan [author of the report], but, unfortunately, it turned out to be a partial one instead of a neutral one,” lamented Ahmet Yıldız, head of the Turkısh delegation to PACE and a member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He branded evidence that was cited by the ECtHR in its interim decision against Turkey as “social media clippings of dubious provenance and hearsay.”
“The use of mercenaries from Syria by Azerbaijan with Turkey’s assistance is a fact. This fact has been confirmed by the state security agencies of Iran, Russia, France, the USA, international media outlets, human rights watchdogs and NGOs, so this is the truth and it should be displayed,” said Ruben Rubinyan, an Armenian lawmaker, in his response to motions by the Turkish delegation to delete references to fighters in the report and resolution.
PACE report on the humanitarian consequences of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan:Pace_report_on_Azeri_Armenian_war_2020
The assembly rejected the amendment by a vote of 68 against, 28 in favor and 10 abstentions, keeping the references to the use of mercenaries by Azerbaijan with the help of Turkey. At the end of the debate, the resolution and its accompanying report were approved by an overwhelming majority despite opposition from the Turkish delegation, which included not only Erdoğan’s AKP but also lawmakers from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
PACE also confirmed the findings of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, which indicated that the way these individuals were recruited, transported and used in and around the conflict zone appeared to be consistent with the definition of a mercenary.
The author of the report, Paul Gavan of Ireland, said he had seen photographs, videos and reports to the effect that mercenaries were used by Azerbaijan in the six-week war in 2020 and added that they back up allegations that Azerbaijan used foreign mercenaries.
Similar accusations were made against Turkey by UN human rights experts at the Working Group on the use of mercenaries — Chris Kwaja, Jelena Aparac, Lilian Bobea, Ravindran Daniel, and Sorcha MacLeod — over the involvement of the Turkish government in recruiting Syrian fighters to take part in military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey claimed that videos showing mercenaries in the region were fake. However, Turkish diplomatic communication to the UN did not mention international media reports of interviews with Syrians who joined the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It alleged that images of members of the Syrian National Army were recorded and circulated by Armenia.
In November 2020 UN rapporteurs had sent a joint letter to the Turkish government seeking further information on its role and “the circumstances surrounding the recruitment, financing, transportation and deployment of Syrian fighters to participate in the hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
They noted that the alleged use of Syrian fighters by Turkey in hostilities in third states negatively impacts peace and security in the region. “The systematic and continuous recruitment of these fighters for financial compensation is particularly worrisome,” the letter said.
The UN expressed concern over the reported role of Turkish private military and security companies in facilitating the recruitment of Syrian fighters in alleged coordination with Turkish authorities.
The Turkish government’s response to the UN letter was conveyed by the country’s permanent mission to the UN office in Geneva via a note verbale dated January 21, 2021. “The press release by the Working Group on the use of mercenaries based on black propaganda products of fake images and fabricated news has undermined the credibility of the UN Special Procedures Mechanism,” the Turkish government stated.
Amendment submitted by the Turkish delegation aimed at removing references to the use of Syrian fighters by Azerbaijan with the help of Turkey. It failed to pass in the assembly vote:PACE_amendment_16_defeated
The joint letter was sent by the UN’s Chris Kwaja, chair-rapporteur of the working group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self- determination; Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
UN officials urged the Turkish government to provide information on “the command and control structure over the Syrian fighters deployed in support of Azerbaijani’ [sic] armed forces, including any measures in place to hold these fighters accountable for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including specific examples.”
According to the UN rapporteurs, the deployment of Syrians contributed to the rapid escalation and intensification of hostilities and resulted in civilian harm and suffering. “During armed conflicts, mercenaries and mercenary-related actors are obliged, as are all other members of State armed forces or non-State armed groups party to a conflict, to respect the applicable rules of international humanitarian law,” they said.
Joint UN letter dated November 6, 2020:
According to reports received by the UN, members of the Hamza Division, Sultan Murad Division, Al-Amshat Faction and the Sultan Sliman Shah Brigade allegedly agreed to be transferred to Azerbaijan in return for monetary compensation. “Turkey allegedly contracts private military and security companies to facilitate the preparation of official and contractual documentation for the fighters, apparently in coordination with the Turkish security services,” the UN letter said.
Referring to a previous UN letter about the role of Turkey in deploying and financing Syrian fighters to take part in the conflict in Libya, the rapporteurs took note of the Turkish government’s reply, dated September 17, 2020, and said it did not substantively address the allegations raised.
In June 2020 the UN sent a letter to the Turkish government revealing how Turkey effectively recruited Syrian fighters from several Syrian armed groups to take part in military operations in Tripoli in support of the Government of National Accord (GNA).
In that communication, SADAT and other possible Turkish contractors were also accused by UN agencies of recruiting children under 18 years of age to take part in the armed conflict in Libya. “Not only have these [Turkish] companies facilitated the recruitment and deployment of mercenaries from Syria to Libya, but, according to the available information, they have also contributed to the recruitment of children under 18 years of age to take part in an armed conflict,” the letter said.
“Turkish authorities allegedly contracted private military and security companies to facilitate the selection as well as the preparation of official and contractual documentation for the fighters, apparently in coordination with the Turkish security services. One of the companies cited in this context was Sadat International Defence Consultancy [SADAT],” the letter stated.
SADAT, which is fully funded and supported by the Turkish government, is owned by retired Gen. Gen. Adnan Tanrıverdi, the former chief military aide to President Erdoğan. Nordic Monitor has published several reports on SADAT’s activities and goals in Turkey and abroad.
Tanrıverdi announced in December 2019 that SADAT had been working to pave the way for the long-awaited mahdi (prophesied redeemer of Islam), for whom the entire Muslim world is waiting.
Opposition Turkish lawmakers had asked the government about the alleged role of SADAT in training Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Syrian al-Qaeda group Jabhat al-Nusrah (al-Nusrah Front) fighters and the alleged close relations between Turkish intelligence agency MİT and SADAT.