French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking at a European Union summit in Brussels, has demanded that Turkey explain why it has transferred Syrian Islamist militants through Turkey into the Nagorno Karabakh (NK) conflict zone bordering Azerbaijan.

Macron stated that France has confirmed the transfer and added that the Russians also have this information. He said that at least 300 ISIS fighters from the Aleppo region of Syria have been transported into the conflict zone between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Islamic militants are fighting on the side of the Azerbaijanis. 

“I can announce that more than 300 Syrian Islamist militants, who had earlier left the Aleppo region, have been transferred to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict zone through the Turkish Gaziantep. This is a confirmed fact, these people are identified, all of them are affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist organization. I have discussed this issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who confirmed that Russia also possesses this information,” Macron told reporters.

“These fighters are known, tracked and identified,” Macron said, adding that he would call Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “in the coming days.” 

France’s response is to ask Turkey for an explanation on this point.”

“A red line has been crossed, which is unacceptable,” Macron added. “I urge all NATO partners to face up to the behavior of a NATO member.

Macron added that France is closely working with Russia and the U.S. the other co-chairs of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), Minsk Group in seeking a peaceful solution to the NK situation.

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Macron’s statements were confirmed by the Syrian civil war watchdog, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

However, AsiaNews has sources inside of the Syrian opposition groups that report the number of fighters being imported by Turkey as much higher. A report stated that Turkey had sent 4,000 ISIS fighters from Syria into Azerbaijan via Turkey and is paying each of them the equivalent of $1,800 dollars a month. 

The SOHR reported on Thursday that 28 Syrian mercenaries sent by Turkey were killed in the NK region and that 62 others were either wounded or missing. If those numbers are correct, that would be nearly 30 percent of a 300-man force which lends credibility to their total number being much higher. SOHR also reported that thousands of Syrian mercenaries, sent by Turkey to Libya were returning at the end of their contracts.

AsiaNews has an audio recording of the head of the Sultan Murat Brigade (an armed faction of the Syrian opposition which has dispatched fighters to Libya). In the recording, the head fighter said, “Syrian volunteers are destined to be sent to front line on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border… and they will fight with the Azeris, that is, with the Shiites.”

One of the Syrian fighters was asked why they were heading to Azerbaijan. He replied, “Because it is part of the Jihad; it is a holy war of Muslims against Christians.”

AsiaNews also quoted the president of the Republic of Karabakh, Arayik Arutyunian, who spoke of 4,000 fundamentalist mercenaries who had arrived from Syria and other countries in recent days. “This is not a war between Karabakh and Azerbaijan, or Armenia against Azerbaijan. It is a direct war by Turkey, by mercenaries alongside 10 million Azeris, against 3 million Armenians.”

The Nagorno-Karabakh region is composed of an ethnic Armenian majority. It broke away from Azerbaijan and declared independence after the fall of the Soviet Union. This sparked a war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives.

The region is not recognized as independent by any country, including Armenia. Talks to resolve the conflict have largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement.