“Turkey’s military personnel and the Turkish armed forces are directly engaged in the hostilities,” he told the Canadian daily Globe and Mail in an interview published late on Friday. “Turkey’s NATO allies must explain why these F-16 jets are shelling towns and villages in Nagorno-Karabakh and killing civilian populations.”
Pashinian also stood by Armenian claims that Ankara recruited Turkish-backed Islamist fighters in Syria and sent them to fight in Karabakh on the Azerbaijani side.
“A ceasefire can be established only if Turkey is removed from the South Caucasus,” he added.
Ankara maintains that Turkish warplanes, attack drones and military are not involved in the hostilities that broke out on September 27. It also denies deploying Syrian mercenaries in Azerbaijan. Baku denies that too.
France has also alleged such deployment, with President Emmanuel Macron saying that at least 300 “Syrian fighters from jihadist groups” were flown from Turkey to Azerbaijan ahead of the flare-up of violence in Karabakh. "I urge all NATO partners to face up to the behavior of a NATO member,” Macron said on Friday.
Russia has also accused, albeit implicitly, Ankara of sending “terrorists and mercenaries” to the conflict zone. It has demanded their “immediate withdrawal from the region.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reacted cautiously to Macron’s claims backed up by Western media reports. “I hope it’s not the case,” Pompeo told reporters on Friday.
“We saw Syrian fighters taken from the battlefields in Syria to Libya,” he said. “That created more instability, more turbulence, more conflict, more fighting, less peace. I think it would do the same thing in the conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh as well. So I hope that reporting proves inaccurate.”
Commenting on Turkish involvement in the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute, Pompeo said Washington disapproves of “third parties bringing ammunitions, weapon systems, even just advisors and allies” to the conflict zone.
The United States, Russia and France have long been leading international efforts to broker an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal in their capacity as co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The presidents of the three mediating powers called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in a joint statement on Thursday. They also urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to “commit without delay to resuming substantive negotiations.”
Yerevan welcomed the statement, saying it is willing to engage in peace talks mediated by the Minsk Group co-chairs.
By contrast, Baku effectively rejected the mediators’ appeal. “In order to stop the violence Armenia must withdraw its troops from Nagorno-Karabakh,” said a senior aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likewise said the mediators should instead “demand that the Armenians pull their troops out of Azerbaijan.” He condemned their long-running peace efforts as a gross failure.
In an interview with Al Jazeera aired on Saturday, Aliyev said the U.S., Russia and France should “continue working together on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” provided that they “remain neutral.” In an apparent reference to France, he said statements made by some of the co-chair countries in recent days indicate a pro-Armenian bias.
Incidentally, Macron spoke with Aliyev and Pashinian separately on the phone late on Friday. The French president said in a statement that he proposed a new method to restart talks within the Minsk Group format. He did not elaborate.
Pashinian too was interviewed by Al Jazeera on Saturday. He told the international TV network that renewed peace talks with Baku are conditional on an end to what he described as Azerbaijan’s “aggression” against Karabakh.
“I can say with confidence that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will not retreat in the face of the aggression,” the Armenian premier said as large-scale hostilities continued along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh. He further made clear that Armenia will remain the “guarantor” of the disputed territory’s independence.