Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army claimed to have captured the two men during fierce fighting with Azerbaijani forces halted by a Russian-mediated ceasefire November 10. They both were handed over to Armenia to face a string of criminal charges, including terrorism.
A spokeswoman for Armenia’s Investigative Committee, Rima Yeganian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that they are not prisoners of war and cannot be covered by the ceasefire agreement calling for the exchange of all POWs and civilian captives held by the conflicting parties.
“They have been indicted, remain under arrest and cannot be exchanged under the all-for-all formula,” said Yeganian.
In their testimonies shown on Armenian television, the arrested Syrians admitted being recruited and paid by Turkey. Armenian officials have portrayed that as further proof that scores of Syrian mercenaries fought in Karabakh on Azerbaijan’s side.
The Armenian claims have also been backed by France and, implicitly, Russia.
French President Emmanuel 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 about the deployment of “terrorists and mercenaries” from Syria and Libya in the Karabakh conflict zone.
Azerbaijan has denied the presence of any foreign mercenaries in its army ranks. It has dismissed the televised confessions of the two detained Syrians as a fraud.
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.