Georges Dallemagne, former director of Humanity & Inclusion, now Belgian federal deputy, has just returned from Nagorno-Karabakh where he carried out an observation mission in the heart of the conflict between the Armenian minority and Azerbaijan.
In this interview with Global Watch Analysis, he claims to have observed “war crimes” and confirms the presence of “jihadist mercenaries” dispatched to the scene by Turkey.
– Why did you go to this battlefield of Nagorno-Karabakh?
I went there to attest to the horrors of the war being waged by Azerbaijan, Turkey and their Syrian Islamist mercenaries against the Armenian population. Bombs fell on Stepanakert, the capital, during my first day there. We went from shelter to shelter. In Chouchi, about ten kilometres to the south, the cathedral and the cultural centre had already been hit in previous bombings. When we went to see the damage, there was a huge crater in front of the school and another one in front of an apartment building. This shows the power of the bombs dropped on this village where only the old people and soldiers are hiding. Ten civilians died in the destruction of the cultural centre. It is worth recalling that the bombing of places of worship and schools are war crimes.
– Why is Ankara getting involved in Nagorno-Karabakh? According to Soner Cagaptay, a specialist on Turkey at the Washington Institute, Turkey’s reinforced presence in the Caucasus is explained by its desire to fight against its isolation in the Middle East by conquering a new front. For Erdogan, isn’t there also an economic ambition?
Indeed, when we look at the map we can see that there is a corridor towards Central Asia, we should not forget that Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, as far as the Chinese Uyghurs, are Turkish-speaking populations. There is therefore a very important axis that would be created between the Persian, Russian and Chinese worlds. For that to happen, Turkey would have to take part of Armenia as well, which seems to me to be a very daring scenario. The Armenians do not have the capacity to defend themselves and therefore if they are caught between Azerbaijan and Turkey, they have no chance. That said, nobody would look favourably on this. Neither the Russians nor the Iranians.
– Are the Iranians allies of Armenia?
Let’s say that the Iranians have a big dispute with Azerbaijan. The north of Iran is home to an Azeri population that the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, would like to see rise up to attach it to Azerbaijan. And Tehran is not losing sight of this. Iran is rather an objective ally of Armenia but nothing more.
– What role does Vladimir Putin play in this conflict?
Seen from Europe, I always had the impression that Putin was master of the agenda of all kinds of conflicts: Syria, relations with Turkey, even his support for Trump. But when you’re over there, and I’ve spoken at length about this with Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, the feeling is different.
Putin seems to lose the game and gives the impression of being overwhelmed by the conflicts that are coming from all sides. We can mention Belarus, Ukraine, Chechnya and Georgia. Putin also has major problems with Russian dissidents. He believes that he should not be too present in Nagorno-Karabakh to prove to Azerbaijan that Moscow would be a better guardian presence than Turkey. On the other hand, he has an agreement to protect Armenia, so I could clearly see Russian observers on the border with Azerbaijan. I could also notice their presence on the Nakhichevan border.
– Can Armenians expect support from the international community?
Armenians have always counted on the Russians. That said, if Nagorno-Karabakh were really to fall for good, I don’t think the Russians would intervene. They themselves sell arms to Azerbaijan. It should be noted that following a mistaken bombing of a Russian military helicopter by the Azeri army killing two crew members and wounding a third, Putin came out of his reserve and imposed a ceasefire.
As far as Europe is concerned, everyone is saying that it is deplorable what is happening there, but I don’t see anyone really taking a stand. However, we must be careful. Turkey has very clear geopolitical aims: the seizure of oil in the Caspian Sea and this immense plunge throughout Asia to become a new power. If Erdogan is feeling exhilarated, it’s because his relations with the Europeans are bad and rather good with Trump, who has always appreciated the weakening of Europe by men of Erdogan’s calibre.
– We have also observed in this conflict the use of new so-called ‘intelligent’ weapons, among which the ‘suicide drones’. Who are the manufacturers and suppliers of these drones?
Yes, we know the classic drones intended for monitoring troop movements, but there are now, which is new to me, ‘suicide drones’. They spot their targets and without manual controls aim their targets, exploding at very close range.
It was the Israelis and the Turks who supplied them to Azerbaijan. The use of this type of weapon was effective, as people fled. Of the 150,000 civilians who populated Nagorno-Karabakh, 90,000 left. These are the official figures but for me there are many more. On the spot, I could only see very few people, a few old people and a few families, but the vast majority have left. Turkey’s collaboration with Azerbaijan is outlawed, but Israel’s is just as outlawed.
– What are Israel’s interests in this conflict?
Netanyahu’s aim in arming the Azeris and giving them the possibility of confronting Iran, Israel’s great enemy. But this turned against the Armenians. And then there is clearly an economic goal, these military equipment cost billions of dollars. The Armenian diaspora has been able to collect $157 million for the war effort, but Azerbaijan has already paid Israel $5 billion to arm itself.
– Reference is also made to cluster munitions; have they been used?
Yes and probably on both sides. People also talk about phosphorus bombs, but I can’t authenticate this because I haven’t seen it. Nevertheless, it is not impossible because we must not forget that the Turks have already used them against the Kurds and in a proven way.
– Some media are talking about Syrian mercenaries from ISIS paid by Turkey to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh. Can you confirm this?
Today Turkey uses what are called proxies, militias that it has hired and which it had already called upon in Syria to fight the Kurds. Erdogan also sent some in Libya and Armenia. These men terrorise the population in Nagorno-Karabakh who are very afraid of them, because their reputation is that of bloodthirsty men and unheard-of violence. I sincerely believe that, at this stage, Europe should seriously question this policy of recruiting mercenaries on the part of a NATO member country.