Assad accuses Turkey's Erdogan of igniting Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

FILE PHOTO: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad addresses the new members of parliament in Damascus, Syria in this handout released by SANA on August 12, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday accused Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan of igniting a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, and said Ankara was sending fighters to the region.

Turkey, a close ally of Muslim Azerbaijan, has denied sending mercenaries to take part in the fighting.

Conflict over the region, which belongs to Azerbaijan under international law but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians, began on Sept. 27 and has escalated to its deadliest level since the 1990s.

Assad, in an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency, pointed the finger at Erdogan who has expressed solidarity with Azerbaijan and has rejected international efforts to bring about a ceasefire.

“He (Erdogan) supports terrorists in Libya, (and) he was the main instigator and initiator of the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia,” Assad told RIA.

Assad also said militants from Syria were being deployed in the conflict, an allegation first levelled by French President Emmanuel Macron, who accused Turkey of sending Syrian jihadists to fight there, something Ankara and Baku have denied.

“Damascus can confirm this,” Assad said of the allegations about Syrian fighters taking part in the hostilities.

Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn