Skip to main content

EXCLUSIVE: One-on-One with Armenia's President as Turkey Threatens to Fuel Conflict Into Regional Islamic Jihad

Share This article

Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh shows no signs of stopping.

Three weeks after violence first erupted there, hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands of civilians displaced.

The decades-old conflict between the mostly-Christian Armenia and mostly-Islamic Azerbaijan over the contested region is now threatening to erupt into a wider conflict involving Russia, Turkey, and radical Islamic jihadists.

Turkey is reportedly recruiting hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to join Azerbaijan's army in the fight against Armenia.

"I can confirm {this}, and it's not only confirmation from my side. International organizations and even intelligence departments of different states have confirmed that," President Armen Sarkissian of Armenia told CBN News during an interview from Armenia's capital Yerevan late Thursday.

President Sarkissian accuses Turkey, and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of being a bully and making the crisis worse.

Turkey has deployed drones and reportedly sold more than $123 million worth of military hardware to support Azerbaijan.

When asked about the consequences of not stopping Turkey's involvement in this conflict, Mr. Sarkissian told CBN News:

"Well, not stopping Turkey in this conflict, you will get another Syria, but ten times bigger."

A few days after the war started, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described his country's support for Azerbaijan's military offensive as a "righteous struggle" and urged other countries to join the fight.

"We see that Azerbaijan is extremely determined in liberating its territory," Erdoğan said during an October 8 press conference in Istanbul. "As Turkey, we support with all our heart Azerbaijan's righteous struggle to reclaim its territory. We invite all countries who defend justice and fairness to support Azerbaijan."

Russia's foreign intelligence service has issued a statement warning that the escalating confrontation in the region is "like a magnet" attracting Islamic jihadists of all stripes.

"Mercenaries from international terrorist organizations fighting in the Middle East — in particular Jabhat al-Nusra, Firqat Hamza, the Sultan Murad Division, as well as extremist Kurdish groups — are actively entering into the conflict zone," Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service warned in a statement recently. "Moreover, we are talking about hundreds and even thousands of radicals hoping to make money on the new Karabakh war."  

President Erdoğan has denied sending jihadist mercenaries to fight in the region.

Still, Azerbaijan has welcomed Turkey's support.

During an interview with Turkish state broadcaster TRT, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said Ankara's backing in the conflict has been critical.

"Turkey has been the one to support us the most, in a very clear way," President Aliyev said during the interview. "The Turkish president's brave and clear statements were a warning to many countries: 'stay on the sidelines, don't meddle, Azerbaijan is not alone, Turkey is standing by it.' And Azerbaijan is always standing next to Turkey."

President Sarkissian says Turkey's ongoing military involvements in Syria, Cyprus, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and now in Armenia, are more proof of Erdoğan's expansionist ambitions.

"Wherever they go, alone or bringing Islamic militants with them, basically they are there, and they are destroying, not only people's lives but also ancient languages, like in Syria destroying ancient Christian culture," Sarkissian said.

On October 7th, days after the conflict erupted, Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, shelled the historic Holy Savior Cathedral in Shusha, Nagorno-Karabakh, where many Armenian families had sought refuge.

"I feel pain that we have such 'neighbors'," said Father Andreas, priest of Holy Savior Cathedral. "I feel the pain that the walls of our beautiful cathedral are destroyed. I feel the pain that today that world does not react to what's happening here and that our boys are dying defending our motherland."

The Holy Savior Cathedral, also known as the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, suffered interior and exterior damage.

Three weeks into the conflict, scores of families continue to pray and find refuge in the partially destroyed church.

"God's house was transformed into ruins," said Narik, a resident of Shusha, Nagorno Karabakh. "They are capable of everything, but God will punish them."

FULL INTERVIEW: President Sarkissian of Armenia Calls Turkey's Recep Erdogan a Regional Bully

More than 500 people have died, and tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting.

Sandwiched between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian population has long wanted to be independent to unite with Armenia.

After numerous flare-ups over the region, this latest is the worst in decades.

Russia, which backs Armenia but has ties with Azerbaijan, tried to broker a ceasefire last week. That failed.

As fighting intensifies, experts worry Russia could be dragged further into the conflict.

Russia's foreign minister making a fresh appeal for peace.

"We stand on our position that peaceful solution of the conflict is possible," said Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister. "Moreover, it's the only way to ensure a sustainable solution of this problem."

Armenia is one of the world's oldest Christian nations. Most of those living in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, are also Christian.

That includes Rita Grigoryan, who, along with several others, has sheltered in the basement of her apartment building since the fighting started. Grigoryan lost her husband during the war with Azerbaijan in the 1990s. Her son-in-law and grandson are now on the frontlines.

"My grandson turned twenty and then the war started," Grigoyan said. "How can we be happy, where should we run if my relatives are here?"

President Sarkissian tells CBN News that Armenia's struggle against what his government has called a Turkish-Azerbaijani terrorist alliance is like that of a story in the Bible:

"These very brave people are like the story of David and Goliath," Sarkissian told CBN News. "They are facing an enormous enemy that wants to destroy a whole civilization, a culture, religion, and people."


Share This article

About The Author

George Thomas Headshot

Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and of Indian descent, CBN News’ Senior International Correspondent and Co-Anchor, George Thomas, has been traveling the globe for more than 20 years, finding the stories of people, conflicts, and issues that must be told. He has reported from more than 100 countries and has had a front-row seat to numerous global events of our day. George’s stories of faith, struggle, and hope combine the expertise of a seasoned journalist with the inspiration of a deep calling to tell the stories of the people behind the news. “I’ve always liked discovering & exploring new