Two experts have claimed that members of the PKK terrorist group and Armenians are being trained together at a military camp in Azerbaijan’s disputed region of Karabakh where Iran allegedly moved some 4,000 militants left idle following the détente in Syria, mostly propelled by the twin earthquakes that killed thousands on Feb. 6.
“These Iranian militants are highly likely to be sent to not just Karabakh but also to the warzone between Russia and Ukraine,” according to professor Toğrul Ismayıl, an expert in Russian and Eurasian politics.
“These allegations are 100% accurate,” said another expert, Babek Şahit of Tabriz Research Institute.
As tensions boil between neighbors Azerbaijan and Iran, Tehran has declared Armenia’s border security as its redline and has been shifting militants to Karabakh, the source of the longstanding conflict between Baku and Yerevan, according to Ismayıl and Şahit.
Ismayıl argued Tehran believes it’s been losing its strategic importance in the region, where Türkiye-Azerbaijan ties also make up an effective factor, hence the move of its militants to Karabakh.
“PKK terrorists and Armenians too are trained together at this military camp, led by the so-called commander Vazgen Sisilyan,” Ismayıl said, adding that the said allegations “existed before as well.”
Iran-Armenia relations have been very warm and close and Tehran determines its policies toward Azerbaijan and the broader region through Armenia, he explained. “The reason why is they don’t want a powerful Azerbaijani state in the north and Baku’s alliance with Türkiye in the meantime contradicts Iran’s policies,” he said.
Citing the entry of “unidentified persons” entering Azerbaijan from Iran, Ismayıl said it was “an advantage for Iran for its idle militants to be used in regional clashes rather than using them within its own borders.”
Iran doesn’t want the Zangezur Corridor to open either, Ismayıl went on saying, “And Tehran is doing its best to ensure it doesn’t happen at once.”
“One of Iran’s most clear statements is that ‘Armenia’s territorial integrity is Iran’s red line.’ That’s really funny because Iran didn’t make such a statement when Azerbaijani territory was occupied. When it comes to Armenia, Iran says ridiculous things like ‘Azerbaijan and Türkiye will come together, disrupt and invade Armenia,’” Ismayıl said.
Relations between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military illegally occupied Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.
Clashes erupted on Sept. 27, 2020, with the Armenian Army attacking civilians and Azerbaijani forces, violating several humanitarian cease-fire agreements. During the 44-day conflict, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and around 300 settlements and villages that Armenia had occupied for almost 30 years.
The fighting ended with a Russian-brokered agreement on Nov. 10, 2020, which was seen as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia. However, the cease-fire has been violated several times since then, most recently in early March when five people were killed on both sides on the Khankendi-Khalfali-Turshsu road.
As for the PKK relationship between Armenia and Iran, Şahit argued the incident “isn’t anything new.”
“PKK’s ties with Iran and especially so-called volunteering Armenian formations have been ongoing since the Syrian civil war broke out,” Şahit said, claiming that a brigade of the Assyrian forces that emerged in northern Syria broke off from the YPG, the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, to join the Iran-Quds Force in 2014.
The Quds Force is one of the five branches of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specializing in unconventional warfare and military intelligence operations.
“At the time, an Iran-backed training camp, named Aga Petros, was held, which was a legion entirely controlled by the Quds Forces. Similarly, we know about various formations that have close links with the PKK/YPG, which consists of other Syrian-Armenians. In 2014, they operated together with the Quds Force,” Şahit noted.
According to him, the most important organization is VOMA, (Voxj Mnalu Arvest or the Art of Survival) which came to the foreground during the Second Karabakh War.
“We know that VOMA camps are present in occupied lands; for instance, they have a camp in the Tuğ village where PKK terrorists and Armenians, backed by Iranian Quds Force, received armed training. This terrorist organization is helmed by Voya Vortanov,” Şahit explained.
“Its so-called military commander Vazgen Sisilyan is another important point. Sisilyan, a Lebanese-Armenian, is the perpetrator of the attack on Türkiye’s Paris Embassy in 1981 and the assassination of Türkiye’s ambassador to Budapest in 1991,” he claimed. “Sisilyan is currently in charge of Lebanese Armenians and the military training of VOMA there. We know an Armenian citizen supported the Armenian forces by taking some 300 people to this camp through Iran during the Second Karabakh War.”
The Quds Force has achieved its goal of moving its mobilized militants and creating instability in the region, Şahit said. “Azerbaijan caught 17 people who illegally crossed into Karabakh from Iran. Tehran never commented on it,” he added, and claimed the allegations were “proven beyond mere claims with news stories and statements from official authorities.”