During its military aggression against the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, Azerbaijan, in violation of norms of international law incorporated mercenaries and international terrorist groups into the Azerbaijani armed forces1.
From 1992 to 1994, thousands of mercenaries, mostly Chechens and Afghans, were fighting on the side of Azerbaijan against Nagorno Karabakh.
Azerbaijan started building relations with Chechnya in the beginning of 1990s, when the leader of the “Popular Front of Azerbaijan” Abulfaz Elchibey visited Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, and established friendly ties with General Dzhokhar Dudayev2. In April 1992, the delegation of Muslim religious leaders of Azerbaijan visited Chechnya. According to several sources, representatives of the Ministry of Defence of Azerbaijan were also secretly included in the named delegation. Apart from the discussion of procedural matters (building relations between the two states and peoples, joining efforts aimed at Islamic revival etc.), the issue of military cooperation was also touched upon during the bilateral meetings. In particular, the possibility of participation of Chechen mercenaries in hostilities against Nagorno Karabakh was discussed in return for Azerbaijan’s consent to use its territory for arms supplies to Chechnya3.
The first group of Chechen mercenaries that arrived in Azerbaijan was headed by field commander Shamil Basayev, who later organized a series of violent terrorist attacks across Russian Federation and was included in the UN, US Department of State and European Union lists of designated terrorist actors.
By July 1992, there were already around 300 Chechen militants fighting against Karabakh as part of the Azerbaijani forces4. After several months of fighting against the NKR Defense Army most of the Chechen detachments, having suffered heavy losses and leaving behind captives, left the battle-fields and returned to Chechnya. At the same time, representatives of Chechnya arrived in Stepanakert to conduct negotiations aimed at releasing captive Chechen fighters, which resulted in an agreement to extradite the prisoners.
However, the cooperation between Azerbaijan and Chechnya did not end with that, rather it developed further, particularly in the field of arms trade.5 Azerbaijan became a transit country for supplying weapons and material aid to Chechen militants.6
The impunity of Azerbaijan's first attempt to use mercenaries inspired Azerbaijani authorities to engage new groups, this time from among Afghan militants.7
In the summer of 1993, when Azerbaijani army was suffering serious military setbacks on the Karabakh frontline, Baku turned to Afghan authorities for support; seeking to engage Afghan mujahideen in hostilities against Nagorno Karabakh self-defense forces.
In July 1993, Deputy Minister of the Interior of Azerbaijan Rovshan Javadov arrived in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, where he had a meeting with the Prime Minister of Afghanistan, the leader of the party “Hizb i Islami” (Islamic Party) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to negotiate on sending Afghan militants to Azerbaijan.8
According to several sources, in different periods of 1993-1994, the number of Afghan mujahideen employed in Azerbaijani forces ranged from 1000 to 3000.9
Participation of Afghan mujahideen on Azerbaijani side was confirmed by numerous testimonies. In the spring-summer period of 1993, during the battles in the South and South-East of Nagorno-Karabakh, writings published in Afghanistan, notebooks, map drawings, personal letters with Afghan and Pakistani addresses, written in Dari and Pashto languages, photos of Afghan fighters in cities of Azerbaijan, as well as instructions and documents of the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan fell into the hands of Karabakh forces. In the late August of 1993, bodies of Afghan mujahideen, dressed in traditional national costumes were found on the battlefield. On April 20, 1994, Afghan mercenary Bahtior Verballah Baberzai from Mazar-i-Sharif was captured on South-Eastern part of Karabakh frontline. He disclosed how he had ended up in Azerbaijan and under which conditions mercenaries fought for the Army of Azerbaijan.
Along with Chechen and Afghan mercenaries, Turkish military advisers and militants of the Turkish nationalist organization “Grey Wolves” (Bozkurt) were fighting on the Azerbaijani side. Beyond the direct involvement of separate Turkish detachments in the hostilities on Karabakh battlefield, around 150 high-ranking officers of the Turkish Army, including 10 retired generals, actively participated in the planning of combat operations and training of subversive and assault units of the Azerbaijani Army in the beginning of 1992.10 During the entire war period, Turkey provided comprehensive military support to Azerbaijan both in terms of army building, and military and logistical supplies.
In military actions against Artsakh, mercenaries from CIS countries fought as part of the Azerbaijani forces as well, mainly reinforcing the crews of combat vehicles and machinery of the Azerbaijani Army.
Engagement of mercenaries, especially Chechen and Afghan militants, in combat actions in Karabakh, and also the fact that they settled down in Azerbaijan, eventually turned into a serious problem for Azerbaijani authorities. Some of them engaged in criminal affairs instead of participating in military actions or demanded very large remuneration for their participation in hostilities. Involvement of Afghan mujahideen in the conflict zone became the main factor making Azerbaijan a transit country for transportation of illegal drugs to Russia and Europe11 as well as a transit and provisioning point for terrorists and terrorist activities.12
1. According to article 5 paragraph 2 of the “International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries”, “States Parties shall not recruit, use, finance or train mercenaries for the purpose of opposing the legitimate exercise of the inalienable right of peoples to self-determination, as recognized by international law, and shall take, in conformity with international law, the appropriate measures to prevent the recruitment, use, financing or training of mercenaries for that purpose”.
2. С.Шерматова. Ислам на постсоветском пространстве: взгляд изнутри. (S. Shermatova “Islam in the Post-Soviet Newly Independent States: The view from within”).
3. Демоян Гайк: «Турция и Карабахский конфликт в конце XX – начале XXI веков. Историко-сравнительный анализ». Ер.: Авторское издание, 2006. Д 310 (Demoyan, Hayk. Turkey and Karabakh Conflict in Late 20th and Early 21st Century: a historical comparative analysis. Yerevan, 2006), pp. 182, 184
4. Ioannis Charalampidis, Sponsored to Kill: Mercenaries and Terrorist Networks in Azerbaijan, Moscow. “MIA” Publishers, 2013, p. 4
5. In 1997 an agreement was reached between Heydar Aliyev and the Islamists, according to which the Islamists gained a right of free movement of mercenaries and weapons through the territory of Azerbaijan, in exchange for a promise not to undertake any attempts of coup d’état or armed uprisings against Azerbaijani authorities. Yossef Bodansky. The New Azerbaijan Hub: How Islamist Operations Are Targeting Russia, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Defense and Foreign Affairs' Strategy Policy. October, 1999
6. Ариф Юнусов. Ислам в Азербайджане. – Баку: «Заман», 2004 (Arif Yunusov. Islam in Azerbaijan. Baku: Zaman, 2004), p.260
7. Ioannis Charalampidis, Sponsored to Kill: Mercenaries and Terrorist Networks in Azerbaijan, “MIA” Publishers, 2013, p. 6
8. Joseph A. Kechichian and Theodore W. Karasik. The Crisis in Azerbaijan: how clans influence the politics of an emerging republic.
9. Bitter Afghanistan Struggle Helps Fuel Asian Conflicts, The Daily Telegraph, November 10, 1993;
Azerbaijan Throws Raw Recruits Into Battle. Desperate ‘Human Wave’ Tactics Reportedly Cost 4,000 Lives in Winter Offensive, The Washington Post, April 21, 1994;
Afghan “Wild Goose” In a Karabakh Cage, Moscow News N23, June 5-12, 1994;
Afghan Fighters Joined Azeri-Armenian War in 1993. Christian Science Monitor, By Daniel Sneider, November 16, 1993;
The Future is for Professional Army. Leyla Yunus, Zerkalo, August 10, 2002
10. Демоян Гайк: «Турция и Карабахский конфликт в конце XX – начале XXI веков. Историко-сравнительный анализ». Ер.: Авторское издание, 2006. Д 310 (Hayk Demoyan, Turkey and Karabakh Conflict in Late 20th and Early 21st Century: a historical comparative analysis. Yerevan, 2006), p.111
11. In mid-1990s the territory of Azerbaijan was one of the major transit routes of international drug trafficking. This fact was reflected in the annual reports of the US Department of State.
12. Демоян Гайк: «Турция и Карабахский конфликт в конце XX – начале XXI веков. Историко-сравнительный анализ». Ер.: Авторское издание, 2006. Д 310 (Hayk Demoyan, Turkey and Karabakh Conflict in Late 20th and Early 21st Century: a historical comparative analysis. Yerevan, Author's edition, 2006), pp.201, 202, 209
The 1999 Annual report of the US Department of State on global terrorism states that Azerbaijan “served as a logistic hub for international mujahidin with ties to terrorist groups”. Patterns of Global Terrorism, Eurasia Overview, US Department of State, 1999.