Virtual life of Syrian Ghost Fighters in Karabakh.
A social media users based investigation. Part 1.
The current hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia are quickly escalating into the full-scale war over the breakaway Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. The novice sign of the current stage of a decades-old conflict lies in mutual accusations of the use of mercenaries with more international coverage to Armenian blames that Azerbaijan is employing Syrian mercenaries backed by Turkey. CCBS has took on upon some of the fake news produced in line with “mercenaries narratives” as investigated by social media users and verified by our independent experts.
Here are some initial results on the story of “Azerbaijan’s Syrian mercenaries,” while the similar investigation on “Armenia’s PKK mercenaries” is coming soon.
As one of the Twitter users disclosed, the first recent reporting on the deployment of Syrian mercenaries to Azerbaijan to fight Armenians appeared on 21 September 2020. Interestingly, the source was a Syrian user of Armenian origin, Kevork Almassian. Without mentioning any specific and reliable source Almassian put forth his “insight” on Syrian mercenaries as a fact (Photo 1). Photo 1
The same day the self-proclaimed investigative journalist, Lindsey Snell tweeted her reporting on the deployment of Turkish-backed “Syrian National Army,” by referring to Almassian. Ms. Snell shared the photo of unknown people in a plane bound for an unidentified destination. The photo was accompanied with a comment on the Hamza Division`s supposed arrival in Baku (Photo 2). Interestingly, as the user highlights almost all of this kind of tweets contain no assurance by using the words “supposedly” or “unconfirmed” instead. Ms. Snell`s sympathy with the Armenian and Kurdish causes was also noticed by the user based on the former`s tweets (Photo 3).
The following track of the unverified Lindsey Snell tweet first went to https://investigativejournal.org/ and then got republished in Greek City Times. Our investigation found out that the majority of further mentions of the “Hamza brigade news” were simply quoting those initial sources tracking back to Snell`s unverified tweet. Interestingly enough, in August 2016, Ms. Snell was briefly taken hostage by ISIS, who allowed her to use a cellphone and take pictures before she suspiciously ran away from jihadists. (Photos 4, 5 and 6).
While the Azerbaijani government denied the flow of mercenary news and engaged in its own clumsy campaign to accuse Armenia of employing PKK fighters the virtual life of Syrian mercenaries went on to the next stage … down to their death on the battlefield. Another fabrication of these type “evidences” used photos of a soldier, who actually died of a long-lasting illness in a Turkish hospital (Photo 7), and another killed in North Iraq “to prove” Turkish soldiers being killed in the Karabakh battles. The former soldier’s uncle expressed his resentment on social media regarding the fake news (Photo 8).
Yet another widely circulated albeit primitive “proof” ( a photo "depicting" Syrians taking selfies while battling on Azerbaijani side ) was exposed as a photoshopped image: the fake news creators simply added the Azerbaijani flag to the photos of some Middle Eastern looking folks (Photo 9).
The use of fakes has not been limited solely to social media. A Middle Eastern media outlet circulated news (with reference to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights -SOHR) by offering the most exotic purpose of employing Syrian fighters by the Azerbaijani government. “The supposed mission of those militants was limited only to protect the oil fields in Azerbaijan” speculated the same media outlet by quoting SOHR (Photos 10 and 11).
In exposing the fake as insane CCBS-verified social media account has pointed out to two obvious reasons for absurdity of such a claim:
1) Oil fields of Azerbaijan are located on and off shores of Caspian Sea, which is 300-400 km away from Nagorno-Karabakh and theater of the military operations (Photo 12).
2) Those oil fields are operated by a consortium of the leading international oil companies (such as BP and Chevron) from multiple countries. According to the afore-mentioned claim, the use of “illegal mercenaries on the oil fields” must be happening under the watch of those companies.
While the hostilities are underway in the real conflict zone, the virtual battle of fake news generators will continue adding another layer of complexity by both hindering to stop the bloodshed (it is always motivating to realize that you fight global evil, not your next door neighbor) and by paving the way for dragging multiple third parties into the conflict.
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