September 9, 2013 -by Joshua Kucera- A defector from Azerbaijan’s security services says that his government has secretly been funneling arms and ammunition to Kurdish rebels in Turkey, renewing attention to long-rumored ties between Azerbaijan and the biggest enemy of its closest friend.
The allegations were made by Ibragim Musayev, a former National Security Ministry official now living in Russia, in an interview with the website Caucasian Knot — which, with a bit of hyperbole, calls Musayev “the Azerbaijani Snowden,” referring to the American security official who has also taken up residence in Russia. (Unlike the American Snowden, however, Russia appears to be getting ready to extradite Musayev back to his home country.)
In the interview, Musayev claims that a colleague discovered evidence that the Azerbaijani armed force were shipping arms to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — a group that Azerbaijan officially recognizes as a terrorist organization. Shortly thereafter, the colleague was arrested and then died under mysterious circumstances while in jail; Musayev says he was killed. Musayev also describes seducing Zeynalov’s wife — on orders from his superiors — so that it could be filmed to shame her into silence.
Two times a week a cargo plane flies from Baku to Nakhchivan, carrying various sorts of ammunition and weapons. Zeynalov [the colleague] worked as a driver in the group that serviced these planes. One soldier, who accompanied the cargo and the documentation about how many weapons arrived and where those weapons were destined, were drunk once. And when they unloaded the plane, this soldier left these documents in the car. Then he sent Zeynalov on some sort of errand, and Zeynalov made copies of these papers left in the car. He did that when he saw on the documents that all the ammunition was being sent from Nakhchivan to the Turkish Kurdish terrorist organization PKK.
It’s unclear from Musayev’s account who is behind these shipments. He says that the central government in Baku has to know that they happen, but suggests that the operation is run locally in the exclave of Nakhcivan.
The head of Nakhchivan is a Kurd. Kurds in Turkey are constantly in a state of war with the government. If you look at public statements, Azerbaijan cooperates with Turkey and there is no tension on the international level. But these Kurds, located on the territory of Turkey, are being shipped weapons from Azerbaijan. It turns out that we are acting against Turkey.
However, this has bee clear for a long time — that Azerbaijan supports the PKK… And I guessed that there was some sort of contact with the PKK, but I didn’t have any direct evidence. And Zeynalov was the first person who had in his hands documents. And Khadzhiev [Musayev’s mentor] said that this was serious business, that relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey were at stake and no one wanted to risk that.
There are some reasons for skepticism in Musayev’s story. Why would a driver take such a risk — was his dedication to the fight against the PKK that strong? And Musayev also relays an improbable-sounding anecdote about how he broke up an Iranian plot to poison a reservoir in Nakhcivan. Nevertheless, I’m told by anonymous sources who have looked into this in more detail that, while Musayev himself may be an unreliable narrator, the basics of his story about the arms shipments are true.
So, what would be the point, from Azerbaijan’s point of view, of such a risky business? Here we quickly get deep into conspiracy theory territory, and it’s very hard to sort out the real conspiracies from the fake ones. One Wikileaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2007 attributed the persistent rumors about support for the PKK to the political opposition.
A subtheme of Azerbaijani solidarity with Turkey against the PKK is the periodic accusation that unspecified [government of Azerbaijan] elements may secretly support Kurdish business networks or even the PKK. Analysts who are critical of the government most often make this accusation. While some powerful Azerbaijanis are Kurdish or have links to Kurdish business networks, we believe the periodic pro-Kurdish allegations are just one tool that various Azerbaijani political factions employ in their regular efforts to smear rivals in the press.
And it’s worth noting that apparently Ilham Aliyev believes that Russia is pulling some strings in the PKK. Another cable, from shortly after the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, relayed a conversation that a visiting oil executive had with Aliyev:
He [Aliyev] did not explicitly endorse the following conspiracy theory, but was interested in Inglis’ reaction. Aliyev linked the following events:
— The PKK, formerly sponsored by the KGB, attacks the BTC.
— Three days later Russia invades Georgia.
— In a seemingly random act, the Russians blows up a key railway bridge halting rail export of oil.
— A stray bomb falls 10 meters from the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline.
— Transneft reports a technical fault along the Novorossiysk Line threatening one of the last remaining oil export route.
(That would be the KGB, incidentally, of which Aliyev’s father Heydar was a very high-ranking official.)
And Azerbaijan also regularly accuses Armenia or the Armenian forces ruling Nagorno Karabakh of harboring the PKK.