A Turkish-backed Syrian militia fighting for Ankara’s interests in Libya has released a propaganda video reportedly shot in Libyan territory praising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s controversial decision to reconvert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
The video features the logo of the Sultan Suleiman Shah Brigade - commonly known as "Amshat" - and shows around 500 Syrian fighters displaying the Turkish flag, the flag of the Free Syrian Army, and photos of Erdogan.
“Greetings. This is a blessing in the name of the Suleiman Shah Brigade of the Free Syrian Army on the occasion of holding the first prayer at the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Congratulations to Erdogan, the government and the Turkish people,” reads a voice in Turkish over footage of the soldiers assembled.
According to the analyst Elizabeth Tsurkov, who is a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, geolocating technology suggests the video was filmed in Libya.
After the Turkish government turned the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, the Sultan Sliman Shah Brigade (better known as "Amshat"), a Turkish-backed Syrian faction, held a parade praising Erdogan west of Tripoli, Libya. Geolocated by @il_kanguru https://t.co/EApfNEr03k pic.twitter.com/PjlR7TthN9— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) August 9, 2020
Tsurkov added that the video was the largest group of Syrian fighters that had been geolocated to Libya, where Turkey is accused of transporting thousands of Syrian mercenaries to fight for the Turkish-allied Government of National Accord against its rivals in the ongoing war in the country.
“About 500 fighters can be observed in the military parade, in which the fighters display the Turkish flag and photos of Erdogan. Geolocation images by @il_kanguru,” she tweeted.
Shortly after being posted on YouTube and Twitter of the Amshat, the video was deleted, likely due to concerns it will be geolocated. I asked an official with the Amshat where the video was filmed. At first he said it was in Sheikh Hadid, Efrin, Syria.— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) August 9, 2020
Tsurkov also pointed out that the militia itself continues to deny sending troops to Libya, despite the geolocation of the video suggesting otherwise.
Erdogan provoked international and domestic criticism with his decision to turn the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, originally a sixth century cathedral, from a museum into a mosque this month.
Turkey has also been criticized by its neighbors for pressing ahead with controversial maritime drilling plans in contested waters in the eastern Mediterrenean.
Ankara's support for the GNA in Libya increased after the Libyan faction signed a deal granting Turkey maritime rights across vast swathes of the eastern Mediterrenean. The EU, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and others have rejected the deal.