A Syrian fighting in Azerbaijan’s disputed Nagorno-Karabkh region has spoken to BBC Arabic and claims he, along with others, were deceived when being recruited by the Turkish-backed “Syrian National Army”, formerly known as the Free Syria Army.
The fighter using the nom de guerre “Abdullah” is among hundreds of Syrians aged 17 to 30 who arrived last week “with the knowledge of the Turkish army the SNA”. However he was under the impression that he was recruited for a job paying $2,000 a month.
“Last week, Saif Abu Bakr, the commander of the Hamza Division of the opposition Syrian National Army, suggested that we go to Azerbaijan to guard military points on the border with a monthly wage of up to $2,000,” said Abdullah.
“There was no war at the time, and we were transferred from Northern Syria to the village of Hor Kilis, and there we have stripped us from the opposition Syrian National Army of all our money, phones and clothes, so that our identity is not recognised.”
Days after arriving, the untrained Syrians were forced to fight on the front lines as the fighting broke out between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the disputed region.
“They loaded us into troop carriers, we were wearing Azeri uniforms, and each of us was armed with a single Kalashnikov weapon. Most of the people here are poor civilians who wanted the money, not soldiers, stopped the car and we were surprised that we were in the line of fire. We did not even know where the enemy was.”
Abdullah and others later said they wanted to return to Syria, but were prevented and threatened with long prison terms if they refused to fight “We are almost exiled”, he said.
CONFIRMED – by Guardian colleague Hussein – presence of Syrians in Azerbaijan fighting. Two already identified as killed by family members and reports of up to 20 dead. They left Syria on 22nd September https://t.co/3OXLImV5Rz
— Bethan McKernan (@mck_beth) September 29, 2020
Both Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied the accusations that Syrian fighters have been sent to fight for Azerbaijan. However, according to the Guardian, at least three Syrian opposition fighters have been killed in Nagorno-Karabkh.
On Monday, Armenia’s ambassador to Moscow said that Turkey had sent around 4,000 fighters from northern Syria. France today also weighed in on the accusations, the office of President Emmanuel Macron said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the issue and both “share concern about the sending of Syrian mercenaries by Turkey to Nagorno-Karabakh”.
Turkish media outlets have claimed that Armenia is recruiting Kurdish PKK terrorists in their ranks, although critics argue it is using the reports to justify military intervention and that no evidence has been provided.
Turkey has previously sent Syrian fighters to Libya despite denials by the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).