Tue, 27 Oct 2020

Despite continued reports of Syrian mercenaries fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh after weeks of fighting over the breakaway region, Baku and Ankara deny reports that Turkey has recruited militants from Syria to fight for Azerbaijan.

The first reports about Syrian militants being sent to help Azerbaijan emerged in late September.

They came from correspondents for international news organizations like Reuters and the BBC, as well as British newspapers like The Guardian and The Independent, who tapped into sources they'd developed during years of covering Syria's war.

All had interviews with veterans of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (SNA), who described being recruited by a private Turkish firm to work in Azerbaijan.

Most declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, saying they either feared reprisals or risked losing their pay.

But multiple sources from the SNA have told different Western news organizations they were promised pay ranging from $1,200 to $2,000 per month for work in Azerbaijan.

They shared similar stories -- saying they were told they would serve 'guard duty' at Azerbaijani oil facilities or at demarcation posts along the Line of Contact that had separated Azerbaijani and Armenian forces before the latest fighting erupted in the region on September 27.

Reuters quoted fighters from Turkish-backed rebel groups in northern Syria as saying they had deployed to Azerbaijan in coordination with Ankara, although Reuters said it could not verify that claim.

'I didn't want to go, but I don't have any money. Life is very hard and poor,' one militant, who had previously fought in Syria for the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham faction, told Reuters.

Syrian militants were soon being quoted saying they regretted taking the job in Azerbaijan because they'd been sent straight to front-line positions in the midst of an intense battle, as hundreds of soldiers have been killed in the hostilities that started on September 27.

After more than a week of fighting, reports then began to emerge from Syria about the bodies of dozens of slain Syrian fighters being repatriated from Azerbaijan.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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