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October 1, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8951

Reports In Syria: Turkey Is Sending Syrian Rebel Fighters To Azerbaijan To Participate In Fight Against Armenia

October 1, 2020
Syria, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8951

Since the start of the current round of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, whose Armenian majority seeks to secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia, many reports in Syrian and Arab media claim that Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan, has been sending Syrian fighters there to participate in the fighting. The fighters are reportedly members of rebel militias loyal to Turkey. This is similar to Turkey's actions in Libya: Since late 2019, it has been recruiting Syrian opposition fighters and sending them to fight in that country on the side of Fayez Al-Sarraj's Government of National Accord, which it supports. 


Source: Nationalia.info

The reports indicate that as in the case of Libya, Turkey has been recruiting fighters mainly from the Syrian National Army (SNA) – a coalition of rebel militias that was formed with Turkey's support in October 2019 – and especially from the Al-Sultan Mourad and Suleiman Shah factions within that coalition. The reports also claim that Turkey has already recruited hundreds and perhaps thousands of Syrian fighters, trained them on its soil, and sent them to Azerbaijan, and that it pays them salaries of close to $2,000 a month.  

Azerbaijan itself denies that Turkey has sent it Syrian reinforcements,[1] but several sources in the Syrian opposition have confirmed the reports. An SNA official said that no formal decision was made to send fighters to Azerbaijan, but acknowledged that some fighters may have gone there of their own accord. Another SNA commander stressed that Syrians are prepared to go to Azerbaijan or anywhere they are asked in order to defend Turkey's interests. Conversely, other elements in the Syrian opposition were enraged by the reports and condemned Syrians who had gone to serve as mercenaries. Similar criticism has been voiced by Syrian opposition elements regarding Syrians who are participating in the fighting in Libya.   


SNA fighters wave the Syrian rebels' and Turkish flags (aa.com.tr, April 27, 2019)

This report reviews the reports about the sending of Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan and the Syrian opposition's reactions to these reports.

Reports: Turkey Is Sending Syrian Rebel Fighters To Fight In Azerbaijan For $2,000 A Month; Syrians Are Present Among Armenian Forces As Well

Even before the outbreak of the current fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ayman Al-Nour, editor of the Syrian opposition website All4syria.info, tweeted that some 1,000 Syrians were due to go to Azerbaijan for three months of "defense and guarding" duties, and would be paid a salary of $1,800 per month.[2]

On September 24, the Syrian Human Rights Observatory (SHRO), which is known to oppose the Syrian regime, reported that Turkey had recruited over 300 Syrian fighters from militias loyal to it in the villages of the 'Afrin area in northern Syria. The fighters had been told they would be sent to Azerbaijan on a mission to guard the border and would be paid between $1,500 and $2,000.[3] Three days later, on September 27, the SHRO reported that the fighters had been brought to Azerbaijan via Turkey, and that another group of fighters was also due to arrive there. [4]

The next day, September 28, Armenian Defense Ministry spokesperson Susan Stepanyan said that Syrian mercenaries were fighting alongside the Turkey-backed Azeri forces, and Armenia's official news agency reported that there were 4,000 of these fighters and that 81 of them had been killed.[5]

The SHRO denied all these Armenian reports, saying that the number of Syrian fighters in Azerbaijan does not exceed 320, and that they have not yet joined the fighting. According to the SHRO, most of the Syrians who have arrived in Azerbaijan are Turkmen and are members of the Suleiman Shah and Al-Sultan Mourad factions, and the Arab pro-Turkey factions of the Syrian opposition are opposed to the sending of fighters to Azerbaijan.[6]

An unnamed SNA major told the Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily, which is owned by Turkey's ally Qatar, that the pro-Turkish Syrian factions, including the Suqour Al-Jabal and Al-Sultan Mouran factions, have recruited hundreds of fighters who will be dispatched to Azerbaijan after training in Turkey. He added that a first group, of 350 SNA fighters, had already been sent to Nagorno-Karabakh, and that, according to his estimate, some 1,500 additional soldiers had already been trained for their mission there. Other SNA sources reported that SNA translators and technicians had arrived in Azerbaijan several days ago to provide the Turkish army with the names of the new Syrian recruits who will be joining the fighting in the region. The daily also claimed that Syrian militiamen are eager to go to Azerbaijan for the $1,800 salary in light of the severe economic crisis in Syria.[7]

Other reports indicate that there are Syrians fighting on both sides, as is the case in Libya. The Azeri Defense Ministry claims that it has in its possession intelligence according to which among the Armenian casualties in Nagorno-Karabakh are Syrians of Armenian origin.[8] The SHRO likewise claims to have information that Syrians of Armenian origin have arrived in Armenia to join the fighting.[9]

SNA Commander: We Will Fight For Turkey Inside And Outside Of Syria

Senior SNA officials, when asked about the veracity of the reports that Syrian fighters were being sent to Azerbaijan, did not rule out the possibility that then reports were accurate. SNA spokesman Yousuf Al-Hamoud clarified that there had been no official decision to send fighters to Azerbaijan, and that he knew nothing about any factions sending them there. He added, however, that some Syrian fighters might have gone there on their own.[10]

Naji Mustafa, spokesman for the National Liberation Front, which is part of the pro-Turkey SNA, said that Turkey had never approached his faction about sending fighters to Azerbaijan. He added that the National Liberation Front was deeply involved in the fighting in Idlib, Syria, and therefore could not even discuss the possibility of sending fighters there, but added that he did not know where the other factions stood on this issue.

Conversely, SNA commander Ziad Haji 'Abid stated unequivocally to the Kurdish Rudaw news outlet that since Turkey provides significant support to the Syrian fighters in Syria, "we [i.e. the SNA] are prepared to defend Turkish interests [both] inside and outside of Syria... The interests of the [Syrian] National Army are aligned with [those of] Turkey. Young [Syrians] have gone to Libya, and when it becomes necessary, we will go to Azerbaijan, alongside the Turkish army. They [the Syrians] are prepared to go... We must repay [our] debt to the Turkish side and join the Turks in the trenches, in Libya, Azerbaijan, or anywhere else."[11]

Syrian Opposition Elements: It's Shameful For Syrians To Serve As Mercenaries; Turkey Has No Need For Syrian Reinforcements

However, the Syrian opposition does not unanimously support the sending of fighters to Azerbaijan; the reports on this sparked criticism from some opposition elements. Ibrahim Al-Jabawi, a member of the High Negotiations Committee that represents the Syrian opposition in talks with the Syrian regime, tweeted: "The path of the mercenaries [has led] from Libya to Azerbaijan... Shame on those who agree [to become mercenaries] and on whoever helps and sends them [into battle]!!!"[12]

Likewise, Syrian opposition member and commentator 'Abdulbaset Sieda tweeted: "Who would have believed that news agencies would refer to Syrians as mercenaries fighting first in Libya, then in Azerbaijan, and who knows [where next]? Even worse is that some defend this, claiming that it is part of the interests shared with Turkey. Should Turkey's interests be jeopardized, it has the second largest army in NATO [and thus does not need our help]."[13]


Abdulbaset Sieda's tweet

 

[1] Alarabiya.net, September 28, 2020.

[2] Twitter.com, aabnour, September 21, 2020.

[3]  Syriahr.com, September 24, 2020.

[4]  Syriahr.com, September 27, 2020.

[5] Alarabiya.net, September 28, 2020.

[6] Syriahr.com, September 29, 2020.

[7] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (Qatar), September 28, 2020.

[8]  Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 29, 2020.

[9] Syriahr.com, September 29, 2020.

[10] Arabi21.com, September 27, 2020.

[11] Rudaw.net, September 29, 2020.

[12] Twitter.com/ibrahimjbawi0, September 27, 2020.

[13] Twitter.com/Ebdulbasit, September 28, 2020.

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