Nagorno-Karabakh, new theater of intervention for Syrian mercenaries in Ankara’s pay

A shell near Ivanyan in Nagorno-Karabakh on October 1.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s favorite mercenaries are expanding their scope. The pro-Ankara Syrian militiamen, who sowed terror in the fall of 2019 in Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan, and who participated during the winter and spring in the defense of Tripoli, the Libyan capital besieged by the forces of Marshal Haftar, were deployed to the Nagorno-Karabakh mountains. In this hotly contested region of the Caucasus, Syrian fighters back up Azerbaijani troops against Armenian separatist forces. Their presence on the ground, denied by Baku and Ankara, is evidenced by the death announcements that are starting to emerge on social networks.

Thursday 1er October, the Syrian news site Jesr Press for example reported the death in the fighting tearing the enclave apart of a certain Qassem Mustafa Al-Jazmour, from Deïr Ez-Zor, in eastern Syria. The man was a member of the Sultan Mourad armed group, a Turkmen faction that participated in the fight against the Assad regime, before retraining, as the insurgency lost ground, as a back-up militia for the Turkish army. In recent years, under the label of the Syrian National Army (ANS), Sultan Murad and other disenchanted rebel formations have dislodged Kurdish forces from part of northern Syria, turned into a de facto Turkish protectorate.

On Tuesday, Syrian journalist Hussein Akoush confirmed the death on the Caucasian battlefield of another fighter from Syria: Mohamed Shaalan, from west Aleppo, also enlisted in the ranks of the ANS. The BBC’s Arab service, for its part, published on Wednesday the testimony of a Syrian deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh, reached by email. Named Abdullah, he says he arrived in Azerbaijan at the end of September, before the fighting began, baited by the promise of a monthly salary of $ 2,000, a very substantial sum in Syria in ruins. ‘today.

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Dressed in an Azerbaijani army uniform, he was first posted to a border post, as his commander had committed, before being sent to the front lines when hostilities began on September 27. The auxiliary, who contacted the BBC after surreptitiously retrieving his phone, which had been confiscated on his arrival in Baku, reports the deaths of at least ten of his compatriots.

No one knows for sure how many Syrian mercenaries have already been sent to the Caucasian battlefield and how many of them were killed there. The best-informed observers speak of several hundred for the former and a few dozen for the latter. What is certain is that the Syrian presence promises to increase. The world was able to speak via WhatsApp with two members of the ANS, currently present in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, and who are preparing to join Nagorno-Karabakh: Mohamed Ali and Ali Ahmed Al-Khalaf, elderly 24 years old.

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