This detailed report provides information corroborated by statements, photos and videos on the transfer of Syrians and Caucasians to Azerbaijan to engage in its ongoing military conflict with Armenia in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as Artsakh).
Reportedly, in the second half of September 2020 hundreds of Syrians (civilians and militaries) were transferred through Turkish territory to Azerbaijan to fight as mercenaries alongside the government forces.
Earlier, three batches of Caucasian jihadists arrived in Azerbaijan on three different dates of July. Those Caucasians, whose number was 150, affiliated to Ajnad al-Kavkaz/ Soldiers of the Caucasusian Jihadi Islamic fundamentalist rebel group active in northern Syria, primarily in the mountainous, forested areas of northern Latakia province (Turkmen Mountain and Mountain of the Kurds) and parts of the province of Idlib controlled by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.
As for the Syrians enlisted, STJ has confirmed that their number reached at least 2000 on 13 October 2020; the date of finishing this report, and that they were taken to Azerbaijan in three transfers (250 fighters in each). We have also verified that most of them are affiliated to the Syrian National Army (SNA) of the Istanbul-based National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces – the political umbrella of the Syrian opposition forces –, while the others are civilians who were prompted by the woeful economic situation in Syria to accept the ‘Turkish offer’, though they have never carried a weapon before. Recruitment took place mainly in areas held by Turkey and allies, including Afrin area (Olive Branch Areas).
Statements provided by STJ field researchers and officers of the SNA confirmed that Turkey’ security forces began writing name lists of those wanted to fight in Azerbaijan in early September 2020, but the official registration process, however, started on the13th of the same month. That process was led by armed groups known to have close ties with the Turkish government, including: the Sultan Murad Division – whose fighters are mostly Turkoman – the Suleiman Shah Brigade (also known as al-Amshat), the Glory Corps/Faylaq al-Majd and the Sham Legion/Faylaq al-Sham.
Later, the registered fighters were transported from a gathering point at the Hawar Kilis military border crossing to another gathering point on the Turkish territory to be then taken to airports and flown to Azerbaijan by military aircrafts mainly A400. According to information obtained by STJ, the first flight was on 22 September 2020; five days before the start of the most violent military operations ever in the disputed territory.
This report is only a part of a broad effort by STJ to monitor the ongoing recruitment of Syrians to fight as mercenaries in conflicts they are alien to. We will report any new reliable information provided on this subject.
For this report, we interviewed 19 sources, among them senior leaders in the SNA and registrars of the fighters – who are known as ‘brokers’ and are associated with armed groups and Turkish intelligence –, fighters who have already been transferred into combat and others on the waiting lists, among them civilians, in addition to relatives of fighters killed recently in Azerbaijan.
Further, our researchers have verified dozens of photos and videos shared via the internet on the subject matter.
Besides, our digital forensics tracked the Turkish military aircraft flights which transported fighters from Turkey to Azerbaijan, as reported by officers and fighters who were on those flights. Our team collected information and open-source evidence, analysed it and presented it in a simplified way.