Western media outlets such as the Reuters news agency and The Guardian newspaper ran such reports following the September 27 outbreak of large-scale hostilities around Karabakh. They quoted members of Islamist rebel groups in areas of northern Syria under Turkish control as saying that they are deploying to Azerbaijan in coordination with the Turkish government.
Armenia seized upon that information and went on to present its own purported evidence of Syrian mercenaries recruited by Ankara, which openly supports Azerbaijan in the Karabakh war.
France has also alleged such deployment, with President Emmanuel Macron saying that at least 300 “Syrian fighters from jihadist groups” were flown from Turkey to Azerbaijan ahead of the flare-up of violence in Karabakh. Russia has also accused, albeit implicitly, the Turks of sending “terrorists and mercenaries” to the conflict zone and demanded their “immediate withdrawal from the region.”
Both Ankara and Baku deny using Turkey’s proxy fighters against Karabakh Armenian forces. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev demanded on Sunday that Macron apologize for his statements on the matter.
Meanwhile, the AFP news agency reported on Saturday that it has interviewed two Syrian opposition fighters from Aleppo and Idlib planning to leave for Azerbaijan and another who is already in the conflict zone.
“I signed up to fight more than a week ago to go to Azerbaijan … for three months in exchange for $ 2,000 a month,” it quoted a 26-year-old Syrian as saying via a voicemail.
The man using the pseudonym Abu Ahmad told AFP that he is traveling to Karabakh in the hope of better supporting his wife and of his children. “I’m waiting for my turn to go to Azerbaijan to save money, to come back and start some kind of business,” he said from a refugee camp in northern Aleppo province.
A fighter from the town of Atareb in Aleppo province told AFP he is on the Karabakh front lines. “Yes, I am in Azerbaijan,” he wrote but declined to give further details.
According to the news agency, a source in his hometown said he is part of a unit whose commander, Mohammad Shaaban, has died in action. Shaaban was among four Syrians whose photos were shared on social media after being killed.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that more than 1,000 Turkish-backed mercenaries have been airlifted to Azerbaijan via Turkey so far and 72 of them have already been killed by Armenian troops in fierce fighting along the Karabakh “line of contact.”
“The Turkish government is preparing a new batch of Syrian fighters to be sent to Azerbaijan in the next few days,” said the London-based group. It said most of them are of Turkic descent.
According to the Russian newspaper “Novaya Gazeta,” in the Turkish-controlled town of Afrin the recruitment process is handled by a Syrian Turkmen commander known as Seif Abu Bakr.
“The registration of militants takes place in a small office in Afrin,” wrote the paper. It said they are then transported to the Turkish city of Gaziantep and flown to Azerbaijan via Istanbul.