Abu Ahmad, a pro-Turkish rebel warrior desperate to help displaced families from the Syrian War, is waiting to be placed in Azerbaijan, hoping to receive nearly 80 times his current salary.
“I fought to go to Azerbaijan more than a week ago… giving me $2,000 a month and for three months…”, 26-year-old told AFP using a pseudonym for his safety through a phone message service.
From Sunday, clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops broke out, leaving Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian ethnic province that was eliminated from Azerbaijan in a fierce war in the 1990s.
Baku and Yerevan exchanged accusations of which side recently started the battle. Nearly 200 deaths have been reported, making it the most fatal since the all-out war.
Ankara is supporting Baku, a longtime ally in the conflict, Yerevan is accused of sending a Syrian deputy to strengthen the Azerbaijani army, and despite the rejection of the Azeri, it was supported by France.
However, the AFP has spoken with Aleppo and Syrian opposition fighters from these ribs, who are preparing to depart for the Caucasus, and fighters already in conflict.
At a refugee camp in northern Syria controlled by rebels backed by Turkey, Abu Ahmad told AFP that he was heading to Karabakh hoping to better support his wife and children.
“We lost our villages and homes and we had nothing left to eat,” said Abu Ahmad, who has been a rebel warrior for five years.
He said at a camp in northern Aleppo, “I’m waiting for my turn to go to Azerbaijan to raise money and come back and start some kind of business.”
-‘No other options’-
Abu Ahmad and his family left their hometown earlier this year in an onslaught by Russian-backed government forces. The battle was halted due to a ceasefire in March.
He said last month he received only 200 Turkish lira (about $25) from a group of rebels, and now battles are almost halted, reducing income.
He says it’s not enough just to support a family in a country devastated by nine years of war, when food prices have soared in recent months.
After receiving reports of the death of a Syrian in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abu Ahmad realizes that he is taking risks.
But “we have no other options,” he said. “We have reached a point where we are ready to sacrifice ourselves to support our children.”
The Syrian Human Rights Observatory says 1,200 Syrian warriors have already headed through Turkey to Azerbaijan and hundreds are preparing to follow.
British-based war watchers promised fighters from pro-Ankara armed opposition groups a salary of between $1,500 and $2,000.
The first of them arrived in Azerbaijan before the start of the battle and thought they were guarding the oil fields and borders.
A fighter in the town of Atareb in the Aleppo province told AFP that he was at the forefront.
I texted, “Yes, I am in Azerbaijan,” but did not provide details.
Sources from his hometown said he was in the unit where commander Mohammad Shaaban was killed.
Shaaban was one of four Syrians whose photos were shared on social media after being reported dead.
-‘Not enough to buy bread’-
The observatory said at least 64 pro-Turkish Syrian fighters had died in clashes after Sunday.
Three of them relatives confirmed to AFP that they had been killed.
Turkey has admitted to sending Syrian fighters to conflict-stricken Libya since late last year as part of its aid to a UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Ankara did not officially mention Syrian mercenaries sent to Azerbaijan, but Baku said Armenians from the diaspora had joined the separatist side.
However, in these Liv states in northwestern Syria, opposition fighter Abu Adnan, 38, said he had approached joining as a Caucasus combatant.
“Because our turn did not come to Libya, we were instructed to prepare to go to Azerbaijan,” he said, using a fake name to fear the echo.
Abu Adnan said he left his hometown in 2017 and arrived in the north.
He joined a group of rebels and moved with his family from one village to the next until the end of the camp.
He told AFP on WhatsApp, “Here we have 200 Turkish lira on the front and it’s not enough to buy bread, but we’re getting $1,500 there.”
But he said money wasn’t the only reason.
“We are standing with our ally, Turkey, because our ally, Turkey, is fighting for Russia and Syria, and we must always stand with it.”
“If Turkey loses the battle, it will be under pressure and hand over our region to the regime, and we will never return home.”
strs / lar / ah / hc / hkb