They kill for their children
“Omar” is on his way to say a final goodbye to a friend who fell in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. There have been many trips lately, and it hurts just as much every time.
According to the plan, 48 people will be killed by Ezaz this Sunday evening. Next week there will be even more.
The fighting has been fierce. Dozens of killed Syrians have already arrived at the border town in coffins.
In the back seat is an automatic rifle of the type AK-47. Omar has used the weapon in the fighting against the Assad regime since 2011. That battle he and many other millions of Syrians have lost.
Now they are fighting a desperate and brutal battle to survive.
Thousands of Syrians have enlisted in a conflict far from Syria. They are better paid as mercenaries than as rebels in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Azerbaijani authorities have rejected Armenia’s claims that Syrian mercenaries are participating in the war on their side.
But through extensive research over several weeks, NRK can tell the background about why hardened Syrian rebel fighters go to the war zone in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The revolution is over
The roads are winding and dark at the Turkish border. Omar talks about the new everyday life of the Syrian rebels. About those who chose to use weapons against the Assad regime and hoped that it would bring freedom to Syria and a better future for the people.
– There is no revolution anymore. We who have fought against Assad have nothing. We have to fight. It does not matter where we fight or who we fight for. We do it to survive, says Omar.
– The salary in the rebel army is low, in addition, everything has become very expensive here in northern Syria. If the Assad regime falls, it will take many years before things return to normal.
But I have to support my two children now. One of them is very ill and I do not have the money to help him, he says.
That is why thousands of Syrian rebels are now recruiting to fight on the Azerbaijani side of the war against Armenia. Far away from the family.
– I do it for the children’s future. I have already signed up to travel.
For four weeks, the two former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. It is located inside Azerbaijan, but mostly Armenians live there.
The conflict is old and they have fought before. Now Azerbaijan feels stronger. Thanks to revenues from oil and gas.
But modern weapons and a lot of money are not enough to win a war. Azerbaijan has struggled with poorly motivated soldiers and military leadership.
That is why it has become a job for people like Omar, soldiers with long war experience from Syria.
With the help of Turkey, thousands of Syrian rebels are now being recruited, the money apparently coming from Azerbaijan.
The area we know today as Syria is located at the intersection of East and West. Traders, historians and tourists came here to learn and make money. But that was before.
In March 2011, demonstrations broke out in Syria against the country’s President Bashar al-Assad. The people demanded freedom and democracy. Assad responded with weapons.
Nine years later, around 350,000 Syrians have been killed and 12 million forced to flee.
The Syrian rebels have been pushed into a corner against the border with Turkey. The same is true of around four million refugees, most of whom live in makeshift tent camps.
Sent the son to the war
Outside such a camp near the town of Ezaz, Fatima is sitting with a mobile phone. She tries to call her son Ali. It is almost a month since he went to Azerbaijan, but the 20-year-old boy has not made a sound in recent days.
It’s completely quiet and mum Fatima is worried. She follows the news of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh province on a daily basis. A place she had never heard of before.
– Ali left, but I’m not sure when he will return home. Maybe in three or six months?
– He gets a thousand dollars a month and then we can live well here. I know it’s dangerous, but we have no choice. I could stop him from leaving, but how are we going to live?
People here do not honor those killed from this conflict. Nor do they talk about this with journalists. Rebels are trying to keep this operation a secret. This is big politics.
Around 2,000 Syrian rebels are now said to have traveled to Azerbaijan via Turkey. Between 100 and 200 have lost their lives, according to NRK’s sources.
– We were first transported across the border to Turkey, then by plane via Ankara to Azerbaijan, says a mercenary in a recording that NRK has had access to.
– Today we received personal weapons, and heavier weapons. We are preparing for the war, s
The Syrian mercenaries sent to Nagorno-Karabakh are being told to guard the borders and oil pipelines.
Arriving in Azerbaijan, most people are given blue-green police uniforms, which distinguish them from the traditional yellow-gray military uniforms used by the Azerbaijani defense.
It’s a relentless conflict they come to. A recording that NRK has had access to shows a Syrian soldier filming as he walks past what are supposed to be dead Armenian soldiers.
The mercenaries are sent to the first line at the front. There, many of them have had to fight a battle of life and death against highly motivated Armenian soldiers, who feel they are defending what they believe is their country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has good sources of information in the conflict area, said on Thursday that up to 5,000 people have lost their lives since the outbreak of hostilities on September 27.