Turkish channels of Syrian mercenaries in Azerbaijan – such a Middle East

The speed of the delivery of Syrian mercenaries by Turkey to Azerbaijan reveals their integration, even more extensive than in Libya, in the military projection of Ankara.

In the center of Stepanakert, in Nagorno-Karabakh, after a bombardment on October 11 (Laurent Van Der Stockt, Le Monde)

The relaunch, on September 27, of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was accompanied, despite President Erdogan’s official denial, the rapid deployment of more than 1,500 Syrian mercenaries in Azerbaijan. Turkey was able, by sending these auxiliary battalions, to limit its direct involvement in the crisis, as well as the human losses which would have resulted from it. Such a device demonstrates the even greater integration than in Libya of these Syrian mercenary units who, there, fight alongside Turkish troops, while they replace them on the Azerbaijani front. This integration, beyond its impact on these two ongoing conflicts, constitutes a new challenge in a Middle East already destabilized by the accumulation of crises.


Turkey’s first direct intervention in Syria dates back to August 2016 when Operation ” Euphrates Shield “Is launched against Daesh and its” Islamic state »In the border area, west of the Euphrates. The unacknowledged objective of this anti-jihadist offensive is to prevent the Kurdish forces from forming the junction, south of the Turkish border, between their stronghold in Afrin and northeastern Syria. The Turkish army, already weakened by the abortive putsch of July 2016, suffers heavy losses in men and materials. This snub led the Turkish General Staff to reconfigure, in May 2017, its Syrian auxiliaries into the Syrian National Army (ANS), whose qualifier of “National” poorly conceals his subordination to Ankara. In this ANS coexist groups from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), long spearhead of the anti-Assad insurgency, and militias organically linked to the Turkish military.

This is particularly the case with the Suleiman Shah Brigade and the Sultan Mourad Division, two Turkmen militias bearing the name of the patriarch of the Ottoman dynasty in the 13th century, for the first, and of the first Ottoman sultan in the 14th century, for the second. The ANS is this time in the front line of the anti-Kurdish offensives launched by Ankara against Afrin, in January 2018, then against northeastern Syria, in October 2019. The Syrian auxiliaries then suffer losses ten times greater than their Turkish mentors. The multiple abuses of which they are guilty during the fighting are continuing, in the areas thus incorporated into the Turkish glacis in Syrian territory, through a policy of systematic discrimination, even of terror, against the Kurdish population. In the very last days of 2019, ANS militiamen began to arrive in Libya to fight there, under the aegis of Turkey, another ” national army “Self-proclaimed, the Libyan militia of” marshal »Haftar, gradually pushed back from the west of the country.


The recruitment of Syrian mercenaries is done through their home militia, which facilitates a contract “Private” with a security company, screen of the Turkish services. The candidates are numerous for a pay ten times higher than that affected in Syria. The recruitment of minors, on the basis of falsified identity documents, has been denounced in Libya. The mercenaries are generally transported by civilian flights, before being assigned to highly exposed fronts, where at least 5% of them are killed. It took several months to transfer around seven thousand Syrian mercenaries to Libya, while more than a thousand of them were dispatched in a few days to Azerbaijan, from the start of the conflict. They joined compatriots who had recently been officially recruited to provide security for oil installations.

Their losses would already be more than 125 killed, double the rate, however high, recorded in Libya. Such a proportion testifies both to the ferocity of the fighting and to the role of “cannon fodder” played by these Syrian auxiliaries. The speed of their deployment on the Nagorno-Karabakh front also demonstrates the trivialization by the Turkish general staff of this engagement by proxy. After Libya and Azerbaijan, these mercenaries could come into action in northern Iraq, where Turkish army raids against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas are tolerated by local Kurdish authorities, but condemned by the central government in Baghdad.

The Arab militias of the ANS have put forward in Libya their solidarity with their ” brothers “ Arabs and Sunnis. The engagement in Azerbaijan alongside a Shiite population and a secular post-Soviet regime, on the other hand, gives rise to serious debates in the Islamist movement. In order not to aggravate such trouble, Turkish propaganda is imposing a blackout on Israel’s arms sales to Azerbaijan, which have nevertheless led to the recall of the Armenian ambassador to Tel Aviv. Turkey’s recourse to Syrian mercenaries was accompanied in Libya by a deployment in the opposing camp of Russian mercenaries, and to a lesser extent Syrians. In Azerbaijan, the Armenian separatists are supported by fighters from the diaspora (the special envoy of the “World” in Stepanakert saw Armenian militiamen from Lebanon there), a phenomenon whose extent is impossible to assess. .

As for the millions of Syrians who have already had to mourn their revolution, they must now put up with a soldiery with Turkey’s boot claiming to be ” national army ” and wars to the Caucasus.

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