Syrian Mercenaries and Their Caucasus Deployment
By Maryam Ishaya
05/17/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The Republic of Armenia’s court convicted Yusuf Alaabet al-Hajji and Mehrab Muhammad al-Shkheir, two Turkish backed Syria mercenaries, to life in prison for several crimes committed during 44-day Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh in Armenian) War. In their pursuit to help Azerbaijan gain control of the disputed region, both men assisted Azerbaijan in causing intentional bodily harm against Armenian citizens. According to media reports, Armenia’s judiciary is in search of over 30 additional mercenaries.
Al-Hajji’s friend Ibrahim, also known as Abu Ahmad, had informed him of a mercenary job offer with a hefty monthly payment. Abu Ahmad provided little details but convinced al-Hajji to align himself with the Azerbaijani militia in their pursuit against the Armenian ‘kefirs’ (infidels). Mercenaries such as al-Hajji were hired by Turkey, who supports Azerbaijan in their attempt to conquer Nagnoro-Karabakh, who is majority Armenian Christian. When being questioned for his deposition, al-Hajji said, “ I was promised a monthly $2000 payment for taking part in the military exercises. My family—my wife and my father—didn’t want me to go, while my brothers were unaware about this.”
Similarly to al-Hajji, another mercenary named al-Shkheir received the same promise. In his testimony, al-Shkeir informed the court that his leader had ordered him to attack an Armenian village. He was commanded to kill any civilian and military personnel with arson and other explosives.
Armed with weapons to kill, Abu Hamsha, a leader of Syrian mercenaries in Azerbaijan ordered the militants to “slaughter every Armenian in the village.” Al-Hajji said, “He told us we should slaughter, kill all Armenians, and meanwhile the Turkish and Azerbaijani servicemen were also coming and ordering us to kill and slaughter each and every Armenian. Abu Hamsha, as well as the Turkish and Azerbaijani servicemen, were telling us that each of us would receive extra $100 payments for beheading an Armenian,” This particular operation ended in failure as the Armenian military fought back against the Azerbaijani military. Al-Hajji and other Syrian mercenaries fled alongside Azerbaijani forces, only to encounter Armenian forces again.
Al-Hajji succumbed to injuries along the way but received very little aid from the Azerbaijani military. His condition worsened; still the Azerbaijani military provided him no aid. This prompted al-Hajji to leave camp and make his way towards the Armenian positions, where he was captured and treated for his wounds. Even though Armenian troops knew of his mercenary role, they still helped al-Hajji. Their generosity changed al-Hajji’s perspective on Armenians.
He no longer wished to fight against Armenians, rather help them in their pursuit to justice. Al-Hajji said, “I, Yusuf Alaabet al-Hajji, am stating that anyone who is planning to go to Azerbaijan should not take that step, because Armenians are very good people, they saved me from death, they helped me. I am urging you all, if they try to deceive you and attempt to lure you with money against this country and Armenians, don’t go, even if you are poor, it is better to stay poor than to go to Azerbaijan and fight for money.”
According to AsiaNews, Turkey sent 4,000 ISIS militants from Syria to fight alongside Azerbaijan during the war. Each were promised a salary up to $2,000 per month. Turkey and Azerbaijan deny claims of deploying Syrian rebels. However multiple different video footages show otherwise. This includes Syrian mercenaries advising others not to follow in their footsteps.
Abu Amsha leader of the Turkish backed Syrian rebel group, Suleiman Shah, fought in the war alongside Azerbaijan. Syrian fighters recall Abu Amsha’s anti-Christian remarks, and noted in a video that he did not pay injured or dead Syrian mercenaries for their service. Relatives of dead mercenaries confirm they received no reparations for losing their family members.
Turkey and Azerbaijan remain quiet as the men stand on trial. Both continue to reject claims made against them during the war and have yet to repay some Syrian mercenaries their promised stipends upon recruitment.