A Syrian mercenary recently captured while fighting for Azerbaijan against Armenia in its ongoing war over Nagorno-Karabakh said on Wednesday that his recruiters instructed him and fellow mercenaries to “slaughter all civilians and soldiers” of an Armenian village they attempted to capture.
Armenian forces captured Syrian national Yusuf Alaabet al-Hajji in recent days and “is currently remanded into custody facing international terrorism charges, among others,” Armenian state news agency Armenpress reported on Wednesday.
Hajji told Armenian investigators that Turkish forces recruited him in Syria to fight for Azerbaijan for “a 2000-dollar monthly payment.” In his testimony, Hajji detailed how Turkish forces transported him and hundreds of other Syrian mercenaries from Syria into Turkey, then on to Azerbaijan.
Shortly after arriving by plane in Azerbaijan on October 18, Hajji said he and his fellow fighters were prepared for battle at an Azeri military base by Turkish and Azeri military personnel.
“We were escorted by Sheikh Ibrahim [Turkish-backed Syrian recruiter] and two Azerbaijani servicemen. Sheikh Ibrahim told us that we must capture the Armenian village ahead of us, and we must slaughter all civilians and soldiers there,” Hajji testified.
“When we approached the Armenian village, we came under fire, and also mortar fire, in this period 15 of us were killed, the operation was a failure and we had to escape into the mountains,” he explained.
“When we fled … we were lost, we went by a path until we found the Azerbaijanis who had accompanied us, they took us through some path, but during this the Armenians began shooting at us. I got wounded, I was wounded for five days, no one asked me anything, no one was interested in me,” Hajji detailed.
“After three days, I began moving towards the Armenian positions, the Armenians gestured me from distance telling me I am safe, when I approached them they took me to their position, treated my wounds, gave me food and water. They took me to safety, they didn’t harm me, they helped and treated me well, may God bless them,” the Syrian mercenary said.
“The Azerbaijanis call the Armenians infidels, but they themselves are the infidels, we [Syrians] are infidels for coming here and fighting against these good people. I stayed wounded for five days in Azerbaijan and no one helped me, but the Armenians did, they helped me and treated my wounds,” Hajji reiterated.
Clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh began on September 27. They have continued since then despite two attempts by Russia and one by the U.S. over the past month to mediate a ceasefire. Nagorno-Karabakh legally belongs to Azerbaijan but is ruled by ethnic Armenian separatists, and sporadic skirmishes between the two sides over the breakaway territory occur regularly. However, the most recent fighting over the region has already surpassed any previous conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in terms of casualties since a 1991-1994 war that killed 30,000 people.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed support for Baku immediately after fighting broke out on September 27.
“The Turkish people will support our Azerbaijani brothers with all our means as always,” Erdoğan wrote on Twitter.
Turkey views Azerbaijan, with its ethnically Turkic and majority Muslim population, as a sibling state. Russia maintains a strategic military alliance with Christian Armenia and continues to support a ceasefire to end the conflict.
Public Radio of Armenia published video footage on October 8 allegedly showing an imam (Islamic leader) in Syria recruiting mercenary fighters to fight for Azerbaijan against Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. The video was reportedly shot in the northern Syrian city of Afrin, less than 20 miles from the country’s border with Turkey.
In addition to Armenia, other countries including Syria and France, and the U.K. newspaper the Guardian, have also accused Ankara of sending Syrian mercenaries to Azerbaijan to help bolster its ground forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
French President Emmanuel Macron on October 2 cited intelligence reports that allegedly reveal that “300 Syrian fighters drawn from ‘jihadist groups’ from the Syrian city of Aleppo had passed through the Turkish city of Gaziantep en route for Azerbaijan.”
The city of Afrin, where Public Radio of Armenia’s alleged recruiting video was reportedly shot, is located halfway between Aleppo and the Turkish border.
“These fighters are known, tracked, and identified,” the French president claimed. Macron promised on October 2 to call Erdoğan “in the coming days” to confront him over the crossing of a “red line.” The French leader said he urged “all NATO partners to face up to the behavior of a NATO member.”