By Ahmad al-Khaled
Just a few weeks ago many analysts and observers were sceptical about reports of Turkey’s transferring units of its Syrian National Army (SNA) proxies to Nagorno Karabakh, even more so because Turkish officials denied  any such claims.
However, as evidence of massive
casualties among the Syrian mercenaries continues to mount, there is
little space left for doubt: SNA fighters have become cannon fodder in
the Turkish operation in support of Azerbaijan.
The first batch of bodies of those Syrians who perished in Nagorno
Karabakh counted over 50 people, according to messages and videos that
went viral on opposition WhatsApp and Telegram channels. Among the dead
who were delivered to Syria over Hiwar Kilis border crossing and were
given a hasted burial  were men from Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and other
regions of Syria. Many of their relatives, like families of Muhammad
Shaalan  from Atareb and Kinan Ferzat  from Maarat al-Nuuman, were
shocked to learn about their death.
Just like the majority of the Syrians who travelled to Nagorno Karabakh,
Muhammad and Firzat were primarily motivated by lucrative rewards of up
to 2,000 dollars promised by Turkey. “I came here to make money and
have a better life back in Syria where the living conditions are
miserable. I consider this a job, nothing else,” a member of Liwa
Sultan Murad, one of the first SNA factions to deploy its fighters to
the contested region, told Guardian .
The reason behind heavy casualties of the Syrian mercenaries is that
they are thrown into action where the clashes are the most violent,
including Jabrayil, Terter, Fizulin and Talysh. This move allows
Azerbaijan to keep its military, who mainly provide air support
including operating Turkey-made Bayraktar TB2  UAVs and coordinate
artillery and missile strikes of the Armenian positions, out of direct
contact with the enemy.
The estimates of the numbers of the Syrian mercenaries present in
Nagorno Karabakh are wildly different. While initial reports put 
their number at 500 men, it is currently believed that the actual number
may be in thousands. This data indicates that at least 10 percent of the
fighters were killed during the very first days of the escalation – a
serious alarm for the mercenaries as well as their Turkish backers.
These developments must ring a bell for Azerbaijan as well. The longer
the conflict protracts, the higher the risk of casualties among the
Azeri servicemen becomes, who have already suffered losses in Armenian
retaliation strikes. Baku has managed to avoid discontent among the
military as well as the civilian populace – not least thanks to the
Syrian mercenaries crushed as cannon fodder – but this can not
continue for long.
Ahmad al-Khaled is a freelance Syrian journalist with primary
focus on the involvement of foreign actors in the Syrian conflict and
its consequences on both regional and global levels. He has contributed
to such regional and global media outlets as Jerusalem Post, Global
Security Review, Youm 7 and others._