Is this true, I wonder: Syrian warriors, gathered under Ankara’s command and responsibility, who are to be sent to Libya, will receive $2,000 monthly. If they die, $50,000 will be given to their families. In cases of permanent injury or disability, they will be given compensation to the tune of $35,000. Veteran warriors have been promised Turkish citizenship. 

These claims, or pieces of information, that I just conveyed are from an article on the Asia Times website written by Ahmad Zaza titled “Syrians enlist in Libya war day after Berlin talks.”

Actually, we should have been informed about this. If this information is false, then reliable authorities should deny these claims clearly and conclusively. All right, my statements may be utopian, but we have to demand this. The denial of “Ahmet gave 10 lira to Mehmet” cannot be done when Mehmet says he has received it and Ahmet says, “No way, I did not give him 10 lira.”

What makes the claims in the story important in terms of international politics and diplomacy — or now, in the typical landscape of the world, in terms of international factual circumstances — is the date of the story: January 20. In other words, the day after the Berlin meeting that was held in hopes of obtaining a ceasefire in Libya. What is explained in the story is continuing without being affected at all by the outcome of the Berlin meeting. It was agreed in Berlin that the transport of arms and ammunition to the warring sides in Libya was to be stopped and prevented, including – and this is more important for Turkey – the transfer of reinforcement armed troops and mercenaries. Well, supposedly.

Promise of Turkish citizenship

The story mentioned above included interviews with people who applied to “recruitment centers” to join the war in Libya, as well as with those who, for various reasons, refused to fight in Libya in return for $2,000. 

While those who have opted for being a mercenary to make a living explain their motives, there are grave possibilities that come to one’s mind.

Mohammed, a 28-year-old member of the Sultan Murad brigade, which is directly controlled by Ankara, said he was not able to find a job after he and his family were displaced to northern Syria. So, he joined the Sultan Murad brigade, by which he was paid about $150 a month. However, they recently stopped paying soldiers in US dollars, he said: “They started paying me only 600 lira (about $105), which was not enough to support my family.”

For this reason, at the end of December, Mohammed registered to go to Libya. “They also promised me Turkish citizenship,” he said.

The promise of Turkish citizenship, which has been mentioned frequently before and was denied by the Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry is, no doubt, just as striking, but I was hooked by another detail. While Ankara was paying $150 to ten thousands of militia members it trained, equipped under the name of “Syrian National Army,” and sent to war, did it convert this payment to Turkish lira and lower the amount because it was short on dollars? Or did Ankara do this to add a compulsory dimension to the already maddeningly brilliant offer of $2000, considering the circumstances in Syria and especially in Idlib?

Let us remember that it is not the first time we have come across statements that the salaries of militia members fighting for Turkey have been converted from US dollars to Turkish liras and lowered.   

Elizabeth Tsurkov’s article in the New York Review of Books, published on November 27, 2019 and titled, “Who Are Turkey’s Proxy Fighters in Syria?” contains very relevant data.

According to this story, Ankara was paying at least 11 million lira monthly to the 35,000 people in the Syrian National Army. It was the “Euphrates Shield” military operation that accompanied the decline in salaries. Before the operation, the salaries were up to $300 monthly. By the beginning of 2019, the salaries had been cut to about $100 every two months.

Again, toward the end of 2018, for example in the al-Mu’tasim Brigade, there were commanders making at least $300 monthly, according to Tsurkov. In another news story run by Reuters at the end of summer of 2018 and quoted by many media outlets in Turkey, the FSA was not happy with the decline in the Turkish lira. “Our salaries became worthless,” one fighter said.  

On the issue of Turkish citizenship, the story points to a distinction. The promise of Turkish citizenship is not given to everybody, it was claimed. Only the militants with significant experience in Syria’s civil war, namely with anti-tank weaponry, will benefit from that offer. 

However, the citizenship promise seems to have evolved into a condition of “if you fight for us, we will pull you out of this life and save you.”

Those not joining

Yaqoub, a former rebel from the Homs countryside, since displaced with his wife and two children to the northern city of Afrin, on January 13 registered to go fight with the al-Mu’tasim division in Libya. The 30-year-old was told that in early February he would be called up for duty.

The Berlin talks have not affected his expectations. Deployment means that fighters are bussed from Syria into Turkey, and from there to Libya.

Yaqoub said he applied after he learned from one of his neighbors who was a fighter in the Syrian National Army that there was a monthly salary of $2,000 and that all fighters and their families will be compensated in the event of injury or death.

 “Because of our poor living conditions here and the lack of work opportunities, I decided to sign up,” he said.

One of those who have refused the Libya offer was Ahmed, 35, who once served as a commander for a Damascus-based faction.

He says he received an offer from one of his friends to go to Libya for $2,000 a month, but he refused. “I took up arms for a higher purpose. I did not pick up a weapon to be a mercenary and fight outside Syria,” he said.

He called the shifting of fighters to Libya “a betrayal of the revolution,” especially at a time when the northwest province of Idlib and the neighboring western countryside of Aleppo are facing a Russian-backed onslaught.

In Ahmad Zaza’s piece, Umm Ammar, a 60-year-old woman forced to flee her home outside Damascus to the north, says her son left to go fight in Libya against her wishes. “Frankly, I do not want my son to be a mercenary or to die in a foreign land,” she said.

 “When my son told me of his intention to go to Libya, I begged him not to go, but he insisted in order to achieve his goal of obtaining Turkish citizenship, and so that his father and I can enter Turkish territory to receive treatment in their hospitals,” she said.

When looked at from here, Turkey, Istanbul, it may seem as if we are watching an evil game played by strictly evil-minded people using some “already evil” people. But when we take the lid off the camouflage-patterned canvas, we see a full-fledged tragedy spreading from here to there. It is as if certain people are at the wheel, and once they find the opportunity to create human pain, they engage in keeping that pain ongoing, letting it multiply and grow. Finally, they want it to leak and splatter anywhere possible in order to continue this destruction.