In July 2020, fighting flared up between Azerbaijan and Armenia as both sides lost military personnel in clashes. Now, reports have emerged of both sides supposedly employing Syrian fighters as mercenaries. Thus, the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah, citing a report by the Turkish newspaper Yeni Şafak quoting 'Azerbaijani media outlets,' claimed that Armenia has brought in YPG/PKK militants to train Armenian militias in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Meanwhile, Lindsey Snell (known for her stances against Turkey) claimed that men from the Turkish-backed al-Hamza Division of Syrian rebel fighters have arrived in Azerbaijan, supposedly via Turkey.
I personally treat these reports with a grain of salt. Clearly there is an information war going on between the two sides. Regardless, the perceptions have even prompted the Egyptian cleric Sheikh Abu al-Yaqdhan al-Masri, who is based in northwest Syria, to issue a fatwa warning people not to abandon the jihad in Syria in order to fight as mercenaries for Azerbaijan. I provide a translation of that fatwa below.
Praise be to God and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of God. As for what follows:
What is the ruling on going to Azerbaijan as mercenary soldiers to fight against Armenia?
Jihad in the path of God: in the path of God it has been mandated to make supreme the word of God: 'And fight them until there is no more fitna and religion belongs wholly to God.' Oh Messenger of God: what is fighting in the path of God? For indeed one of us may fight out of anger and fight out of passion, and fight to show off, and fight to be praised, and fight for his place to be seen and fight to be mentioned, and fight for spoils. So who is in the path of God? The Messenger of God (SAWS) said: 'The one who fights so the word of God should be supreme is fighting in the path of God.'
One must be clear about the aim of fighting and that it is in the path of God to make supreme the word of God. Anything besides that is Jahili death so beware of being killed as a mere corpse so you lose both abodes. The Messenger of God (SAWS) said: 'Whoso is killed under a blind banner, calls for non-Islamic partisanship, or supports non-Islamic partisanship, it is a Jahili death.' As for the seeking provision in fighting, it is forbidden. Al-Sarkhasi, who is a Hanafi, said: 'And hiring the Muslim for jihad is falsehood.' Ibn al-Qasim said: 'And the one rents himself out in the expeditions, that is not permitted per the opinion of Malik.' This is the view of the Malikis. Al-Nawawi who is Shafi'i of course, said: 'It is not permitted for the imam to hire- or any of the citizens- a Muslim for jihad.' Ibn al-Najar al-Fatuhi who is Hanbali said: 'And hiring for jihad is not correct.'
And listen to this precious advice: the mujahid giant Uqba bin Nafi' says: I asked Ibn Omar (may God be pleased with them both): with whom do I fight? He said: 'With those who fight for God, and do not fight with those who fight for this dinar and dirham.' As for the Syrian brothers, the jihad of repelling the aggressor in al-Sham is a fard ayn on every one of them capable and it is not permitted to flee from the column and abandon the fighting in Syria on flimsy pretexts. For the battle is still ongoing and the enemy is still occupying most of Syria and is threatening the liberated north, and the detainees and female prisoners are still awaiting deliverance from God at your hands. And the refugees and displaced in the places are still awaiting to return by God's help at your hands. 'And what is the matter with you that you do not fight in the path of God and the oppressed from the men, women and children who say: Our Lord, get us out from this city whose people are oppressive, and grant us from Yourself a trustee, and grant us from Yourself a helper.' Defend your religion, honour and usurped wealth. So on the authority of Sa'id bin Zayd, who said: I heard the Messenger of God (SAWS) saying: 'Whoso is killed in defence of his wealth is a martyr, and whoso is killed in defence of his religion is a martyr, and whoso is killed in defence of his blood is a martyr, and whoso is killed in defence of his people is a martyr.' As for the doubts that some of the people cast, they are merely a lust for money and being a mercenary, but they are contrived as a doubt in an attempt to convince themselves of the permissibility of travelling to Azerbaijan.
One of them says: we in Syria take a dubious monthly grant from the factions. Is this not being a mercenary? We say: oh dear brother, this is a sponsorship granted for those who go on expeditions in an Islamically legitimate jihad to repel the aggressor. And the mujahid has come out in the path of God, whether or not he is granted. Our sayyid Omar bin al-Khattab (may God be pleased with him) says: the Messenger of God (SAWS) gives me provision, so I say: give to the one who is more needing of it than I am. So he says: 'Take it, if something comes to you from this wealth, as you are not seeking it in greed or asking. So take it. And what does not come to you, do not strive after it.'
One of them says: There are thousands of youth who have travelled to serve as mercenaries in Turkey, Germany and other places, so why do you condemn us? And there are thousands of youth kneeling down in the camps, abandoning the jihad. We say: oh dear brother, the mashayakh have issued a fatwa that these people are fleeing from the column and abandoning the obligation of jihad upon them, and we call on them to return to Syria and participate in the fighting. And we call on all the youth in the camps to join the convoy of jihad for our crisis is a crisis of number. Were 100,000 youth to be recruited now, the whole equation would change and we would turn the tables on all those conspiring against the jihad in al-Sham.
One of them says: there are no battles currently in Idlib. We say: oh dear brother: the jihad in Syria is like prayer. It is not possible for there to be someone to pray instead of you. 'So fight in the path of God and do not entrust anyone except yourself.' So this is a fard ayn upon you. Then the ceasing of the fighting is a crime and the one who caused that is responsible for it and he will be asked about it before God and before the Ummah. As for me and you, our obligation is to prepare and continue the ribat and fighting.
One of them says: do you know the intention of those travelling to Azerbaijan? Perhaps his intention is jihad in the path of God. How do you know? We say: oh dear brother: the just intention does not make the corrupt work just. Youth going out from Syria and their abandoning the jihad that is obligatory upon them is one of the great sins. And the fighting there is between secular armies and Christians and Shi'a are fighting each other in them. And it is one life that is the most precious thing you possess, so beware of expending it for something besides God. Beware that you should go with the one who will cast you to death without planning and organisation and will place you between secular Rafidite armies who love your death and hate good for you. And you may be killed because of their neglect for you or you lose your leg or you lose your eye or you expose yourself to captivity then you are handed to Bashar al-Assad so you will be tested in your religion in the prisons of the criminals, so you lose this world and the Hereafter. Oh God make just our circumstances and guide our youth and show us the truth is truth and grant us the provision of following it. And show us the falsehood is falsehood and grant us the provision of avoiding it.
Update 28 September 2020: Despite my initial skepticism about Turkey sending fighters to Azerbaijan, a friend in Azaz (Euphrates Shield area) who does media work there says Syrian fighters from the Sultan Murad and Sultan Suleiman Shah formations have indeed been sent to Azerbaijan. There is also a Reuters report with similar news about deployment of fighters to Azerbaijan. Looking at Abu al-Yaqdhan's fatwa again, clearly serious arguments have been put forward on the ground in favour of those deployments.