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ISTANBUL — Families gathered around a refrigerated truck at a Syrian-Turkish border post, waiting earlier this month for the drivers to dispense their awful cargo: the bodies of 52 Syrian men, killed in a war 600 miles away.
The dead were mercenaries, recruited by Turkish-backed militias in Syria to fight on behalf of Azerbaijan against Armenia, relatives said. They were deployed as shock troops, to claw back scraps of territory in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
“They went to break the borders,” said a cousin of Mahmoud Najjar, a 38-year-old Syrian fighter. The cousin, interviewed by telephone, said Najjar’s body in the cold truck was marked with the number 12.