Before he became a jihadist, Odiljon Pulatov would travel each year from Tajikistan to Moscow to earn money as a construction worker.
“The money I made was enough to sustain my family. But the last time I went there, I met different people, Tajiks and other [Central Asians]. They persuaded me that jihad is a must for every Muslim,” Pulatov told EurasiaNet.org.
His nom de guerre is Omar al-Shishani (Omar the Chechen), and he has gained a fearsome reputation as a commander in the dreaded terrorist jihadi group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But al-Shishani is no Chechen. His birth name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, and he is a citizen of Georgia from the Pankisi Gorge, a remote corner of this South-Caucasus country.
There are few outward signs to indicate the Azerbaijani city of Sumgayit, a Soviet-era hub for the petro-chemical industry, is a seedbed of Islamic militancy. Shops and restaurants sell alcohol, and residents dress casually.
The mayhem and indiscriminate violence that define Syria’s civil war could not crush their entrepreneurial spirit: yet for some Syrian-Armenian refugees, the shakedown practices that are part of Armenia’s economic environment are more than they can bear.
When Olga Ladanova moved to Damascus 10 years ago to marry a Syrian citizen and start a family, she held on to her Kyrgyz citizenship. These days, her family credits her passport with saving their lives.
In 2013, as Syria’s civil war raged, 23-year-old Samar Abaza opted, like hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, to flee his home for safety abroad. Yet unlike most of the estimated 2.5 million Syrians who are now refugees, Abaza sought to build a new life in Abkhazia, another contested land.
As the Syrian civil war nears its third anniversary, Azerbaijanis fighting for militant Islamic groups increasingly feature among those reported killed. While such reports are unsettling to officials in Azerbaijan, non-governmental observers in Baku believe the implications are limited for domestic stability.
These days in the small courtyard at the Pir Sultan Cemevi, a house of worship in Istanbul, a few women sit on benches, men stand around chatting and sipping tea, while children haggle over donated toys.
You can’t blame people for being skeptical about the recently brokered US-Russian deal to contain the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons. But when it comes to Syria, there are no clear choices. There’s a lot not to like about either President Bashar al-Assad or the rebels who are trying to oust him.