A Death In Syria

Serb in Ukraine 2In the summer of 2017 a young Serbian man died in Syria. He was the first Serb to lose his life fighting Islamic State. The international news didn’t notice. His fellow supporters of football team Vojvodina Novi Sad put up a tribute on Facebook.

Dimitrije Sasha Karan (Димитрије Саша Каран) was 24-years-old when he stepped on a landmine. He had a wife and a young son.

His path to the battlefield started in the terraces of Novi Sad. Born in the Bosnian town of FočaKaran moved to Serbia as a child to avoid the civil war that wrecked Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He got involved in the Novi Sad football scene as a teenager.

The team had a fanatical fan group called the Firma (Фирма). Chanting, flares billowing smoke, drinking, expensive casual clothes, nationalism, the occasional fight. A Serb version of Italian ultras and British hooligans.

Karan loved the life. He became a Firma leader.

Separatist Soldier

In 2014 demonstrations and street battles in Ukraine escalated into open warfare. The pro-Russia east declared independence as Novorussia. The Ukrainian government saw the secession as a Moscow power play aimed at keeping the EU out of Russia’s backyard. Men like Karan saw it as a heroic stand by fellow Slavs against an unholy alliance of globalism and liberalism.

Serb in Serbia 2In early 2015 Karan left Novi Sad to join a small group of Serbian mercenaries fighting for the eastern separatists. The Serbs were part of a scattered international brigade of foreign fighters.

He was a brave young man and a good fighter,’ said his sergeant, former police spokesman  Radomir Počuča. ‘He had a baptism of fire in January 2015 in Donetsk. He stayed in Novorussia after I left, and later I heard that he married a Russian in Moscow and had a child with her.’

Počuča heard right. Karan liked what he saw of Russia in the separatist territories. After service in Novorussia he headed for Moscow to drink from the original well. He married a good-looking local girl with long blonde hair. They had a son.

His friends from Firma last saw him in August 2016 when Vojvodina Novi Sad played Dinamo Minsk in the Belarussian capital. Karan came to see the match. He seemed happy and in love.

He was dead less than a year later.

The Syrian Cause

The civil war in Syria had been ripping the country apart since 2011. Bashar al-Assad‘s government was popular with the international right and became more so after Islamic State birthed itself in the chaos.

Serb in UkraineThere were rumours of foreign volunteers from both sides of the Ukraine fighting heading to Syria to join the government forces; the Russian media wrote about recruiters offering financial sign up incentives to separatists, local and foreign.

Karan signed up with a mercenary unit recruited in Russia, presumably with the approval of  Putin’s Kremlin. Moscow was supporting al-Assad’s government with air strikes, advisers, and small numbers of ground troops. Karan was one of the men backing up Syrian government forces in the front lines. In early June 2017 he stepped on a landmine and died in hospital.

His Firma friends put up photos and some heartfelt messages on Facebook. The story got picked up in the Serb media and some international outlets printed a few paragraphs. Posts on a Muslim forum claimed revenge for Srebrenica. Posts on Serb forums glorified Karan as a modern knight fighting a crusade against a hydra-headed enemy of Islam, liberalism, globalism, and neo-nazi Ukrainians. A few lone voices thought he should have stayed home with his wife and son.

Find out more about Serbian volunteers in Novorossiya in this post.

If you want to show some love for this blog then feel free to buy my books in paperback, hardback, or ebook:

Soldiers of a Different God: How the Counter-Jihad Created Mayhem, Murder, and the Trump Presidency [or amazon.com]


Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion [or amazon.com]


Katanga 1960-63: Mercenaries, Spies and the African Nation that Waged War on the World  [or amazon.com]


Franco’s International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil War [or amazon.com]



11 thoughts on “A Death In Syria

  1. Pingback: Serb Volunteers in Novorossiya: Part 6 | Christopher Othen

  2. Pingback: Serb Volunteers in Novorossiya: Part 1 | Christopher Othen

  3. It is funny but his last name is Turkish in origin. The area he comes from (Foca) is ultra conservative Orthodox Christian community which expelled all Muslims living in the town. He died fighting in a Muslim civil war. Anyhow, he will be remembered like a warrior who died in Jesus’s name in Syria.


    • Many thanks for your comment. Some interesting ironies in his background. There are Christian militias fighting in the Syrian Civil War but I don’t think Karan had any contact with them. Do you know anything more about him?


      • I would not rule out his involvement with the Christian militia. His motive for his involvement in Ukrainian war was mostly religiously driven. Entire Russian involvement in Syrian war has big religious elements. When Isis had desecrated that 2000 old Orthodox Christian Church in Iraq I knew right then their time is up. They were at a pinnacle of their power and people laughed at my assessment. Anyway, we have several groups branded as Christian militia. The biggest one was Slavic Group consisted of Russians, Bulgarians and Serbs. They are hired guns but very religiously motivated. This group has been mostly destroyed. Karan was their member. Then we have a number of Americans protecting the Christian communities. I think they do it for free. You must always look at Orthodox Church as a driver behind many events, because in our society church and state are separated only on paper. But from what I have seen the Russians could not get many experienced and capable Serb warriors in Syria even for large sums of money. Karan was a brave young man but on the ladder of our warriors he scores really low.


        • Interesting comments. As far as I know, Karan served with the Russian Army expeditionary force in Syria, having joined up while living in Russia. Although there could still have been contact with the Christian militia. I haven’t heard about the Slavic Group or the Americans – do you have more information? And why aren’t Serbs interested in fighting in Syria?


          • He was not part of regular Russian troops. Slavic Group is a well known in Syria, but as of right now almost all wiped out. They were soldiers of fortune. In current fighting the Russians are actually using their elite regular troops. I will tell you why it is not appealing for the Serbs to fight there. First reason is “Slavic Group” sent like cannon fodder to do the hardest part with very little support. Would you, if you are an elite soldier, trained, war experienced, fight alongside side Karan? Karan was not participating in a single battle in Ukraine and had 0 military training, in a country where you have a very little support from regular troops and your knowledge of the territory is minimal, lack Russian or Arabic language skills ? Second, we had a situation in Ukraine where Karan’s group, under command of another inexperienced fighter Pocuca, was about to assassinate Serbian sniper and war hero named Dejan Beric and another war veteran, a former army officer from Serbia. Dejan is commander of Doneck People’s Republic special forces and one of most lethal snipers in modern history. All Karan’s comrades did in Ukraine was taking pictures and writing on Facebook, until they had tried to take Beric’s life. Leader and another assassin from France were arrested and luckily only expelled. Any serious war veteran will not place himself in situation we had in Ukraine and Syria. On top of that you will get 10 years prison time for participation in a foreign conflict. Do not get me wrong, I am not accusing Karan of any miss behavior, I am only pointing out he had not participated in a single battle in Ukraine and had 0 military training. Russian took this sort of people, gave them some money, and pushed them against very experienced jihadi troops. Would you participate in Syrian conflict if you were the Serbian citizen?


          • Sounds like the Russians were looking for cannon fodder to fight in Syria. They did something similar in Novorossiya when they approached many nationalist groups in Russia looking for volunteers. Any nationalist leaders who objected to their followers being recruited soon suffered legal problems over apparently unconnected issues. That, at least, is the story going around. Thanks for the info about Karan in Ukraine. You seem to have a good knowledge of the events there. Why did Karan’s group want to assassinate Beric?


          • Well, their first objective was to create a negative publicity about Serbian volunteers, and at the same time dismantling of Serbian-French volunteer troops. Aside from numerous ineffective Serbian volunteers we had a situation where some serious special forces veterans began to arrive, namely high quality troops from France under the leadership of Nikola Perovic, a French born Serb and a war hero from Afghanistan. At that time in addition to the elite Serbian veterans (few in numbers) we had NATO trained units providing training and tactical support to Novorussians. They were ideologically motivated at first, but became religiously driven after being baptized in Orthodox Church. And so Nikola’s group begins to grow and include number of Brazilians, Spaniards, South Americans. Even 4 American marines and 2 English arrived but seemed to prefer other battalions. A leader of Karan’s group Pocuca gets ordered from elements of Serbian secret service under NATO command to do everything possible to prevent any further damage to their/allies forces. Pocuca, a former media star, s well trained expert begins to use tactics to turn one volunteer against another accusing different people of being NATO agents. Nikola suspected something is wrong there and informs Beric, who meanwhile became very famous in Serbia and elsewhere. But Beric happens to be not only extraordinarily sniper, but some who wrote 4 unpublished books about special war tactics dealing with likes of Pocuca. In addition elements of patriotic secret service personnel start feeding Beric with unclassified information about plots to eliminate him and several other key players. Of course he informed Russians about the plot and they tap Pocuca’s phone, later arresting all conspirators. Damage is done, negative publicity spreads in Serbian media and elsewhere. Brazilians join other battalions , a number of Spaniards and Serbians simply went home, and Nikola’s group is shamed and finished. All of Karan’s group is arrested too. Beric and another elite Serbian veteran miss to identify huge stockpiles of explosives during the arrest. So he was demoted to the rank of captain but later promoted again. A huge moral blow to Novorussians brought by Pocuca who escaped believe it or not to Moscow and after one year back to Serbia to stand a mock trial.


          • Fascinating stuff and thanks for your response. I came across this news story relating to Perovic and Pocuca:


            It mentions that Pocuca was a television presenter. Was he famous in Serbia? And is there hard evidence he got orders from Serbian intelligence to break up the Serb foreign volunteer units in Novorossiya? Increasingly it looks Karan was a pawn in a game, both in Ukraine and Syria, played between the West and Russia. And he paid with his life. Also, talk of Brazilian volunteers in Ukraine is interesting. Why so many?


          • Yes, unfortunately you are correct in regards to Karan. Brazilians came after one of their top soldiers Rafael Lusvarghi who was a members of the French Foreign Legion. Later he was tired of war and according to same claims shamed on racial discrimination (even though he is a white man with blue eyes, not to be a racist here)when he was tricked into Ukrainian secret service hands after accepting a “job offer “ in government controlled Ukraine. He had showed a remarkable bravery during the torture while unwilling to give up his comrades. They broke his legs and convicted him to 10-13 years prison sentence. What we have not discussed is ideological motives. Majority of Serbian volunteers were anti-communists and the right wingers. French had mixed bag of far left and far right. I believe Alfonso was a far right, but his countrymen had communist ideology along with Spaniards. Beric is something like Christian Socialist Nationalist while Perovic is pro-Chetnik which is Orthodox Royalist. Beric was on front lines and was not involved in any volunteer group, but rather he is fighting alongside locals. Now he is joined by another sniper code name Malish from Ukrainian Bekrut special forces with an extensive war experience from his international deployments. They make up a killer duo rarely seen in history of modern wars. Several Serbs have stayed and gained combat experience. Some got married and have children. I have no idea what happened to French and Perovic. One French and two Americans married local girls, that I know. And yes, there was a strong evidence of secret service involvement in attemp to eliminate Beric. Most telling was a fake Serbian passport, Pocuca’s immediate release from the prison in Serbia, a contract by Ukrainians to buy the agricultural goods from the family of one assassin and so on. Russians also collected pages and pages of materials as well as testimonies from the soldiers.


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