The Common Bond: Why thousands of westerners volunteer to be on the front line in the fight against ISIS?
[Pete Saville interviews two volunteers from Europe who is about to leave soon to join the rebel forces in Syria. Read the full article here.]
The appalling war in Syria drags on, despite attempts at peace talks in Astana between Assad and Vladimir Putin last week, where a draft constitution was rejected by the Assad regime.
But a key faction in the war has always been the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) — a battle hardened militia with democratic socialist leanings, and a dedicated wing called the YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) that are staunchly feminist and are comprised entirely of female fighters.
Together, with minority ethnic Arab units, they make up the wider SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) alliance, fighting side by side to both combat ISIL (Something they have been extremely effective at doing since the war broke out) and bring a form of Democratic Confederalism they believe will solve all the issues in Syria and bring peace and stability to the entire region.
But this revolution in northern Syria (called Rojava by the Kurdish majority there) has attracted thousands of international fighters to fight alongside the SDF for their cause.
Thousands of fighters from Western nations– often individuals with no military experience — have volunteered and have chosen to leave behind their families, friends and entire lives to fight alongside them.
We ask is there a common thread that links their motivations? We talk to Devrim and Almar — from two very different backgrounds — to find out.
Devrim is a 19 year old Belgian resident of Syrian/Kurdish background. He is a follower of Kurdish nationalist leader Abdullah Ocalan.
So Devrim, Can you start by telling me a little bit about yourself? Where you are from, how old you are? You mentioned you have a family. What have you done as a job up until now? Have you had any military training or experience?
I am a 19 year old Kurdish man living in Belgium called Devrim.
I do not work and I have stopped school this year. I have no degree and absolutely no military training. I am about to go to Rojava, in the next two months.
Was there any one driving factor that motivated you to join the YPG and go to Rojava? Do you have any political beliefs?
Yes. The fact that I am Kurdish is a one of the reasons; I want to defend my people and I also resonate with the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan (former leader of the PPK who is serving a life sentence in Turkey on terrorist charges, who now writes and created the ideology of “Democratic Confederalism”, a new Democratic Socialist form ideology that virtually all Kurds in Rojava follow).
The other reason is that — as I said — I stopped school, I have no job and there is a unique opportunity to fight for my ideology, for my people and against what I hate the most (fascism and Daesh). So why should I stay in Europe doing nothing ?
Have the string of terrorist attacks by Daesh in Europe made you feel
more motivated to go and fight in Rojava?
No. Not because I don’t care about Europe, but simply because when it happened, I wasn’t planning to go to Rojava at the time.
So finishing school at 19 and going out to fight in one of the most dangerous warzones in the world is obviously a huge decision for you to take. How do your friends and family feel about it?
Only one of my friends knows about me going, and he wants to go too. I haven’t actually told my family or any other person…I’ll inform them when I arrive in Rojava, as soon as I find an Internet connection! Telling them that I’m in Rojava will be the hardest part of my journey…
That is the only thing I am scared of.
Do you have any expectations to what it will be like training, living and fighting out there in Rojava?
I wouldn’t say that I know what it is like to fight in Rojava, because I never have! But I know people that have fought in the PKK (the Kurdish resistance operating in Turkish fighting for autonomy) and the YPG.
They described to me how it was. I’ve also been reading the blogs where western volunteers relate their experiences and how is the training, the fighting on the front lines and the life in between. So, no, I’m not really afraid about this…If I have to die I’ll die. That’s a part of the revolution and I am prepared for this.
How would you feel after killing an enemy combatant?
I have thought about this of course, and it doesn’t make me happy to kill another man, even if it’s Daesh…But I think I would do it without hesitation. How will I feel after?… I honestly don’t know.
How long do you plan to stay in Rojava fighting? Or have you
not thought about this yet?
They’ve (the YPG) told me I must go for at least 6 months, so after that I will decide if I stay or return home….Or maybe I’ll stay a week and realize that it’s too hard for me and return home!
What are your hopes for the future of Rojava, and all Kurdish people in the Middle-East?
In the short run I want an autonomous Rojava in a Democratic Syria.
In a long term I want my country independent. I do not want a Kurdish autonomy in Syria, Turkey, Iraq or Iran: I want it fully independent and Democratic.