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.

The YPG has an international brigade comprised of European activists in support of Kurds – @AntifaTabur

Almar, a 19 year old Icelandic national. Far-left/Anarchist, militant revolutionary.

Almar, 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?

Yes, so I am a nineteen year old Icelandic citizen currently supporting my parents and siblings in a Scandinavian country. I held a summer job as a gardener at IKEA for three years starting when I was fifteen. Wondering what to do with myself I have since then biked around Europe on a bicycle.

Was there any one driving factor that motivated you to join the YPG and go to Rojava? Do you have any political beliefs?

There is an opportunity in Syria for a radical twist to take place, the heartlands of the Abrahamic religions have been very influential in the development of modern times and the current situation we are faced with as a species.

Syria is in chaos, any half-assed leftist thinks they know what Mao said: “Chaos under the heavens, the situation is excellent”, and what have we here?

In this chaos we have a movement of people that accept, even against all social pressures from their neighbours, the logical argument behind women’s liberation, and in a war torn country at that.

Have the string of terrorist attacks by Daesh in Europe made you feel
more motivated to go and fight in Rojava?

Not at all, in fact the opposite. The terrorist attacks in the EU only serve to strengthen the argument of the nationalist thought and ideology, and that might be just as big a problem later on as ISIL claims to be now.
My fight is against any mentally healthy person that advocates violence in the name of an ideology that serves only a small percentage of the human population.

So dropping everything 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? Have you told them? How have they reacted?

My life has seen its ups and downs, I have nothing of worth but the skin on my bones. This goes for all of us that occupy this place in space and time. Our lives are short no matter how long we live. Who are we to dictate what quality of life anyone but ourselves leads?

Do you have any expectations to what it will be like training, living and fighting out there in Rojava?

I have an idea of what its like; I imagine the 21st century equivalent of the Spanish militia in the 1930’s (Spanish Civil War), except this time we are all thinking about medical aid and tea rather than firewood and candles.

The YPG is also far more organised as a whole compared to the many militias formed in Spain during the civil war. But a striking similarity between Spain and Northern Syria are the influences coming from global superpowers and all the political games being played behind the curtains to gain an advantage. We have some pretty big players supporting all sides in this conflict. Let’s hope Trump is a positive change to international politics in regards to Rojava…But I doubt that wholeheartedly of course!

Basic ideological “training” and some Kurdish will come first, and the actual combat training second. As far as what the environment will be like, I have no clue what so ever!
I hope, to anyone, that its as quiet as ever once I arrive!

How would you feel after killing an enemy combatant?

Indifferent. Maybe even a bit sad; like stepping on a spider. It’s such a waste of potential for either party that I don’t see the point, but other than that I know that I wont feel as good as when an enemy gets a clean shot at me and makes it…

How long do you plan to stay in Rojava fighting? Or have you
not thought about this yet?

Until dead or not needed. I know for a fact that this is only the beginning of a series of “revolutions” that will shake apart the chains that enslave even the highest ranking member of any government.

Once the Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria has been rebuilt or at least stabilized, my fight might lead me elsewhere and it might not, that’s all based on me surviving the first three months.

Obviously you are a die-hard revolutionary who is willing to die for his beliefs. But I have to ask: You said previously that you are supporting a family? Do you think they will be okay without you if you plan to stay out there – possibly permanently, or until, as you say, you are killed in action, or move on to another revolution elsewhere? 

My family can sustain itself without me…But emotionally it is hell for them. But at least my mother is a rational being who understands what needs to be done in order for progress to happen.

However, I do worry that I will have a negative impact on the life of my siblings with this extreme revolutionary view…For my siblings to grow and take my place is the only thing I ask of my family in return for my help these past years, and I hope that the fight that has started in Syria spreads like a flame to the rest of the world, just so I have an excuse to kiss my brother and sister on the cheek! …And for the downfall of Capitalism of course!

What are your hopes for the future of Rojava, and all Kurdish people in the Middle-East?

My hope is that these people manage to keep this progress up for good – Kurdish or not, – I don’t really care. If this was the same situation in the United States, I would also go there.

I hope that the Kurds keep as much of the identity they have managed to save as possible. For our future generations to be able to witness, first hand, the history of one of many ethnicities of Homosapiens is the only thing that matters to me. The preservation of real human progress is essential to our survival.

Here we have two very different people: One from a Kurdish background who wants very little but to fight with his fellow people to defend them, and another; an Icelandic national, an Anarchist, who sees Rojava as an opportunity to make a real difference not just for Kurds – but for all of man kind.

US volunteer Jordan Matson with YPG fighters in Syria (Jordan Matson/Facebook)

Indeed I am always shocked how young many of these volunteers are. And perhaps this is what the common thread that binds them. It’s not just a universal desire to do something – anything – to fight the evil that is Daesh, and fight for a noble revolution, though that is a big part of it.

But perhaps it’s a deep reflection of the discontent rising amongst millennials of this generation: Faced with a lack of opportunities, mundane, insecure jobs, a comfortable yet meager existence in their home countries, they perhaps see Rojava as somewhere they go to and fight for something worth living – and all to often – dying for?

Perhaps they see war torn Rojava as having much more of a brighter future  – once the dust settles – than all the places they come from?

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Pete Saville is a British born freelance travel writer and journalist. Over the past 15 years he has traveled extensively across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, and studied Human Geography at university in England in between!He has a taste for off the beaten trail places, and is a Libertarian Socialist. Pete reports on stories involving conflicts and revolutions across the world. You can reach him at: [email protected]

1 COMMENT

  1. Interesting reading.
    Very passionate young men.
    Be interesting to hear what their thoughts are a few months on, when the reality hits.

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