The people of northeast Syria are being forced to fight in a battle they say they didn’t choose.
A few years after thousands of civilian lives in northeastern Syria were lost as “collateral damage” to an international decision to eliminate the so-called "Islamic State" at all costs, a new bloody nightmare threatens the people of the region today.
On October 24, SDF/YPG launched a set of random conscription campaigns targeting young men living in areas under its control in Syria’s northeast with the aim of exploiting the region’s youth in case of military attacks by the Syrian National Army backed by Turkish military.
This conscription campaign isn’t the first. Since the beginning of SDF/YPG's control in northeast Syria, they have taken place two or three times a year.
The campaign, which involves both the urban centers and the countryside, targets young men born between 1990 and 2002 in the provinces of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, and young men born between 1988 and 2002 in Al Hasakah province and Qamishli city.
In an attempt to address the consequent exodus of youth, which hindered the stated goals of the international coalition to support stabilisation, SDF/YPG modified the law to target young people born between 1998 and 2003 on September 4, 2021.
Dozens to hundreds of young people are arrested daily to be sent to SDF/YPG's forced training camps. Those who can, including two of my friends, pay more than $12,000 and take immense risks to be smuggled into Europe to escape forcible fighting for the benefit of the SDF/YPG. Many others have also been forced to leave their homelands — sometimes dying in the process — looking for a future in another place.
SDF/YPG launched its latest campaign under the slogan, "Protecting the area from Turkish invasion" — an explanation many of the area's residents oppose, particularly families of the young men who depend on them as breadwinners in the bad economic conditions.
It also utilises the same system as the Assad regime, its strategic ally: arresting young people, the main actors in collapsed societies where youth are most needed, and throwing them into wars that serve only their interests.
‘Forced to provide land and blood’
Since the beginning of the SDF/YPG's control of the cities and towns of northeastern Syria in 2017, they have launched forced recruitment of the region’s youth with the approval and support of the international coalition, under the cover of "forming an independent local military force to combat the threat of Daesh terrorism returning to the region." This project, based on forcing the youth to take up arms for SDF, deviated from the original reason for its formation.
It deviated when SDF, which represents the PKK terror organization in Syria, started to use the conscription to arrest the area’s young men and send them to fight in the organisation’s ongoing terror campaign against Turkey for more than four decades. The PKK is classified as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US, and EU, but this hasn’t prevented the international coalition from handing over the management of northeast Syria to these militants, saying they are separate groups.
Meanwhile, SDF/YPG has spared no efforts to confirm its close association with the PKK by raising the photos and slogans of its founder, Abdullah Ocalan, and writing the emblems of the YPG/PKK everywhere in the Arab-majority cities.
In addition, SDF/YPG organises marches to demand the release of Ocalan from Turkish prisons, and force the residents to adopt PKK ideologies to claim that they have local popular support which has, in fact, never existed.
Forcing the people of the region, especially its young people, who are the engine of life there, to fight against an enemy of the party faces a firm rejection from the local community because it doesn’t consider this war to be its war.
The locals paid for this rejection in Manbij city in June 2021, when eight civilians were shot dead by SDF/YPG in demonstrations against the group's conscription campaign.
On the contrary, the community believes that the PKK’s presence on the Turkish border is the cause of the scourge that they did not initially choose. The people fear that it will bring significant losses for a society that will once again be forced to provide land and blood for this battle.
Many in northeastern Syria also fear that the Assad regime and Russia will return to the area after being fully liberated from them since 2013, owing to SDF's agreement with the Assad regime and Russia that started two years earlier in October 2019. For eight years, this area had been cleared of the regime’s National Defence Militia, but now, it is under threat of re-entry to form a dispute resolution line between the SDF/YPG and Turkey.
Opponents of Assad fear that SDF/YPG will entirely hand over the area to the Syrian regime this time, if it is hit by another attack that it couldn’t counter, especially after the second PKK leader Camil Bayik's statement that "the PKK has close and warm ties to the Assad regime, and that the Assad regime has a great favor in PKK’s survival.”
Yet, the local community hasn’t chosen to carry out any of the battles by itself. After the destruction and many casualties in the targeted communities, Raqqa’s people believe that the scenario of eliminating Daesh will be repeated now but with new actors.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to firstname.lastname@example.org