Some Kurds dodge conscription, wary of rumored offensive for A-Raqqa: ‘A battle that is not ours to fight’

AMMAN: The Kurdish-led Self Administration in Al-Hasakah province arrested dozens of young men charged with evading mandatory military service in pre-dawn raids on Monday, while three Kurds currently avoiding the draft told Syria Direct on Tuesday that upcoming battles, including for A-Raqqa, aren’t their fight.

At dawn Monday morning, police units known as the Asayish raided 10 villages in northern Hasakah province, referred to by Kurds as Jazira canton, in search of “young men, aged 18 to 30, wanted for self-defense duty,” according to a statement released by the official Asayish of Rojava Facebook page the same day.

Military service is mandatory for male residents of the de facto autonomous territories of northern Syria governed by the Kurdish-led Self Administration.

Those conscripted in the territories—Jazira, Kobani and Afrin cantons, corresponding to northern Al-Hasakah and Aleppo provinces—serve in the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which dominates the Self-Administration.

“I’ve really begun thinking about leaving Jazira to avoid mandatory service,” Alan, a Kurdish resident of Amouda, a city in northern al-Hasakah province, told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “I’m scared I’ll be randomly arrested if I travel from one town to another inside the Jazira canton.”

 Asayish security forces arrested draft-dodgers in Jazira canton before dawn on Monday. Photo courtesy of H. Asayîş Rojava.

Alan’s fears are shared by two other young Kurdish men currently avoiding military service who spoke with Syria Direct on Tuesday. They say that the YPG’s upcoming battles, which they believe will focus on capturing the city of A-Raqqa from the Islamic State, are not relevant to them.

 “We don’t have a dog in this fight,” Hussein, a Kurdish man from Kobani who is avoiding military service, told Syria Direct, referring to the battle for A-Raqqa.

Hussein and the other men interviewed for this article requested that Syria Direct refer to them by their first names only. 

“There are families selling everything they own just to send their sons abroad so they won’t be used for cannon fodder in the battle for A-Raqqa,” said Hussein.

 Pre-dawn arrests in Jazira canton on Monday. Photo courtesy of H. Asayîş Rojava.

Last Friday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-backed anti-IS coalition of which the YPG is the largest component, announced that they were “headed to liberate A-Raqqa with all of their equipment and weaponry.”

A recent campaign by the US-led air coalition to drop leaflets calling on residents of A-Raqqa to flee has further lifted expectations of an upcoming attack on the city, but Pentagon officials deny an impending offensive.

“It’s part of our ‘mess-with-them’ campaign,” a Pentagon official told the Daily Beast on Friday about the leaflet campaign.

Residents of nearby Kurdish-majority areas fear the possible blowback of an offensive against the Islamic State.

“IS will take revenge on the SDF and the YPG by bombing Kurdish areas and killing Kurds wherever they see them,” Ziyor, a young man from Qamishli, in northern Al-Hasakah, told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “This is a fear held by the whole population of the region.”

“The Kurds have no need for this battle,” added Ziyor. “If our young men are thrown into this fight, the results will be disastrous.”

“Our blood will be spent for a battle that is not ours to fight.”

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.

Orion Wilcox

Orion Wilcox was a 2014-2015 CASA fellow in Amman, Jordan where he interned with the UNRWA Jordan Field Office. He received his BA in Economics and Arabic language from the University of Mississippi. Following the CASA program, Orion worked as a freelance translator and interpreter in Amman.