January 21, 2015

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) passed a mandatory military service law in July stipulating the enlistment of one young man—between the ages of 18 and 30—per family into Kurdish military units for a period of six months, reported pro-opposition All4Syria.

Last October, Kurdish police forces loyal to the PYD (known as Asayish) rounded up hundreds of young men across the far northeastern province of Al-Hasakah, including Kurds, Arabs, Syriac Christians, Armenians and Yazidis, for military training in accordance with the new law.

Mandatory recruitment has also extended to those living in Kurdish-controlled areas in Aleppo province, reported pro-opposition Syria Mubasher last week.

On Tuesday, the PYD began a new campaign to catch those who had escaped from mandatory recruitment, shortly after regime and Kurdish forces began fighting in Al-Hasakah city.

“The people aren't satisfied with the [mandatory recruitment] decision but they are forced to comply, and can't protest because they fear arrest,” Shirwan Ali, the alias of a Kurdish citizen journalist who lives in Qamishli, tells Syria Direct's Ghalia Al-Mukhlati.

Ali himself fled from service the first time around, but returned because he did not want his sister to be drafted in his place.

“I'm wanted for recruitment and a pursued man... I don't know if a new [arrest] campaign will get me or not.”

Q: Who does the recruitment decision effect?

The decision includes everyone—Arabs, Kurds, people between 18 and 30.

As for houses without young men, they take a girl in his place.

kurdstraining People’s Protection Units officer graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of @DesteyaParastin.

Q: There are rumors of children and girls entering the camps and fighting in battles—is this information correct?

Despite the fact that the mandatory recruitment decision targets a specific age group, there are clear violations committed against children and girls. There are a considerable number of teenagers, girls and boys, in the ranks of the People's Protection Units.

The best example of that is a 13-year-old Kurdish child killed in the latest battles between the rebels and the Democratic Union Party in Tel Hamees in Qamishli.

Also, teenage girls are taken advantage of [i.e., recruited] and armed under the name of “women's freedom.” There are huge numbers of girl recruits.

There is a special military organization for girls, called the Women's Protection Units [YPJ], for the men it's YPG, the People's Protection Units.

I'm wanted for recruitment and am a pursued man. I was able to escape from the last arrest campaign that the Kurdish forces undertook. I don't know whether a new campaign will get me or not. I can escape to Turkey, but I didn't flee before because I was scared they would take my sister for recruitment instead of me.

Q: What is the length of mandatory service? What techniques do they learn in the camps? Is the recruitment limited to the Kurds of Qamishli?

Around four months ago the Democratic Union Party (PYD) announced the [opening of] mandatory recruitment camps in the areas under its control. Right now, the recruits are trained for six months as a primary training period during which they serve in their local areas. The military administration can move the recruits in the last two months to the front lines if necessary.

As soon as training ends, the recruits are moved to the battlefields.

They receive training in light and medium weapons.

Q: What is the agency responsible for the training, and who are the funders?

The PYD is responsible for the training.

They have trainers inside the camps from Jabal Qindeel [in northern Iraq, considered a key Kurdistan Workers' Party base]. Most are Iraqi, Turkish, and Iranian.

As for funders, it's impossible to be sure, but according to my information they're the ones who control the economic resourcesoil wells and border crossings with Iraq and Turkey—in the al-Jazira area [one of three administrative 'cantons' in the autonomous Kurdish region of Syria]. 

Q: Reports say that the camps are mandatory—what are the penalties for refusing to serve?

There haven't been any penalties [meted out] until now. But they [the Kurds] undertook an arrest campaign without prior warning against all types of young men (Kurds, Arabs and Christians) seeing as they control the area with force and are cooperating with the Syrian regime.

They arrested a large number of young men who were released after they signed a pledge to serve if necessity dictates. I have Arab friends who were arrested during this campaign.

Q: How have the families whose sons have been taken away for recruitment reacted? And how are the recruits treated inside the camps?

The people aren't satisfied with the decision but they are forced to comply, and can't protest because they fear arrest.

On the other hand, they are taken advantage of by means of monetary incentives. Every soldier who joints the security force called the Asayish takes SP20,000 ($108).

As for those who join the PYG [military force of the PYD] they receive SP25,000 ($135), and they have priority in terms of fuel and aid distribution.

Inside the camps, the recruits are treated naturally—they are subject to military rules and they don't suffer anything unusual. There aren't any protests within their ranks.

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