Increased conscription of Kurdish youth in Kobane facing widespread criticism

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Kurdish fighters of the YPG during a military training in Hasakah province, northeastern Syria. Photo: ARA News

ARA News

Kobane – The increased conscription of Kurdish youth in the town of Kobane in  northern Syria has caused a widespread criticism, leading to the local administration to temporarily suspend the campaign until 15 April, after 400 military aged men were conscripted.

The local administrations of Rojava-Northern Syria, led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), started to implement the law of Mandatory Self Defence Duty relatively late in Kobane compared to the canton of Cezire (Hasakah), where Kurdish youth between 18 and 30 were conscripted already in 2014.

The Kurdish town of Kobane, also known as Kobani, had suffered ISIS siege since September 2014 before being liberated by Kurdish YPG forces and allies in January 2015.

However, the city has been facing threats ever since. In June 2015, over 260 Kurdish civilians were killed in an infiltration attack by ISIS extremists.

Therefore, the Kobani canton administration decided to delay the decision to conscript civilians, and only did this when manpower was needed for the Manbij campaign in May. However, the conscripts mainly played a logistical role.

The local administration ratified the self-duty law in June 2016, and after this at least 160 civilians were conscripted.

The Kurdish National Council (KNC), the rival Kurdish faction of the PYD, on Tuesday called on an end of conscription in Kobani city after many youth were arrested in the local market by the military police for the duty of self-defence.

The local population of Kobani has been critical of the conscription law since many have lost family members in the ISIS siege and many promises about reconstruction have not been fulfilled, with civilians still living in damaged houses.

Kobane has suffered the most compared to other Kurdish areas in Syria.

“You cannot send people to fight by force, people should have the right to choose,” Mohammed, a 25-year-old citizen, told ARA News in Kobane. “They should do it like in Iraq like the Peshmerga forces, if they want they can fight, if they don’t want they don’t fight,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim Kurdo, the chief of Foreign Relations Office at the Kobane Administration, said in an interview with ARA News that the new fighters will not be asked to fight at the frontlines.

“We have been under threat for nearly five years, and people realize that this self-defence service was created to protect them. These fighters won’t be asked to join the frontlines, they are behind the frontlines,” he said.

However, for the first time now conscripts also fight in the battle. According to the local pro-PYD agency Hawar News, 500 fighters joined the Raqqa campaign in February 2016 “as volunteers”. Until now, a number of conscripts who were killed in the Raqqa operation have been buried during funerals in Kurdish towns in both Hasakah and Kobane.

Furthermore, some Kurds do not see the point of fighting in non-Kurdish cities such as Manbij and Raqqa.

However, PYD officials see these campaigns as necessary to gain more legitimacy and support from the international community and to protect the Kurds in Syria against Turkish attacks and ISIS.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched the Euphrates Wrath campaign for Raqqa on 5 November, and have so far liberated over 4,000 square kilometers of territory.

“There have been reports of forced recruitment from all areas of Syria, but, as far as I know, only the Syrian government and the Rojava region have a systematic policy of drafting recruits, and do so within a reasonably clear legal framework,” Aron Lund, fellow at The Century Foundation told ARA News.

“Of course, they are also the most developed governance systems and both suffer from a shortage of recruits, so it is not surprising. All over Syria, conscription seems to be a cause of friction between local civilians and the ruling powers,” he said.

Lund further said that the conscription and military service laws in Syria have led to more Syrians leaving their homes and fleeing Syria.

“It has long been one of the main drivers of refugees fleeing Syria, whether from the Kurdish areas in the north or from Assad-controlled territories. Often, entire families feel forced to move to avoid the drafting of a single son or another member,” he told ARA News.

“Conscription interferes in the lives of everyone, even those families who try to avoid the conflict and just mind their own business. Going to war is of course an enormous sacrifice in any conflict, but in Syria, especially, where you can’t really see an end to the conflict, it must be a horrible experience,” Lund said.

However, he added that there is nothing illegal about military service or conscription.

“There is nothing inherently illegal about conscription, if you are a recognized political authority. Many countries have laws that allow for conscription, from Syria to Sweden,” the analyst told ARA News.

“But in a country that is as fractured as Syria, where very few trust the authorities and all sides are more or less undemocratic, it is of course going to be very hard to secure popular support for a conscription policy,” he concluded.

Source: ARA News 

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