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ERBIL – Hannah Bohman, 47, is a Canadian volunteer who has joined the ranks of the Kurdish female fighters of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) over a year ago to fight radical group of the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Syria. When she initially joined the YPJ, she only got four hours of training. But now, she says, foreign fighters are being trained for at least a month. “Since September, new YPJ members spend around one month at the academy on language, ideology, politics, and history, before joking the battlefronts,” she told ARA News.
Bohman doesn’t fear arrest whether by Canada or the KRG, that imprisons foreigners if they cross the border illegally for at least one month. “Canada doesn’t recommend it, but there is nothing illegal about it [joining the Kurds in fight against ISIS],” said Böhman, who is currently based in the Kurdish city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria.
According to the Canadian fighter, there are some 80 foreign members of the Kurdish forces fighting against ISIS in Rojava [Syria’s Kurdish region].
“Some reports say that there are over 300 foreign fighters in Rojava, but the actual number doesn’t exceed 80. I always ran into the same people here,” she said.
Bohman is one of the few foreigners that have stayed in Syria for a long time. She insisted to stay there due to her passion to the Kurdish cause in Syria. Most of the foreign fighters who join the Kurds in the war on ISIS leave after six months. “It’s a mix. Some of them just come to do something in their life and they do their six months minimum,” she said in an exclusive interview with ARA News. “A lot of them are not here for the [Kurdish] revolution, they just want to fight ISIS. The Kurds seem to think we are all here for the revolution, but we came to fight Daesh [ISIS].”
The Canadian fighter says she completely believes in the Kurdish right to a homeland. “I totally believe in their revolution, that’s why I came back to support the YPJ and YPG.”
Therefore to get foreign fighters more acquainted to the fight, the YPG has set up an academy named after Heval Kemal, a former British marine known as Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, 25, who was killed in the fight against ISIS last year.
“They [Kurds] realized, they have to make changes,” former Norwegian soldier Heval Zirek, 26, told ARA News. “Most people don’t come here for ideological purposes,” he said.
Nevertheless, Bohman still receives daily messages from foreign fighters who want to join the Kurdish forces of the YPJ and YPG. “They are constantly messaging me,” she said. “But it is not like years, once they push for Raqqa it’s the last thing,” she added, suggesting that it seems foreign fighters are prevented from joining the future battle in Manbij. “Apparently the Kurdish leadership doesn’t want any Westerners on the frontline in the battle for Manbij.”
For foreign fighters, it’s apparently getting more difficult to cross into Syria. “The borders are closed, and they [the Kurdish government in Iraq] raised the penalty to 1000 dollar per month for expired visa’s, the YPG picks up the tab, but it’s a huge penalty.” Moreover, foreign fighters that are caught by the Iraqi Kurdish border guards, could end up for a month in jail in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, for illegally crossing the border. As a result, the YPG is very careful with smuggling foreigners into Iraq from Syria. “They don’t want anyone getting arrested,” she said. “But they have to figure out the visa, paying a thousand per month for an expired visa is ridiculous.”
However, Hannah Bohman is not thinking of going back anytime soon. “I don’t have a life back home, if I go back, I don’t have nothing: no job, no money, no house,” she told ARA News. “I don’t really miss anything, I have my friends here. I am just tired of eating the same things, and tired of the bureaucracy.”
Just as most Kurds in Qamishli, Bohman is worried about the ongoing conflict across the border in the Kurdish town of Nusaybin [southeastern Turkey], a few kilometers away from Qamishli. “There are not a lot of journalists coming here [in Syria], and those who come don’t focus on the daily life, mostly on ISIS and the YPJ [Female’s Protection Units], which is good. But they should talk more about Turkey’s role, and what they do against Kurds,” she added. She suspects that the mainstream media ignores Turkey’s role, due to politics, and fear Turkey could release refugees going to Europe.
According to Bohman, Turkey sometimes hits Qamishli with mortar shells across the border. As a result, a lot of Syrian Kurds want to go over the border, and help their fellow Kurds in Turkey. “But they don’t want to do it, because then Turkey will say that they are being invaded,” she said. Nevertheless, still some individual Kurds from Syria cross the border to help the Kurdish fighters fighting the Turkish army in Nusaybin. “I hear the bombing, I hear people dying, I should be over there helping them, but if I go there, I am labeled a terrorist by my government,” she concluded.
Interview by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg
Source: ARA News
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