Interview with a Native Kurdish YPG Volunteer

I interviewed a Kurdish YPG volunteer, defending civilians from Turkey's genocide operation, and preserving a bastion equality and democracy in the Middle East.

Posted by Zyta Żurawska on October 29, 2019 · 32 mins read

I am interviewing a YPG defender we’ll call Heval, a 21 year old Christian YPG volunteer and native Kurd. I’ve grown to know Heval over the month, and have seen their progressiveness, compassion, and struggles. Heval has shared laughs with me, even defended me from anti-LGBT behavior on more than one occasion and has been consistently more supportive than the average Westerner I’ve encountered. It is surreal talking to someone defending the people of NE Syria against an ethnic cleansing who also fights to establish a utopian democratic project of equality in a region notorious for inequities and oppression. I have followed this utopian project, Rojava, and believe it is beautiful; you can read about my interest in Kurdish autonomy on my author bio). However, talking to Heval directly and becoming involved with Kurdish people has transcended Rojava from political ideology and news, talking heads, etc., to betwixt hearts, where tears and pain are shared seeing Turkish atrocities during this genocide: the murder and disfigurement of children1, parents hysterical over the loss of their children2, mutilation of women3, murdering of civilians4, and other acts of Turkish-led barbarism which we’ll cover in this article. All while Turkey is running a misinformation campaign, including trying to make street interviewees say “YPG did this,” and after they reject they get accused of being terrorists and have the police called5; killing Kurdish civilians and blaming the PKK for the Kuskonar massacre6, among other propaganda covered in this interview. Kurds in Turkey cannot sing in Kurdish without being threatened and met with racism7, are murdered by the Turkish government (and the survivors blame Erdogan)8, and more… Turkey, a country with a history of their former president Atatürk genociding Kurds in the Dersim massacre9, using gas10 bought from Nazi Germany (on behalf of Ataturk, by the former Turkish Minister of Foreign Affaris, Sabri Caglayangil, who admitted to using chemical weapons against women and children trapped in caves and exterminated the entire population of Dersim11), even wrote a letter to Hitler convincing him that killing civilians with poisonous gas is “not a crime,” leading to Hitler doing exactly this to the Jews in Germany12, which even Erdogan has confirmed on video13. Erdogan has also said “What is important is to prepare a controlled life in this enormous area, and the most suitable people for it are Arabs. These are not suitable places for Kurds’ lifestyle… because these areas are virtually desert.”14 Erdogan promotes the Turkish presidental system, citing Hitler as an exmaple.15

The pictures in this article are directly from Heval. I asked him to choose the photos for the article and he said, “I think there is nothing more fitting to resemble Rojava than the martyrs.” He also gave me photos of the YPG volunteers during exercise.

Interviewer: Okay, Heval, can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Heval: A 21 year old YPG volunteer.

Interviewer: Why did you want to join the YPG?

Heval: To protect my people and my ancestral land.

Interviewer: Protect it from who? What is the desired outcome for you? What does that look like?

Heval: At first it was to protect my people from Isis who are by the way Turkish backed16 … and we really did push them back it gave me the desired outcome and that was annihilating Isis.

Interviewer: Who are your people? What is your land? What does a Utopian vision of your land look like?

Heval: My people are the Kurdish people who have settled in Mesopotamia for over 5 thousand years now. Our land is the land that sits between the river Euphrates and Tigris or know as the Mesopotamian plains, The Utopian vision did become a reality for a while. We reached peace and prosperity [for a] while our [sic] in North and East Syria we built a direct democracy system called Democratic Confederalism17 and it was probably the only democracy in the Middle East. Unfortunately democracy was threatened by the Turkish attacks And that utopia is threatened to be destroyed.

Interviewer: What is YPG?

Heval: It was a force that was created in 2012 to face Al Nusra (al Qaeda in Syria), the YPG stands for people’s protection units which it did serve the people and protected them over the year’s.

Interviewer: What are the differences between the PKK, YPG, SDF and other groups? Which ones are documented as terrorist groups officially, and by who, and the like?

Heval: These groups are totally different, however, they got one similarity which is the ideology they all follow: Democratic Confederalism (by Abdullah Öcalan). So just because they have the same spiritual leader they are considered to be linked. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by many countries. However, the main reason is that Turkey has claimed that they [PKK] have conducted crimes against Turkey and it’s people. However, none of what Turkey has said is true [for example, Turkey was determined to have carried out the Kuskonar massacre and then blamed it on the PKK by the The European Court of Human Rights6]. Just take a look at the ethnic cleansing that is ongoing in Northern Syria it proves that the only one who is conducting crimes against civilians is Turkey.

YPG Training, Credit: Heval
YPG Training, Credit: Heval

Interviewer: In your eyes, is petitioning Western governments to aid an effective strategy?

Heval: The only thing that western governments can do is to condemn and to try and stop the unjustified Turkish invasion of north and east of Syria.

Interviewer: How can the British Labour movement aid the Kurds?

Heval: Organizing protests, condemnation of the invasion,collecting funds for the Kurdish Red Crescent (Hêyva Sor), and the last part applies to the western governments too.

Interviewer: Donating to this: http://www.heyvasor.com/ [confirming it’s the right website for donations].

Heval: Yes, It’s the only legit NGO.

Interviewer: Can you talk about that, “it’s the only legit NGO?” Are there others who make big promises but aren’t actually helping?

Heval: In Rojava there are many many non governmental organizations that pretend to be offering humanitarian aid to the people (I prefer not to name them), but they are not doing such. While Hêyva Sor a Kurd or red Kurdish crescent does truly help the people who are in need.

Interviewer: Is international worker solidarity the key to ending the Turkish invasion?

Heval: It could be in this hours of need, all we need is a huge protest against Turkish actions.

Interviewer: To what extent do you plan to maintain local administrations/democracy and how do you intend to do this when Syrian troops are present in the DFNS?

Heval: We will try and reach an agreement that will please both sides, it’s the only option beside war.

Interviewer: Can the Turkish working class be mobilized? How about Turkish people in general?

Heval: They can be mobilized however the fear has been planted in their hearts by their dictatorial government and based on that they are afraid of standing up, the Turkish people don’t support this attack. They don’t want to send their boy’s to fight and die in Syria (considering that the Turkish army is built upon conscripts and not volunteers).

Interviewer: Is separating from imperialist powers (whether by own choice or not) ultimately a necessary step in achieving the goals of your people? I’d follow up by asking about what you thought about US and Russian powers intervening. Previously and currently.

Heval: We did get support from imperialist powers but that doesn’t mean we became a part of their plans. The American support at the beginning was necessary to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups, however they betrayed us by leaving us for the Turkish onslaught18, and we were forced to seek help from Russia. We can’t just face a large army such as the Turkish one that has enough firepower to destroy the entirety of Rojava/North and East Syria. We could’ve fought them if only the US kept it promise for a no fly zone, the Turkish airstrikes didn’t only target armed forces but civilians too19, Obviously they committed many war crimes.

Interviewer: Can you talk about those war crimes of Turkey? Also, would you call what’s happening a genocide?

Heval: What is happening right now is a form of ethnic cleansing, at the first hours of the invasion they started bombarding the cities left and right (which obviously ended up killing many civilians)20. They used illegal weapons, ([white] phosphorus)212223 (the worst part of their war crimes) They targeted civilian convoys that were trying to enter Serê Kanîye to get the wounded out of the city which also resulted in many deaths (they order airstrike attacks on unarmed civilian convoy)24. After they took the city of Serê Kanîye and Girê Sipê [sic: Girê Spî] (Tal Abyad [sic: Tell Abyad]) they started looting the city and stealing civilian properties25, Which looting and pillaging is also considered a war crime under the international law.26

Interviewer: I remember seeing at least one child with white phosphorus burns online.23 How much they think Turkey has been involved with regional hostilities in Syria, leading up to this e.g. involvement with terrorist cells and support of ISIS?

Heval: Turkey got involved at the beginning of Syrian conflict by funding the opposition forces and later on the terrorist groups.

Interviewer: Do you have anything to say or have any thoughts on any relationship between Turkey and terrorist groups in the region as this ethnic cleansing is carried out?

Heval: What Turkey has done is the biggest crime against humanity since WW2 [sic: World War II], by funding terrorists not only in Syria but in many other countries such as Libya has lead to the death of hundreds of thousands and lead to the instability of the entire region.

Interviewer: if you could make people know/hear three statements, what would those three statements be?

Heval: The first statement would be that we the Kurds have fought hardly [sic: hard] and bravely to defend not only ourselves, but the entire world yet you have betrayed us with your silence and have considered us terrorists after we have gained victory over terrorism. The second is that Turkey never was your ally and never will be, a day will come and [sic: when] Turkey will slaughter your own people as they slaughtered our people so stand up against them. Three the Kurds have now for centuries fought to have their own country their own homeland a place where they can speak their mother tongues and practice their own traditions they need your help to achieve that goal. The creation of an independent Kurdistan will not only bring a democratic country to the middle east but it will also insure [sic: ensure] the stability of the entire region.

Interviewer: Tell me about your hopes and dreams? What do you do to pass the time? Any hobbies? Music? I feel like a lot of people see this as a far off and distant struggle of people unlike them.

Heval: My dreams and hopes are to end this war and settle with a beautiful wife and have some beautiful children, I like watching foreign movies, doing sport, and listening to Kurdish music.

Interviewer: Do you play any video games? Ha, ha.

Heval: Nope i don’t like games…. But i do play shooter games in real life though, If that counts.

Interviewer: hahahaha

Heval: I’m glad you enjoyed the joke.

Interviewer: Someone wanted to know “what you did military-wise, your battles, your successes, and failures?” but I didn’t think that was an appropriate question, but I thought I’d forward it onto you.

Heval: My battles were: Reqqa campaign Deir ez-Zor campaign Which were successful. My failures (in general YPG failures) : Were in Afrin (Turkish olive branch operation) and in the past weeks (Turkish Peace Spring) which we ended up losing Afrin, Tal Abyad, and Serê Kanîye, they could’ve been successful too if the US provided no fly zone.

Interviewer: How do you see other ethnic minorities treated in Rojava?

Heval: The other ethnic minorities such as (Armenians Assyrian, Yazidis etc) are treated equally and they have their own force within the SDF so they have a quite a bit of autonomy. There is no difference between Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, etc.

Interviewer: Some people are asking: Are you terrorists? If not, why? i thought it’d be a good question to include because a lot of people buy into this propaganda.

Heval: No I’m not why you ask, Since when does defending your right’s and freedom is considered an act of terrorism?, That’s my answer to them.

Interviewer: What’s your opinion on the Soviets? How many Marxists-Leninists are a part of the Kurdish struggle, in Rojava?

Heval: Rojava is democratic confederalist which some consider it a form of socialism the MLs here are a lot, they fight in the IFB (international freedom battalion) and they are from many different nationalities.27

Interviewer: What is the situation for women and children during the war?

Heval: Women and Children get evacuated from war zones.28

Interviewer: Most people support Democratic Confederalism there, right? How would you summarize it in a nutshell? Libertarian socialism?

Heval: Yes the people here are mostly Democratic Confederalists. Democratic Confederalism is direct form of democracy that literally every district has it’s own leadership so in which different ethnicities/religious groups can function together in peace and harmony, (communal system) and it’s similar to libertarian socialism.

Interviewer: What gives people hope and peace of mind in these trying times?

Heval: The people are getting hope and morale from their fighters (SDF YPG YPJ etc.). They believe in them and they trust them.

Interviewer: i would imagine you inspire people.

Heval: Not only me,Thousands of others like me are inspiration for them.

Interviewer: What are you fighting for?

Heval: For my people so maybe one day, they can have a nation of their own.

Interviewer: How did you view the relationship with the West? The US?

Heval: The relationship between the SDF and the US was great we had cooperation and together we fought Isis and defeated them.

Interviewer: How do you view it now?

Heval: The US betrayed the SDF and the Kurds for their Nato ally, they sold us at the first opportunity they had.

Interviewer: How do you see the future of Kurds if the US doesn’t intervene?

Heval: If the US doesn’t intervene and fix the mistake they made the Kurds will be either under Assad’s regime, or they will be ethnically cleansed by the Turks.

Interviewer: How do you see the future of Kurds if the US does intervene?

Heval: If they intervene they will prevent a genocide and they might give the Kurds what they were promised in the treaty of Sèvres.29

Interviewer: Can you tell me about the the internationalists, the various religious backgrounds, ethnicities, and different kinds of people you’ve met and which comprise the YPG volunteers?

Heval: The YPG international is compromised of mainly communists, socialists, anarchist. They are mainly atheists, however, there are so Christians, too. And the largest portion of it is American. However, other ethnicities exists such as (Italian,french,greek etc.).

Interviewer: How about the non-internationalist demographics you’ve met?

Heval: Like the local people?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Heval: Alright so there are many different ethnicities who are local within the SDF which they–Armenian, Assyrins, Yazidi, Turkmen, Arab–each one of this [sic: “these”] ethnicities has its own military council. With diversity we unite We have no boundaries in between us. After all it’s the Syrian democratic forces.

Interviewer: I think a lot of Western people have misconceptions of “middle eastern” people when it comes to their perceptions on equality, gay and trans, LGBT people, women, etc. Is there anything you’d say to them about your beliefs and the project of Rojava, etc.?

Heval: The LGBTQ community was despised and hated in Syria and the Middle East overall, but after the Kurds took over North and East Syria, the Kurdish administration is spreading awareness and trying to bring equality to all genders and peoples, and now the people are starting to accept the LGBTQ community. However, when it comes to women, womens [sic: women] have achieved the same rights as men and as the spiritual leader of the Syrian Kurds (Abdullah Ocalan) said and I quote, “The revolution of Rojava is the revolution of women.” [this was Hêvî Suleiman, member of Kongra Star Coordination, a confederation of women’s organizations in Rojava, on the teachings on Öcalan30]

Interviewer: You also have some transgender internationalist members of the YPG, correct? I’ve noticed you’ve always been extremely nice and tolerant to me as an LGBT person, too.

Heval: Yes we do that’s correct they are the “queer brigade”, I have nothing against anyone, My motto is : Live and let live

Interviewer: You say you used to be homophobic like a year and a half ago. Did anything big change that?

Heval: I met some people of the queer brigade, they were very nice to me and I had a heart change.

Interviewer: Aw, that’s nice, care to elaborate?

Heval: I mean I used to think that gay people are I don’t know how to explain without sensitivity… Don’t get me wrong I will say what i used to think previously: monsters. It’s the society that I grew in, however, and to be honest, the LGBTQ community is way more kind than some straight people and the volunteers at queer brigade were the best.31

Interviewer: That put a big smile on my face. that’s really cool. So I saw from pictures that you got injured. Would you mind talking about any influence organizations like Hêyva Sor played in treating you and other injured defenders like yourself?

An injured, but resilient Heval, Credit: Heval
An injured, but resilient Heval, Credit: Heval

Heval: I was injured in the battle defending Serê Kanîye. I was hit by a mortar shell shrapnel and due to that I was wounded and I lost consciousness. If it wasn’t for Hêyva Sor medical team I would’ve been dead. They transferred me as fast as they could’ve. And thanks to them here I’m standing, sound and safe. It is without Hêyva Sor medical teams there would’ve been many civilians and fighters dead. They rescued hundreds.

You can directly prevent the deaths of volunteer-defenders like Heval, as well as civilians (children!), by making a donation to Hêyva Sor.

Citations

Just in case you wanted to verify things which were being discussed or wanted to read further:

  1. Edwards, Robert. Girl, 8, loses leg, brother killed in Turkish shelling of Qamishli. Rudaw. 11 Oct. 2019. Web. 28 Oct. 2019. 

  2. @serdar_melah (Sardar Mlla Drwish). “They destroyed my family/I am finished.. Kill me please/One’s child is precious/I have lost my three children…” Video of a father from Serê Kanîyê/Ras Al-Ayn after he lost three of his children. Twitter, 13 Oct. 2019, 2:26 a.m. 28 Oct. 2018, 2:40 a.m. https://twitter.com/serdar_melah/status/1183313000201105413 

  3. Walsh, Nick. Gruesome videos emerge from Syria. CNN. 23 Oct. 2019. Web. 27 Oct. 2019. 

  4. Walcott, John. Hinnigan, W.J. U.S. Spies Say Turkish-Backed Militias Are Killing Civilians as They Clear Kurdish Areas in Syria. Time. 28 Oct. 2019. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  5. Haber, Bu. İHA muhabiri, istediğini söyletemediği yurttaşları polise vermekle tehdit edip, ‘Terör sevicileri’ dedi. Fersude Gazete. 12 Oct. 2019. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  6. Case of Benzer and others v. Turkey (Report). The European Court of Human Rights. 24 March 2014. p. 57. Retrieved 29 December 2015.  2

  7. @kurdishheritage. “Racism against Kurds in Turkey.” Instagram, July 19, 2019, https://www.instagram.com/p/B0G2sS_itGI/

  8. MacDonald, Alex. Bayram, Murat. Families mourn children caught in crossfire in Turkey’s southeast. Middle East Eye. 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  9. @curdistani (curdistani). “Here is a Turkish soldier who was in the ranks of Turkish army&witnessed the genocide in 1937-39. He says there were no uprising but a massacre of Kurds. He explains how Turks & their colonel killed small children ruthlessly & throw them into the river.” Video of a Turkish veteran addressing the genocide. Twitter, 7 Jun. 2019, 4:22 p.m. 11 Nov. 2019, 1:52 a.m. https://twitter.com/curdistani/status/1137137855871033349?s=20 [needs primary and translated source] 

  10. van Bruinessen, Martin. “Genocide in Kurdistan? The Suppression of the Dersim Rebellion in Turkey (1937-38) and the Chemical War Against the Iraqi Kurds (1988).” George J. Andreopoulos (ed.), Conceptual and historical dimensions of genocide, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994, pp. 141-70 (1994): n. pag. Print. 

  11. Cihan. “CHP’nin Dersim Katliamı - İhsan Sabri Çağlayangil’in Anlatımıyla.” Online video clip. YouTube. uploaded by Cihan, 29 Sep. 2013. https://youtu.be/xYH3p52ux2Y [a primary and translated source would be preferred] 

  12. Western Armenia TV. Turkey has bought chemical weapons from Nazi Germany for Dersim massacre. Western Armenia TV. 13 May 2019. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  13. Euronews (Türkçe). “Erdoğan’dan Dersim özrü.” Online video clip. YouTube. uploaded by Euronews (Türkçe), 23 Nov. 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38RqxRwnwYU [a primary and translated source would be preferred] 

  14. TRT Haber. “Cumhurbaşkanı Erdoğan, TRT “Cumhurbaşkanı Özel” Yayınında Soruları Yanıtladı / 24 Ekim 2019.” Online video clip. YouTube. uploaded by Subasi94, 24 Oct. 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnI-BA-lr5Q [a primary and translated source preferred] 

  15. @MahirZeynalov (Mahir Zeynalov). “Erdogan promotes presidential system in Turkey, cites Hitler’s Germany as an example” Video of a Erdogan addressing the press. Twitter, 21 Dec. 2015, 12:26 p.m. 29 Oct. 2019, 9:59 a.m. https://twitter.com/MahirZeynalov/status/682659034529443841 [needs primary and translated source] 

  16. Speckhard, Anne. Shajkovci, Adrian. The ISIS Ambassador to Turkey. Homeland Security Today. 18 Mar. 2019. Web. 27 Oct. 2019. 

  17. Author Unknown. The Main Principles of Democratic Confederalism. Komun Academy. 22 Nov. 2018. Web. 27 Oct. 2019. 

  18. United States, Office of the Press Secretary. “Statement from the Press Secretary.” The White House, no. 85, 6 Oct. 2019. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-press-secretary-85/ 

  19. Mortimer, Jasper. FRANCE 24 with AFP. Turkish air raid in Syria kills several civilians, at least one journalist France 24. 13 Oct. 2019. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  20. Turkey unleashes offensive against Kurds in northern Syria. DW. 9 Oct. 2019. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  21. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The SOHR reveals medical reports confirming Turkey’s use of internationally prohibited weapons in northern Syria, calls on the international community to investigate and hold officials accountable. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 26 Oct. 2019. Web. 27 Oct. 2019. 

  22. Keeling, Tracy. A major potential scandal just hit the UK government involving its arms sales to Turkey. The Canary. 28 Oct. 2019. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  23. Fisher, Lucy. UK sells white phosphorus to Turkey as evidence grows of chemical attacks on Kurds. The Sunday Times. 27 Oct. 2019. Web. 29 Oct. 2019.  2

  24. Amnesty International UK. Turkish forces commit war crimes in Syria offensive - fresh evidence. Amnesty International UK. 18 Oct. 2019. Web. 27 Oct. 2019. 

  25. Hawramy, Fazel. Turkish-backed forces loot property of Kurds and Arabs in Sari Kani. Rudaw. 21 Oct. 2019. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  26. Customary IHL. Rule 52. Pillage International Committee of the Red Cross. 

  27. Mat. International Freedom Battalion: women of the world, defend the Rojava revolution–a report from JINHA. Signalfire. 16 June 2015. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  28. Safi, Michael. Borger, Julian. Kurdish civilians flee as Turkish forces bomb Syria for third day. The Guardian. 11 Oct. 2019. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  29. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Treaty of Sèvres. 03 Aug. 2019. Web. 27 Oct. 2019. 

  30. Thousands of Afrin people condemned international plot against Ocalan. ANHA. 9 Oct. 2018. Web. 29 Oct. 2019. 

  31. Wikipedia contributors. The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 10 Oct. 2019. Web. 27 Oct. 2019.