My firm and I have first hand experience of the “volunteer” process regarding, in particular, the fight against ISIS in Rojava (Western Kurdistan) and the other Kurdish cantons that stand between Syria (in theory) and Southern Turkey.
In our case the groups fighting against ISIS in that area included the YPG (around Al Hasakah), YPJ (no direct involvement as we had no female volunteers), Dwekh Nawsha (Iraqi Assyrian Christian Militia) and elements of the Peshmerga along the border side of the The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) lands predominantly the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq referred to as Iraqi Kurdistan or Southern Kurdistan bordering Iraq and particularly the areas west of Mosul and Duhok and around Sinjar.
The Recruitment Process
This is fraught with danger as from your question it would seem that you have no current points of contact and therefore no independent method of verification of the person(s) with whom you would liaise with.
There are myriad persons and Facebook pages claiming to be recruiters for various groups. Many are run by European based ex-pats who have little or no coordination skills and are driven by a blind desire to assist the cause of Kurdish independence across the cantons located currently in the sovereign territories of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran which they claim as Greater Kurdistan.
Additionally, there are many bogus ISIS or ISIS sympathiser accounts masquerading as pro-Kurd recruiters and the fallout from travelling on the say so of one of those is obvious I would have thought.
Travelling to the Region
In the last 8 months in particular using Turkey, Jordan or Qatar as waypoints to the region for the purposes of participating in the fight is highly risky.
Bear in mind also that while most countries do not penalise their citizenry for travelling to support the fight against ISIS – countries like Australia make no differentiation and the penalties for doing so – on return – are severe.
The Benefit of Volunteers to Local Western Supported Groups
In mid to late 2014 the foreign volunteers were a valuable PR tool for the Kurdish cause and drawing attention to the issues – reference Jordan Matson, The Lions of Rojava, Gill Rosenberg, Samantha Jay and others.
This PR angle is well and truly exhausted and as such many volunteers are more of a hindrance than a help to the Kurds in particular, who are the most viable opposition to ISIS in the region of Syria. But remember there are 35/40 million persons who claim Kurdish ethnicity in the region. They do not lack manpower – they lack heavy weapons.
Joining the Peshmerga is an altogether more complicated matter and I have nothing to add regarding that here.
Many of the other groups have suffered from fraud scams and media hungry foreign volunteers who have left without improving the situation of the groups they allegedly joined and in many cases having taken monies via GoFundMe campaigns have never handed same to the groups that they were allegedly fundraising for.
I could write for 50 pages on background and risks and dangers and the naivety of foreigners heading out who have no previous military experience and the fraudsters and the inherent dangers and so on but there are many many articles and many hours of video – most recently BATTLING ISIS by Channel 4 Despatches which will do a much better job of covering those topics than I and which you will find with a simple Google search.
My opinion: If you have no previous military experience, disaster relief expertise, militia training background, combat medic or other medical experience in a high risk area or conflict zone then do not go.
If you wish to assist, consider the following options:
- Donate to the Kurdish Red Crescent or any other official and authorised charitable bodies helping the people in the region;
- Donate to official and authorised charitable bodies assisting the Syrian refugees – both those languishing in dreadful conditions in Turkish and Lebanese refugee camps or those who have transited to Europe and are attempting to cross hostile frontiers to reach Germany, Sweden or the United Kingdom;
- Assist those Syrian refugees who have reached your countries;
- Lobby your political representatives to change the attitude to formally arming the Western supported militias fighting ISIS in the region with the heavy weaponry they so badly need;
- Lobby your political representatives to have the PKK delisted as a proscribed organisation and recognised as a de-facto legitimate armed wing of the Kurdish people actively defending Kurdish civilians from state sponsored Turkish terror and Turkish death squads;
- Lobby your political representatives to insist that the nation of Kurdistan is recognised as a sovereign state and that the regions and territories of Bakur, Rojhilat, Basur & Rojava are consolidated under the flag of an independent Kurdistan and their lands returned by those in Turkey, Syria, Iraq & Iran who have for so long denied Kurdish nationhood and terrorised the indigenous populations;
- Or lend your time in any other positive ways – from a distance – but in a meaningful and consistent way;
- Also and of particular importance – remember that regardless of the wisdom of the decision – that the PKK is a proscribed terrorist organisation according to the powers that be and travelling to assist this group or donating to this group will be accompanied by the obvious repercussions.
See the VICE NEWS journalists who were arrested and the Iraqi Turkish based journalist and translator Mohammed Ismael Rasool currently on week five in a Turkish prison facing terror charges for simply filming a story on the PKK.