CommentaryMiddle EastWar

The duties of comrades-in-arms

It is the responsibility of the world to repay the Kurdish people and the rest of the peoples of the region for their sacrifice in the fight against ISIS, Polat Can argues

As Kurdish people in Syria (Rojava) we have suffered injustices and persecution from the chauvinistic Baathist authority for decades. Our national identity as a people standing on our own has been denied. We have been expelled from our villages and replaced by Arabs. Hundreds of thousands of us have been stripped of Syrian nationality, and we became strangers and foreigners in our own homes and villages. Our Kurdish language was banned and so were our Kurdish songs, culture and clothing. We have been punished, imprisoned and killed for the simplest reasons. Arab identity, language and culture were imposed on us. Anyone who objected was threatened, imprisoned or forced to flee their country into exile.

We did not rid ourselves of the chauvinist and repressive policies of the Baath until we were subjected to repeated attacks by dozens of Islamist factions affiliated with the so-called Free Syrian Army as well as jihadist and terrorist factions, from Ahrar al-Sham to Al-Nusra Front to ISIS and other extremist groups.

These groups were driven by foreign countries and their chauvinism, racism, and religious fanaticism. Sometimes Kurds were accused of being separatists, atheists, apostates, agents of the West, and sometimes enemies of the revolution and allies of the Baath.

Some of the factions claiming to be revolutionary – the Free Syrian Army, those seeking freedom and to fight the Assad regime – left Assad and his regime by the wayside. Instead of heading to the capital to topple the regime to attain victory in their revolution, they left their fronts and crossed through Turkish territory to fight the Kurds in Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ayn) in 2012 and 2013.

Terrorists committed massacres in the Kurdish towns of Tel Aran and Tel Hasel in the countryside of eastern Aleppo – and expelled Kurds, blew up their homes and looted their property in Girê Spî (Tal Abyad) in 2013.

They besieged the Kurdish neighborhoods of Sheikh Maqsoud, Ashrafieh and the Youth Housing in the center of Aleppo for three years, and employed tactics of forced displacement and indiscriminate bombardment with Hellfire cannons and chlorine gas; expelled the Kurds from Raqqa in 2013; and attacked the Kurdish cities of Rumeilan, Qamişlo/Qamishli, Hasakah, Tal Tamer and Derik (Al-Malikiyah).

But we did not stand silent. We formed military units to defend our regions, and formed alliances with the other peoples of the region – Arabs, Syriacs, Armenians and others – and, somehow, we protected our shared region in the shadow of the destruction and fire that engulfed the rest of Syria.

YPG and YPJ fighters under the SDF flag
Kurdish YPG fighters under the flag of the Syrian Democratic Forces SDF, June 1, 2016.

We have shown great daring and courage in fighting extremist religious groups and terrorist factions, especially al-Qaeda and Islamic State. We have proven our military capabilities and managed to resist them, rescuing thousands of Yazidis in Sinjar in Iraqi Kurdistan from ISIS massacres, and thwarting terrorists in Kobani.

The courage of our fighters, our free and open mindset, our strong organization and our military discipline have all roused the world’s attention and have prompted many personalities, organizations and governments to reach out to us, leading to the cooperation between us and the international Coalition that provided us first with air support and then with advisory and military support on the ground.

Together as partners we managed to inflict painful blows against the most dangerous and brutal terrorist organizations in the world, and dashed the hopes that some regional entities and countries once held for this organization.

In our seven-year war against terrorist organizations and militant factions, we have sacrificed more than 8,000 martyrs, including Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, and others.

Eight thousand martyrs in order to protect our regions and the world and rid humanity of the scourge of global terrorism.

Eight thousand martyrs in order to allow all the peoples of the region to live in peace, security and tranquility.

Eight thousand martyrs so that people may again hear the sounds of the church bells and the recitation of prayers in monasteries and mosques fearlessly, so that the Kurds and Syriacs may learn their mother tongues, their culture, and their history that has long been banned and hidden.

Eight thousand martyrs to help the cities of Europe and America live in peace, free from fear that terrorists will blow up a bus or drive into revelers in a field or shoot indiscriminately at passengers in the metro, so as not to repeat incidents like that in Nice, the Charlie Hebdo attack, the massacres of Paris, Manchester, Maelbeek Metro, Brussels Airport, the September 11 attacks, and the Boston bombings.

We fought and sacrificed on behalf of the world and succeeded in what armies, states and governments failed to do.

US Army General Votel meets SDF General Chiya
US Army General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, shakes hands with General Chiya, commander of Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria’s Middle Euphrates River Valley, at the conclusion of a meeting in Deir Ezzor Province, April 22, 2018. This meeting allowed the Coalition’s top leaders in the fight against ISIS to gain a better understanding of current operations in the MERV. Image: US Army/Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster

Today, after all the suffering and tragedies of our people and the other peoples in the region, after we fought a brutal war for seven years, and after losing thousands of martyrs, wounded and displaced, we have earned the right to our freedom, and to be respected by international organizations, great countries and world powers.

Respect our choices and give us the gift of gratitude for what we have done for the whole world.

It is the responsibility of the world to repay the Kurdish people and the rest of the peoples of the region.

The United Nations, the European Union, the Global Coalition, and the United States of America today are called upon to respect the sacrifices of the Kurdish people and the military forces that fought terrorism and saved the world.

We are friends, allies and active partners with the international Coalition that fought and still fights the global terrorism of ISIS, and we are comrades-in-arms with all those who fought against ISIS.

There are moral values and principles shared among comrades-in-arms who fight in the same trench. It is neither ethical nor logical for one’s comrade to abandon you in the midst of the battle and expose your back to the enemy. Rather, this is expected of an enemy – those who would have you slaughtered at the first opportunity.

True comrades-in-arms do not leave the trench during the battle. They do not withdraw before ensuring final victory over the enemy and the preservation of all the gains achieved on the ground. It is neither intelligent nor wise to hand over all these gains on a golden platter to countries and entities that practice terrorism, support extremist organizations and seek to destroy or occupy the region as Turkey did in Efrin and other areas.

It is well-known that ISIS is not yet defeated. It is not just an armed militant group, but rather the product of an ideology, doctrine and beliefs, and can be spread or suppressed when the time is right.

Terrorism is not limited to ISIS. Dozens of extremist organizations and factions stemming from al-Qaeda and others are still active in the region. The Kurds are still in danger, as are the other peoples of the region, especially Christians and Yezidis.

An instructor with the Syrian Democratic Forces observes a Syrian Arab trainee clear his rifle during small arms training in Northern Syria,
An instructor with the Syrian Democratic Forces observes a Syrian Arab trainee clear his rifle during small arms training in Northern Syria, July 31, 2017. Image: US Army/Sgt. Mitchell Ryan

Even if we overcome the danger of ISIS, the presence of religious extremist groups in Turkey’s planned invasion force constitutes an existential threat to Armenians, Syriacs and Yezidis, who are facing the threat of genocide and ethnic cleansing, especially now that they have taken refuge in northern Syria along with some Kurds who fled previous massacres.

The Iranian plan and extremist Shiite militias also pose a threat to Sunni Arabs, to the Kurds in general, and to regional and global peace.

These people deserve freedom, deserve to live in dignity, deserve to practice their cultures and to live their lives. They deserve international recognition and protection.

They deserve to not be abandoned once again to the mercy of monsters and animals who bare their teeth, rallying the scattered gangs of terrorists on their city’s outskirts who prepare to take revenge and eliminate them.

Otherwise there will be no force left in the Middle East prepared to confront any new terrorist organization that may re-emerge from the wilderness or intelligence rooms a few years from now.

Today, we look to our comrades-in-arms to be loyal and faithful to all our sacrifices and the historic successes which we achieved together. It is the duty of comrades-in-arms not to give up their friends and not to turn their backs on them, but rather to guarantee freedom and protection for them, their families and their land under formal international recognition. Only then will the comrades-in-arms have proven their loyalty, sincerity and justice.


Polat CanPolat Can is a senior leader in the Syrian Democratic Forces who served as a commander during the campaign in Deir Ezzor. He was a founding member of the People’s Protection Units and the YPG representative to the Global Coalition against ISIS.

Follow him on Twitter: @polatcanrojava


All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of The Defense Post.

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With thanks to photographer Joey L. for use of the image of Rojda Felat.

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