American volunteer in Rojava: Suffering of Yezidis sparked my passion to join Kurds in fight against ISIS

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American volunteer Heval Saladin on guard duty at a training camp from which Mount Shingal. Photo: Freeman Stevenson/ARA News

ARA News

DERIK – American volunteer Heval Saladin is waiting to return home after more than six months of service with the Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Rojava, north Syria. Over the past six months, Saladin spent time not only at the battle-front against the extremist group of Islamic State (ISIS), but also working in the administration center for westerners in Kobane. 

“Originally what really sparked my passion to head to Rojava is when I saw news coverage on the developments in the Yezidi region of Shingal,” says Saladin while doing guard duty at a training camp from which Mount Shingal (Sinjar) could be seen to the south. “It pained me to watch people having to flee from their homes.”

In an exclusive interview with ARA News, the American volunteer says: “But aside from that, the YPG’s beliefs are something new for the region, and I think that is quite important for the region. Women’s rights and secularism are the two biggest reasons,” Saladin said. “This region needs it, and the Kurds are more than happy to accept it and promote it.”

Saladin – who worked as a truck driver back in the states – sold his car and other possessions, and joined the YPG in July, 2015.

He spent a few months on the front line but admits that he “didn’t take part in any major operations…just a few minor ones.”

After a few months at the front, he was asked to go to Kobane and work in a (nivehnda) – “[The YPG] has plenty of fighters. What they need is people who can do other stuff, so I figured I’d give it a try.” His job consisted of checking up on and taking care of paper work for the various foreigners in the YPG, making sure their needs were being met.

His position behind the front lines enabled him to interact with the civilian side in Rojava to a greater extent than many other foreigners who spend their time primarily on the front lines fighting against ISIS radicals. 

“I’d dare say that in one day I received more hospitality than I have in my entire life in the United States. Which is kind of sad to say since I come from the south and there’s that whole ‘Southern Hospitality’ thing…we got nothing on here [Rojava]” Saladin jokes.

“They were always just welcoming, even if I couldn’t communicate. Very kind and patient,” he tells ARA News. 

The American volunteer also got a chance to experience the difficulties the civilian side of Rojava faces in trying to rebuild war-ravaged cities in the face of a blockade of building materials from both Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. This has made it difficult for communities to rebuild in the aftermath of ISIS’s occupation, and left much of Kobane canton still in ruins. 

“That’s probably the biggest challenge right now; the lack of supplies,” Saladin speculates. “These places need infrastructure, and they [are unable to get] it right now…due to the Turks.”

Dropping Turkey from NATO and increasing civil aid to Rojava are among the best things that Saladin believes the west could do to help Syria’s Kurds in their fight against ISIS. 

After he returns home, Saladin doesn’t have any plans to do major media work like a few other foreigners have been known for – British volunteer Macer Gifford or American volunteer Jordan Matson – but instead wants to start small. “I think it starts more with me educating my friends, because a lot of them are going to have questions about how things are in Rojava and the region. I think a lot of change can start just by awareness [of what’s going on].”

“I think maybe once I’m finished out here…once I plan on laying down my Kalashnikov – at least until the next revolution – I think I would like to do some lobbying for them. Just try to educate the world about what’s actually going on. People watch the news and the media, but they don’t actually know what’s going on behind it,” he tells ARA News.  

Although he is leaving for now, Saladin stresses that it’s for the short term and that he will be back serving with the YPG soon. “I want to be there for Raqqa,” he concludes with a smile. 

Interview by: Freeman Stevenson

Source: ARA News 

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