Syrian Kurdish authorities ease military draft demands for Kurds abroad
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - The co-chair of the Defense Board of the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), Zeidan al-Assi, has announced that Syrians living in Iraq can return to northeastern Syria without serving as conscripts by paying a yearly fee, reports the local news agency North Press.
Since November 2014, local authorities in northern Syria have enforced a draft on military-age men of all ethnicities. A new order adopted in February unified the conscription age in all of northeastern Syria from 1990.
Until the new exemption, every conscript-eligible male entering from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq into northeastern Syria would be obligated to fulfill their military service, while Syrians living in Europe were already exempt from the rule.
Shirin Qamar, the co-chair of the Defense Board of the Autonomous Administration, told Kurdistan 24 in February that this would mandate “45 days of patriotic education and self-knowledge, as well as military training. And later on, they serve their homeland in the position of border guards.”
“The order for the Duty of Self-Defense in the past allowed anybody living abroad to enter Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) by postponing and paying $400 a year. This excluded people living in Iraq and Turkey,” Luqman Ahmi, spokesperson for the AANES, told Kurdistan 24.
“However, now Iraq and Kurdistan region has been included and people living there who wish to postpone (conscription) can pay $400 annually like those coming from Europe.”
Ahmi said the decision by the administration was not made due to financial reasons, but rather, “It’s to facilitate for people to visit, since we had many people from Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) living in Basur (the Kurdistan region of Iraq) who had to serve for the Duty of Self-Defense, and were not able to come.”
According to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there are a total of 248,162 Syrians living in Iraq now, most of them Kurds who live in the Kurdistan Region. Only 2,923 live in other parts of Iraq.
Many of them say they have avoided visiting their families and friends back home in Syria because they were wanted for military conscription.
However, due to strict emergency measures taken by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the self-administration to contain the outbreak of coronavirus, it’s unlikely now that many would be able to visit, despite the new exemption.
The first move taken three weeks ago was the closure of Semalka, the main border crossing between Rojava and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. On Thursday, the administration announced a curfew that would last indefinitely in the region under its control to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Hoshang Hasan, a Kurdish journalist from Syria, told Kurdistan 24 that people from Rojava were able to visit the northeast of Syria “every Tuesday,” despite the recent decision of the self-administration to limit travel through the Semalka crossing.
However, he said, the most recent curfew measures “in the Kurdistan Region and also here” mean that “they will not be able to visit.”
Furthermore, he pointed out that the health situation in the Kurdistan Region “is much better than in Rojava. There are more hospitals and more doctors.”
According to international organizations and experts, the self-administration is poorly prepared for the coronavirus crisis due to an already degraded and fragile health system that has no testing facilities.
However, Hasan, the Kurdish journalist from Syria, added that, if the situation improves regarding the coronavirus pandemic, the decision easing mandatory conscription might indeed help facilitate a return home of Syrian Kurds now living in the Kurdistan Region or elsewhere in Iraq.
Editing by John J. Catherine