“Havrem,” whose real name is Alex, presents himself as an ideological warrior who ran away from home at the age of 16 to join the PKK and fight for Kurdish freedom. He talks about scaling the treacherous mountains of Turkey as a PKK fighter and of ruthless battles fought against ISIS in Northern Syria, but Alex’s actions reveal a track record of lies, treachery, and betrayal to the Kurdish cause. The truth is that Alex is a fraud cashing in on the Kurdish war against ISIS for cold hard cash.
When SOFREP met with Alex in November of 2014, he claimed to be a general in the YPG, the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, who had been put in charge of the city of Rabia. Alex likes to talk about how he is married to the PKK/YPG cause, often delving deeply into subjects such as socialism, feminism, and the political theory of the organization’s spiritual father, Abdullah Ocalan. He loved animals and played with dogs wherever we found them and would give candy to children. When SOFREP visited him in his apartment in Til Kocher, he had a number of potted plants and even a pet snake which he said he inherited from a dead YPG fighter. “He was such a humanitarian,” Alex lamented.
But when shown a picture of Alex, an American volunteer soldier recently out of Syria stated, “That dude is bad ju-ju. I got the feeling he was playing both sides.”
Far from being a general, he was really just an interpreter for the foreign volunteers who came from the West, according to the YPG fighters SOFREP spoke to. Through a combination of hustling and intentionally mis-translating the words of the foreign fighters, he was able to get himself placed in charge of the foreigners—perhaps 20 or so men.
Although Alex was running several different scams, perhaps the foremost of them was that he was confiscating passports, cell phones, and cash from the foreign volunteers who showed up from America, Germany, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. He told them that he needed to hold onto the passports because, if they were killed, ISIS would then be able to use them for their own purposes.
As such, he was holding many of the foreigners in Syria under duress. When they asked to leave, he told several of them that he would just dump them on the border without their passports. When other foreign volunteers pushed the issue, Alex would make vague references to how easy it is for someone to just disappear in Syria.
The Kurdish independence and freedom movement has taken a back seat to Alex’s agenda of personal enrichment and petty power plays. Many of the volunteers traveled to Syria to make a genuine effort to help the Kurds but when another American volunteer fighter was proposing the integration of an all-foreigner unit in the YPG, Alex intentionally mis-translated and lied to the YPG about what was going on to have this American transferred out to a remote base without Internet access or cell phone reception.
It was all about who gets what, and Alex coveted the unit funding that the YPG issued to the foreigners. One YPG fighter told SOFREP, “He is given a stipend to provide for the Western volunteers, but he has yet to distribute or provide for those not in his little immediate group, and then does not provide unless it helps him or you are doing him favors.”
Of the 10 or so foreign volunteers that SOFREP spoke to, none of them had seen any of this unit funding, but they did see Alex and his driver with brand new CZ Skorpian machine pistols, which easily sell for $2,000 USD in Irbil’s arms market—the prices driven up by the limited supply and great demand of a war zone.
This London-born Kurd actually came to Iraq as an interpreter for the British military sometime around 2008. While the details of his falling out with the British are unclear, he eventually ran off to join the PKK and never returned to the England.
It is also suspected that Alex was selling interviews to the British media. One foreign volunteer witnessed Alex on the phone with the British press pretending to be Jamie Read, a British military veteran who signed up with the YPG. Read found out from one of his fellow foreign volunteers about what was happening behind his back and said, “Alex/Havrem had been phoning the British media saying he was me…and would like a story. I never knew this until I was on my way out and back in Iraq.”
Other foreigners under Alex’s thumb have also done media appearances which could not have happened without his authorization. It must be asked if the press has paid Alex a finder’s free for acting as a fixer for them in Syria. While the U.S. media rarely pays for interviews, some European outlets can and do.
If true, this fleshes out the shell game that Alex has been running: Take control of the foreign fighters, find ways to trap them in Syria even if they want to leave, and get paid to do British media spots which puts more money in his pocket and draws in more foreign volunteers. With more foreigners in his unit, Alex would get more unit funding and more authority.
Although it has not been confirmed that Alex was cashing checks from the media, one YPG fighter told us, “Harram (Alex) is pushing the Westerners through to the media, principally the British media, as the British media pays cash for interviews. Harram is getting money in his pocket for each leak or interview.” A charismatic and friendly personality, Alex had the wherewithal to pull it all off, at least for a time.
When quizzed about the YPG’s approach to intelligence gathering and mission planning, Alex said that they run source networks, hack into cell towers, track cell phones, use a thermal device to establish the patterns of life of ISIS fighters, and much more. In mission planning, he said that each element leader stands up and briefs his part of the mission and that they conduct full mission rehearsals. This sounded highly questionable at the time, as the YPG isn’t quite that squared away. As it turned out, Alex was probably just telling SOFREP what he thought was expected, based upon his experiences with the British military rather than the YPG.
Alex got away with his scams for months because he operated in the rear areas in northern Syria, which are relatively secure and struggling to establish governmental institutions while the YPG is focused on the front lines of their war against ISIS. The good news is that the YPG has caught on to Alex’s indiscretions. Just a few days ago, he was kicked out of the YPG. His apartment in Til Kocher was searched, the passports and cell phones of the foreign volunteers recovered. The YPG itself is not a criminal organization and tries to do the right thing for their soldiers. Alex was just a bad apple who has, thankfully, been removed.
Alex left many YPG fighters bitter and angry. “I know that I am going to break his jaw the next time I see him,” one fighter remarked.
SOFREP reached out to Alex for comment but have not heard back from him.
(Featured image: the author with Alex in northern Syria)