Much of this will fall on deaf ears and many will continue to live in denial but the Kurdish people have grown incredibly weary of foreign volunteers over the course of their war with ISIS. This is due to several key factors that have cullminated into a distaste for outside help that doesn’t come in the form of military support. With the war coming to a close, volunteer numbers are dwindling and many units are doing away with them entirely. I would say this article is more geared towards the Peshmerga; but maybe the YPG are starting to feel the same way?
Cultural differences are huge; for the most part most they don’t understand what the hell foreign volunteers are doing in Kurdistan. Sure they get it to some extent (fight evil blah blah blah “I hate Daesh”) but not to the extent we would think they would. They can’t understand why any sane person (justifiably) would fly across the world to fight and risk death in a war that is not their own for a country they do not belong to, especially for free. They would probably be more understanding if volunteers were instead coming for money as mercenaries which, even though there are few out there it is incredibly rare.
The Kurdish culture honors bravery above all else but you would be hard pressed to find a Kurdish soldier who would do what many volunteers have done. The Kurds will not fight for land they do not believe they have rights to for one, and second, if the US got invaded tomorrow they would not come to the US to fight our hypothetical enemy even if they were allowed too. That’s not to say they wouldn’t show solidarity and support with America through other means; they will always be our allies but they fight for their country and their people, not someone else’s. America and many of the countries where volunteers have come from have expeditionary militaries and many of these volunteers come from these militaries so going abroad to fight a war outside their own country is nothing new. The Kurdish military is not expeditionary.
Before I start the next part I have to say there are real warriors taking part in this war, men who have done their part and deserve nothing but respect for what they have done, they deserve their due respect even if they seem to fit the bill for some of these categories. I will say this unabashedly; I have fallen into or do belong to some of these categories and the only way I can write this article correctly is by taking a deep look at myself as well as interacting with many of the things/people I am writing about extensively. I am not beyond reproach, just the opposite; I belong to the same tribe.
What about the volunteers who don’t have military backgrounds, and to be honest this still applies to many that do; why are they coming to Kurdistan to fight? Everyone is either running from something or chasing something. Maybe the prior service military ones miss the feeling of being in war, they miss the comradery, the rush, the feeling of value in life; maybe the ones who never went long to experience it. Many civilian volunteers fall into the later as well, they never got the chance to serve in their own military so they set out to get a second chance, funny thing is most of these types do more than anyone and eventually pay the ultimate price. Some are in it just to kill people plain and simple.
Then there are the glory hounds, the instagram warriors and the wannabe try-hards. Many come for fame, they were just average joes back home but now that they are here the whole world has their eyes on them and identifies them as great warriors who traveled across the globe to battle a great evil. Many are actually out there fighting and actually doing work too but they are the exception not the rule. They post pictures standing on a berm ever vigilant, standing on an ISIS flag or looming over the body of a dead ISIS fighter. They do a short stint and return home to tell war stories to anyone who will listen. But even still, many of these types are the real deal; they just feel the need to validate what they have done and their own self worth.
Next up are the people in it for the money. Now of course there are some who are paid and most definitely earn it because they are the real deal. But then there are the bottom feeders, the scam artist and GoFundme frauds. This is a disturbingly large trend; reminiscent of the stolen valor trend in the western world, these people take the occasional picture with Kurdish forces or are embedded with them and regale exploits of heroism in the face of ISIS fighters on their donation pages. They set up accounts for people back home to donate money in aid of the “fight” and pocket it for themselves. This is incredibly unfortunate because there are some very legitimate funds out there that do in fact use the donations to give back and supply the Kurds or buy precious equipment and essentials to actual take the fight to ISIS. The problem is it has become so convoluted that it’s impossible for the average person to know the difference.
None of this is a new phenomenon, it’s just getting more attention because we’re in the modern age of social and professional media. But imagine if you were a Kurdish man or woman fighting for your home, family, freedom and right to life; and these were the types of people showing up to “help.” All the drama, bullshit, and just plain inconvenience would be maddening because for every one genuine foreign volunteer you have to deal with four jackasses.
Another aspect is that the Kurds simply don’t need the help, they were winning before volunteers showed up and they will be in the same situation after they all leave. They are appreciative of the support but never really asked for it nor needed it, that’s what the coalition was formed for. Hence why you will probably never hear about mercenaries in the Kurdish forces, why would they pay people to do a job the KRG can pay a local minimum wage to do or in the case of the PYD has people doing for free. Neither need to buy high speed commandos, they have their own if the task at hand really demands it and they come at a better rate. The only reason they take volunteers is because there is no money involved so it’s kind of like they’re saying, “Eh… Fuck it, why not?”
There is some cultural relevance here too, having spent I dare say more time than most who walk this path training save for a handful of people I can tell you they don’t want to learn your way of doing things. The only time they want to learn from you is when they see you apply a skill and realize the hard way that yours is better. They are stubborn this way but have developed their own systems through decades of experience; imagine if some foreigner came over to your home and tried to tell you how to do things the “right” way. The so-called free help is on occasion accepted but somewhat reluctantly. A bit of role reversal brings it all into perspective.
There are still a good deal of people trying to get over here but to be honest, it’s over and they missed their chance; the only guys who are coming to Kurdistan now are guys who have been here before and are returning for another round. New players are pretty much unwelcome in this regard due to much of what I’ve said. The Kurdish people are fascinated by us, and for those of us who have done our part they will be eternally grateful but realize the reality of the situation. This war is over and our welcome is wearing thin. I think I’ll start packing my bags.