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Lana Asfour

Western volunteers take up arms against IS group

Western volunteers with Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha

Date of publication: 18 February, 2015

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Westerners have joined Kurdish and Christian forces in Iraq and northern Syria, and are gaining attention for the cause against IS on social media.

Dozens of Western volunteers have travelled to Iraq and the Kurdish region of northern Syria to fight against the Islamic State group. 

Men, and at least one woman, from the US, UK and Australia have joined militias.

These include Jordan Matson, a former US soldier from Wisconsin who has become the public face of such volunteers after publicising his activities on Facebook and giving a number of media interviews.

Matson was presented as a hero by right-wing commentator Sean Hannity on Fox News on Tuesday. "I decided that if my government wasn't going to do anything to help this country, especially Kurdish people who stood by us for 10 years while we were in this country, then I was going to do something," the 28-year-old told the AP news agency in a recent interview.

Many westerners have also joined the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), in northern Syria.

A Facebook page called "Lions of Rojava" posts updates on its activities and press interviews with its volunteers. It has nearly 54,000 "likes". The word "Rojava" in Kurdish refers to "Western Kurdistan", the areas under Kurdish control in northern Syria.

Crossing from Turkey into Syria, the volunteers joined a Kurdish offensive in Iraq last month and are now are based in Sinjar.

Jordan Matson, volunteer with Kurdish Peshmerga.

"How many people were sold into slavery or killed just for being part of a different ethnic group or religion?" Matson said. "That's something I am willing to die to defend."

Legalities

While Australia forbids its nationals from fighting with any force outside of the Australian army, the US has not banned its citizens from fighting with militias against IS.

However, the US lists the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, which is based in Turkey, as a terrorist organisation even though it has fought alongside the YPG forces in the Kurdish-Syrian town of Kobane.

Because of the YPG's links with the PKK, some volunteers were worried that they would face legal problems when they returned home, so they chose to join Dwekh Nawsha instead.

This is a militia made up of Christian Assyrians and fights alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga to protect Christian villages in Nineveh province in Iraq.

"Dwekh Nawsha" means "sacrifice" in Aramaic, the language of Christ and also of modern-day Assyrians. The militia has an active Facebook page.

One volunteer, Scott, who preferred not to give his surname, told the Reuters news agency that he joined Dwekh Nawsha to avoid legal trouble when returning to North Carolina.

The software engineer, who served in the US army in the 1990s, said he was compelled to fight after watching the IS' persecution of Iraq's Yazidi minority and by the recent battle for Kobane. 

The only foreign woman in Dwekh Nawsha said she had been inspired by Kurdish women in the YPG, but she identified with the "traditional" values of the Christian militia.

Another volunteer who wished only to be known as Brett, said in an interview with the AFP news agency: "I can't sit at home and watch the atrocities... I have a lot of combat experience and this is a huge asset, a huge tool here."

Louis Park emphasised that he is not paid. "I believe in the cause a lot so I'm willing to sacrifice everything," he said.

Most of the volunteers with Dwekh Nawsha have not yet engaged in fighting, with those who arrived a week ago were sent away from the frontline by Kurdish security forces.

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