The Other Jihad: The Brit Fighting With Kurds Against ISIS

Ferdia Carr talks to Londoner Mark Ramsay, who recently joined Kurdish forces fighting ISIS.

In northern Syria, right now, there are British citizens pitched against each other on opposing front lines. The volume of British men and women making such a journey hasn’t happened on such a scale since perhaps the Spanish civil war, when idealists from all over Europe joined both communist brigades and fascist paramilitaries, fighting their ideological corner.

In Syria today, an estimated 600 Brits have enlisted in the now infamous Islamic State. But small numbers of men from the UK have made the perilous journey from Turkey in to Kurdish controlled Syria, to fight IS.  I managed to get in touch with one Londoner who made such a journey and joined Syria’s Kurdish fighting force, the YPG.

Mark (at least the name he’s going by) has spent the past few months training at a YPG camp. I wanted to know what motivates someone to leave the routine of London life for the chaos of war?

‘Like most of the people who volunteer to join the YPG/YPJ to leave behind the comfortable complacency of our Western lives, we have had enough of this madness and the often sparse “help” given by our nations,’ he explains. ‘Coming here to help is quite simply the morally correct decision to take given the circumstances of this war and the seemingly limitless reign of terror and brutality that ISIS use to impose their psychopathic ideology.’

Londoner 'Mark Ramsey' is fighting against IS.
Londoner ‘Mark Ramsay’ is fighting against ISIS.

As good a reason as any I suppose, but does picking up a weapon and firing back constitute the appropriate form of ‘help’? Couldn’t you have aided the Kurds in another way?

‘Being outraged at genocide, rape and murder on TV from the safety of our Swedish couches doesn’t help anyone.’

Interesting point, considering that was the apparent motivation for many of the British Muslims who travelled to Syria, to fight the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

‘True! Perhaps some even had noble intentions… Came for Assad…stayed for Jihad!’

How did you manage to make your way out of London across the Turkish border, given all the attention from security forces in the UK?

‘I can’t say much about my journey here. Only that it suffered slight delays due to political issues.’

Chatting over twitter messaging and email, I wonder how a war torn country that’s been pounded by war planes and artillery has the infrastructure to keep the conversation going.

‘It’s only E signal here, slower than a mo fo… it’s a pay as you go sim and often proves to be a “task” getting the top up cards.’

The officers provide troops in his group with one top up card each on the few occasions they’re available, so communication with the rest of the world is sparse. There’s little else away from the front lines to stay occupied. ‘Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) is pretty quiet at the moment except for the dancing and singing,’ he says.

Mark’s life in camp seems like the typical boredom before intense actions that soldiering is known for. ‘On a good day we would get beef and beans, on a bad day just bread. On average though most of our meals have been vegetarian, soups, stews, and various potato dishes. And of course copious amounts of tea! Which is, as an Englishman, is essential for morale, even without the milk.’

I have to wonder how many Englishmen fighting with IS are likewise struggling with the lack of milk in their tea.

What was the initial response to an Englishman turning up out of nowhere?

‘The majority of the Kurds, military and civilian, have shown us nothing but gratitude for our presence here…The language barrier is more than a slight niggle sometimes. There is only so far obscure hand gestures will get you!’

Meaning to ask how he felt about potentially fighting and killing other Londoners, Mark told me he had to move as the weather had cleared for their advance. Our last correspondence was on twitter as he made his way to a so called ‘hot’ area. I wished him well and asked that he stay safe.

I’m still waiting to hear back.