A former British soldier has been sentenced to seven years and six months in prison in Turkey for joining a militia that fights ISIS but is also seen by the Turkish nation as an insurgency force for Kurds who want to break away from the country.
Joe Robinson, 25, volunteered to join the People’s Protection Units of Syrian Kurdistan (YPG), in 2015. His family says he served as a combat medic for the organization,.
He reportedly spent four weeks with the YPG before entering Iraq to fight against ISIS forces there, his family says, before returning to Britain in November 2015.
Robinson was arrested in Turkey in 2017 as he was vacationing there, apparently completely unaware of the nation’s stance against the YPG.
Is Robinson’s fate a sign of what is to come for American volunteers fighting ISIS?
The YPG has a strong internet presence that it uses to recruit idealistic foreigners, and many of the volunteers come motivated by liberal and feminist ideals, without truly understanding the intricacies of the region.
Kurdish attempts to carve out their own homeland stretch back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, and Turkey considers the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to be a terrorist organization.
The Chicago Tribune in March reported extensively on an American volunteer to the YPG, who returned to the U.S. for medical treatment after being shot in Syria.
Caleb Stevens is described as an intensely idealistic young man who discovered the YPG via an article in Rolling Stone magazine and from the Internet. He sent them a Facebook message reading, “Hello, I’m a leftist from the United States interested in fighting for the cause in Rojava.”
A classmate from Deep Springs College also fought with him in Syria. Deep Springs College is a very small, two-year college in California. Its website states:
“Between 12 and 15 students are admitted each year. A scholarship covers the costs of tuition, room, and board for every student offered admission. In exchange, Deep Springs students are expected to dedicate themselves to lives of service to humanity.”
“Caleb is an incredible person,” the classmate, Grayson Scott, told the Tribune.
“There isn’t anybody I’d rather fight fascism with.”
Tribune reporter Patrick M. O’Connell explained the motivation of Westerners like Stevens in an interview with NPR:
It’s young adults. Idealists. Often times with a military background, like Stevens has. Who are sympathizing [with] and I think it’s important to emphasize, often romanticize, groups’ stated fighting cause against the Islamic State in particular but, like Stevens is mentioning, a more broad sense of oppression and fighting for human rights, or women’s rights. There’s a lot of women that are in these fighting forces. And this area of the world has been a magnet for people like Stevens who are aligned to put their feelings into action.
A statement by the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign on the Robinson prison sentence may reveal how the YPG uses the liberal and feminist ideals of young Westerners to lure them into its fighting ranks.
“Joe is a hero to all who value peace and freedom against the dark forces of oppression, enslavement, rape and terrorism which IS represent,” the statement reads.
A first-hand volunteer account on the Bombs and Dollars blog, which bills itself as “one of America’s leading Realist foreign policy and news websites,” by a retired Marine named Pato Rincon, claims the YPG has a “warped Marxist-feminist ideology.”
Rincon states that during his short stint in the YPG:
We had to take mandatory “Female World History” classes in which some putrid fourth or even fifth wave feminist propaganda was espoused. Early on in my brief stay with this “military unit”, I was told not to ever brush my teeth in front of a woman as that might “sexualize” her… …something to do with preparing one’s self for sex or something.
While the YPG is allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS, the State Department strongly advises against citizens volunteering in Syria.
“U.S. citizens who undertake such activity face extreme personal risks, including kidnapping, injury, or death,” the State Department warns, the Tribune reports.
“The U.S. government does not support this activity.”
How much protection can an idealistic volunteer who flies halfway across the world to fight in a conflict he understands very little about count on from his government back home?
The Robinson case will be an interesting barometer and may perhaps serve as a cautionary tale to naïve liberals itching to fight for “humanity.”