Geopolitics

Kurdish Forces In Syria Continue To Recruit Child Soldiers

Kurdish commanders have broken earlier pledges to stop the forced recruitment of children, saying it is necessary to protect individual homes.

A young Syrian Kurd near a Syrian Kurdish soldier
A young Syrian Kurd near a Syrian Kurdish soldier
Ahmad Khalil

RMELAN — After being called out by rights groups last summer, Kurdish military forces pledged to end their use of child soldiers and to protect them from armed conflict. But 10 months later, witnesses and relatives say Kurdish forces continue to recruit schoolchildren.

Yasser al-Hassan, 46, an engineer in the oil fields of Rmelan, a town in the northeastern al-Hassakah Governorate, says that armed boys and girls man checkpoints between al-Qamishli and Rmelan. "Many children died at the fronts in Ras al-Ein, Yarubia and Hassakeh," he says, adding that he had personally attended the funerals of a number of child soldiers.

"The recruitment is still ongoing under the excuse of defending the area and claims these children volunteered by themselves," he continues. "But that's not true, because most teachers in schools are members of the Public Protection Units, and they brainwash children and convince them that joining and fighting with them is a sacred matter and that everyone must volunteer to fight with the units."

Al-Hassan says that many of his friends and family members left Syria for either Iraq or Turkey just to prevent their children from being lured into fighting, either by the teachers or by other children in the Public Protection Units who try to convince their friends to join.

"Other children only join to make some money because their families need money due to their financial situation after four years of war," he says.

Accountability for recruiters

In June 2014, an Arabic report by the monitoring group Violations Documentation Center said it had documented the deaths of 223 children under the age of 18 who were fighting with different opposition groups, including those fighting not only for the Kurds but also for ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamic Front.

Shortly thereafter, Human Rights Watch demanded a halt to the use of child soldiers by all sides in the conflict and warned that countries financing these groups could be prosecuted. The report featured the stories of 25 children, who spoke in detail about their recruitment by armed groups.

Earlier this year, Syria Deeply also detailed the recruitment of child soldiers by ISIS.

Muhammad Taj al-Deen, 37, a tailor in al-Qamishli city, says that his 14-year-old nephew was killed last December fighting on behalf of the People's Protection Units near Abu Qassab village, in southern al-Qamishli. The boy was killed with nine other students while fighting with the units against ISIS, he says.

"My nephew Butan Taj al-Deen dropped out when he was in elementary school due to the lack of teaching staff," he recalls. "He wasn’t good at school, so when he quit, his parents didn't care much, and they sent him to work in the vegetable market in town, which is ruled by party members." Every day, he brought back lots of vegetables and 200 Syrian liras (about $1).

"It was a very good salary, so his family didn't pay much attention to the threat their son was under," al-Deen says. "We later heard he joined the People's Protection Units. We didn't take this seriously, and his family thought he was just going to guard the market along with other members of the party, but three months later we received the news of his death."

Al-Deen is still in shock that his nephew was killed. "I have no idea how he and his younger friend Hassan Ibrahim joined the party together and both got killed together too. How could a 13- or a 14-year-old child carry weapons and fight? And when did the Protection Units manage to train them enough to take them to the fronts?

He characterizes what happened with Butan and his friend Hassan as a crime. "How could it be that children are recruited and taken to fighting fronts, dragged to a certain death against highly experienced fighters of terrorist organizations?"

When it emerged last year that the Kurdish People's Protection Units had been recruiting at schools under their control, at least one official denied that it was sanctioned. Kanaan Barakat, a Kurdish military chief northern Syria, told Human Rights Watch that recruiting children was unacceptable. If it was happening, he said, it was not the party's policy.

"The Kurdish security forces in Afrin, Ain al-Arab Kobani and al-Jazira areas disapprove of the recruitment of children for fighting and for checkpoints," he said. "Some children had volunteered, and their enrollment in any military activities is a matter of individual mistakes."

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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