A Manhattan resident, identified as an anarchist-communist, has snuck into war-ravaged Syria to join the Marxist People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia that receives military support from the United States in its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), reports New York City’s progressive newspaper The Village Voice.
The weekly news outlet reports that Guy McGowan Steel Steward, 22, of Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, planned to join the Kurdish militia along with his fellow “anarcho-communist,” identified only as Hristo, 23, of Brooklyn.
“They’re our anarchist comrades,” Hristo told The Voice. “I feel it’s my obligation to go aid them.”
As he and Guy were facing difficulties getting illegally smuggled across the border from Iraq into Syria, Hristo backed out and returned to the United States, citing his acceptance into grad school as the primary reason.
Meanwhile, Guy kept trying until he made it into Syria with the help of the Lions of Rojava, a group that coordinates logistics for foreigners.
Guy became “the first reported American [anarchist] to join the leftist group,” notes The Voice.
The YPG is the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which controls a large portion of northern Syria that has been renamed Rojava by the Kurds.
“Most of the more than 100 American citizens who have made the journey to fight alongside the Kurds — whether with the YPG in Syria or the Peshmerga in Iraq — have been military vets, Christian crusaders, or adventurers looking for thrills and a chance to kill ISIS fighters,” notes The Voice. “They have been surprised to discover that the YPG, the U.S.-supported group that has consistently beaten ISIS on the battlefield, is, at its core, organized around Marxist and feminist principles.”
A seasoned U.S. Army veteran told Agence France-Presse (AFP) he decided not to join the YPG after finding out identified out they were “a bunch of damn reds.”
The YPG was also described as Marxist-affiliated group in an op-ed penned for the Guardian in 2014 by prominent anarchist thinker David Graeber.
Guy and perhaps eventually Hristo “could be the beginning of a wave of Americans leftists entering the fray — or little more than a blip in a war that has already destroyed millions of lives,” points out The Village Voice. “But many Kurds, eager to see their anarcho-communist fever rise to the regional if not the global level, have welcomed the Americans and Westerners who have volunteered.”
Although he is reportedly receiving weapons and “ideological” training at a camp specifically for Westerners, Guy does not plan to go the front-lines.
He expects to play a role in creating and distributing pro-Kurdish leftist propaganda instead.
Nevertheless, he “has guard duty every day, though he says it’s more like a dry run for the real thing since the compound is so far from the front lines and behind so many checkpoints,” reports The Voice.
When asked if he is happy, he responded, “Oh, hell, yeah. One hundred percent. Any leftist with a collectivist outlook should be here.”
Turkey, President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, and some U.S. lawmakers have linked the PYD and the YPG to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist terrorist guerrilla movement.
Nevertheless, to the dismay of U.S. NATO ally Turkey, the Obama administration, for the most part, insists the YPG is not a terrorist organization affiliated with the PKK and continues to support them.
The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.
The “dominant ideology” in PYD-led Rojava “rejects capitalism as inherently exploitative, limits personal property, places governing power at the local level, and insists that at least one co-chair of each local council be a woman,” notes the Voice.
Drawing the ire of several governments in the region and even its U.S. ally, the PYD declared its territory in northern Syria a federal autonomous zone.
Malek Rasamny, a Lebanese-American filmmaker who has visited the Kurds in Syria, has reportedly warned “against romanticizing the YPG,” saying, “We can’t idealize them. They might be better than some of the other armed groups, but they’re not running a vegan cookie store.”
The Kurdish militia has been accused of engaging in war crimes by human rights organization Amnesty International.
In October 2015, the human rights group reported that it had found “evidence of alarming abuses, including eyewitness accounts and satellite images, detailing the deliberate displacement of thousands of civilians and the razing of entire villages in areas under [Kurdish] control.”
The YPG has also been accused of terrorizing Assyrian Christians in Syria.