When life went back to its streets, everything became stable and quiet in the city of al-Tabqah, west of Raqqa governorate. However, civilians did not retain their usual habits, the ones they had in former days. The people of the city are scared of the forced recruitment of their youngsters, which turned into a prevailing phenomenon in all the areas under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Today, the city includes 190,000 people, including the city’s people and the displaced ones, according to the activists’ estimates.
Enab Baladi interviewed a number of the city’s people, concerning the absence of young people from the streets, most of them refused to speak about the area’s management.
Nevertheless, a few of them expressed fear for their youths, who are being recruited and the penalties imposed on those refusing or escaping from recruitment. Some of them mentioned how they have been stopped at the checkpoints of the military police, spreading in the city.
‘A Distant Project’
“We view SDF as a distant project in terms of idea, practice and even leadership,” says Hussein, a 21 years old young man from al-Tabqah, who provides for his family. He justifies his refusal to perform military service saying that, “[I’m not] convinced of the eligibility of those who raise Öcalan and Kurdish leaders’ pictures in the offices and streets.”
The young man considered that the strictness of such laws, “will push many young people to migrate, stressing, “We do not want to be tools and weapons again in the hands of a new organization.”
Although he stressed the quasi-stable situation created by the administration of the city’s Civil Council, which functions under SDF, he said that “this is not enough.”
The widespread poverty and lack of job opportunities “will put great pressure on young people, which might force some of them to join [SDF], the way it pushed others to go into the arms of extremist groups,” he said.
Some Young People Justify Enrollment
Qassem a 25 years old young man attributes his enrollment in the ranks of SDF to “the poor conditions of living that force us to do many things that we do not want.”
He confirmed the disappearance of many young people who have been informed of the need to perform compulsory military service in the city.
He told Enab Baladi that SDF didn’t force anyone to enroll; “we must protect our homes and cities, which is better than totally counting on the Kurdish forces then criticizing them.”
He said that many youngsters and people work with the civil administration and other parties for different reasons, either for money or for the refusal of going back into the arms of Assad.
A Chasm between the City’s People
There is a clear division between the people who want to live and others who believe in democratic governance. There is a chasm between the people who prefer to stay in their regions and perform military service and those who refuse to abide by the de facto authority which governs the city with laws that might end with poor results.
Abu Abdullah, a 46 years old man displaced from Deir ez-Zor and a resident of al-Tabqah, believes that most of the young people in Raqqa and rural areas reject forced conscription. “All who work for [SDF] voluntarily or unwillingly know that their job is limited to serving its agenda and project, without having a leading or an active role in that agenda.”
Abu Abdullah talks about the rift between SDF and the Arab social incubator in its areas, saying that “SDF is becoming increasingly widespread, and its actions are igniting the fire under the ashes and might lead to a popular movement against them.”
He attributes the law of forced recruitment, issued by SDF, to “its need for more recruits to cover the large areas under its control and to benefit from these young people in consolidating its rule.”
The towns and villages under the rule of the Kurdish Self-management Forces witnessed popular demonstrations and sit-ins from civil and political bodies, which included Arabs and Kurds, refusing to impose the military service on young people.
Abu Abdullah stresses that the demonstrations, due to the law of recruitment and similar decrees, “are expanding against SDF, despite the repression they are facing.”
Defense and Self-protection Authority in Kobanî, in control of Raqqa city and its countryside, has issued a statement through which it demands that civilians in the region should necessarily perform compulsory service and resolve their situation, under the name of self-defense duty.
Each family, according to the sources of Enab Baladi, was forced to take part in the duty, including males between 18 and 30 years old while females were voluntarily enrolled. As for the exempted, they include “families of martyrs, parents with a single child, people with disabilities and patients with chronic diseases.”
SDF is facing the people’s refusal of forced recruitment in its areas of control since the beginning of the imposition of the law on civilians in the Jazira Canton, as it calls it, in late 2014, while the Syrian Democratic Council considers the military service a social and moral duty towards society.