Northeastern Syria students are target of double recruitment campaigns

Graduation of a batch of SDF fighters in northeastern Syria (Reuters)

Graduation of a batch of SDF fighters in northeastern Syria (Reuters)


Abdullah did not know that his passing at the al-Tabqa city checkpoint in the western countryside of Raqqa could turn him from a university student into a fighter in the ranks of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The 22-year-old student told Enab Baladi that he took his academic postponement from the Syrian regime’s recruitment division when an officer at the al-Tabqa checkpoint asked him to show his military service papers, only to be surprised that these papers were not recognized by the SDF military institution.

Abdullah (Enab Baladi withheld his last name for security reasons) indicated that he was able to convince the officer that this was his first visit to the areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) since the Islamic State (IS) defeat in 2017 and that he would go to the SDF departments to extract new papers directly.

University students, who are forced to move between the areas of influence of the Syrian regime and SDF, fall victim to the forced conscription campaigns of the two sides of control, as neither of them recognizes the identity papers issued by the other, which exposes the student to the possibility of enlistment for military service with one of them.

According to the Self-Defense Duty law applicable in the SDF areas of influence, young males between the ages of 19 and 24 who reside in the AANES areas must be recruited into the military service or obtain service postponement papers for certain reasons permitted by law; such as studying or traveling.

Dual recruitment

Jamal, a university student studying at Tishreen University in the coastal city of Latakia, and residing in SDF-controlled areas, told Enab Baladi that students extract study deferments from the regime’s Recruitment Departments in addition to the SDF recruitment offices.

Although they possess these papers, the students are afraid of visiting their families on the second bank of the spheres of influence for fear of recruitment campaigns by both sides.

Some students also avoid obtaining delays issued by the SDF for fear of finding them by the regime forces at the checkpoints.

It is possible that these papers will turn into an accusation that the bearer will be held accountable and blackmailed by the members of the checkpoints and the security services.

Compulsory conscription was implemented by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) for the first time, following the Dohuk Agreement signed by the Democratic Society Movement and the Kurdish National Council (KNC) in 2014.

In June 2019, the Autonomous Administration ratified the Compulsory Conscription law in its areas of influence. The Self-Defense Law includes 35 articles in which the conditions of service, exemption, postponement, and all laws related to those assigned and covered by conscription were specified.

A member of the Defense Office of the AANES told Enab Baladi (who spoke on condition of anonymity) that students extract study deferments from the Defense Office, but in small numbers compared to the number of students in northern and eastern Syria.

In an interview with the official website of the Autonomous Administration in July, the head of the Defense Office, Zaidan Assi, said that the office takes into account the students as the most wanted category for the “duty of self-defense,” so the students should “settle their status and extend their postponement.”

He pointed out that the majority of students do not review the “self-defense” centers and do not settle their situation, adding that anyone who fails to postpone and settle his status will be forced to perform the self-defense service, whether he is a student, breadwinner, or a brother of a fighter.


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