Flocking to fight: The Westerners helping the Kurds against Daesh

Published May 2nd, 2015 - 18:44 GMT

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If there’s one thing to note about the Syrian conflict’s mixed bag of fighting groups, it’s that nothing is as simple as it sounds. Earlier this year we did a broad round-up of the parties involved — from Afghan Shiite militias fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s troops, to the foreign fighters who’ve become infamous poster children of Daesh’s grim recruitment success online.

Last month, AFP photographer Uygar Onder Simsek gave us more insight into the Syrian arena with a series of photos taken in the Syrian border town of Tal Tamr, where the Kurdish militia 'People's Protection Units', or YPG, is heading the fight against Daesh militants launching offensives on historic Kurdish lands. Continue reading below »

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Nicknamed by Kurdish fighters, Canadian 'Hewal Zinar,” 67, and Briton “Hewal Cudi,”40, train on the outskirts of the Syrian border town of Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015. Fighters come from a diverse range of military backgrounds and have poured into Syria to fight alongside Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG.)
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Image 1 of 11:  1 / 11Nicknamed by Kurdish fighters, Canadian "Hewal Zinar,” 67, and Briton “Hewal Cudi,”40, train on the outskirts of the Syrian border town of Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015. Fighters come from a diverse range of military backgrounds and have poured into Syria to fight alongside Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG.)

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A 21-year-old Briton and a 23-year-old American nicknamed 'Hewal Sores' and 'Hewal Agir' stand guard at a post outside Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015. Working alongside YPG troops who speak little English, foreign fighters are often placed together in troops.
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Image 2 of 11:  2 / 11A 21-year-old Briton and a 23-year-old American nicknamed 'Hewal Sores' and 'Hewal Agir' stand guard at a post outside Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015. Working alongside YPG troops who speak little English, foreign fighters are often placed together in troops.

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26-year-old ‘Hewal Cudi’ poses with a machine gun just outside Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015.
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Image 3 of 11:  3 / 1126-year-old ‘Hewal Cudi’ poses with a machine gun just outside Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015.

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‘Hewal Dilsad,’ A 26-year old foreign fighter from the US, nick-named by Kurdish fighters, points his sniper gun during clashes with Islamic State (IS) group fighters outside Tal Tamr on April 4, 2015.
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Image 4 of 11:  4 / 11‘Hewal Dilsad,’ A 26-year old foreign fighter from the US, nick-named by Kurdish fighters, points his sniper gun during clashes with Islamic State (IS) group fighters outside Tal Tamr on April 4, 2015.

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A 23-year old fighter and ex-US marine from the US, nicknamed ‘Hewal Agir,’ guards a look out point during clashes with Daesh fighters in the outskirts of Tal Tamr on April 17, 2015.
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Image 5 of 11:  5 / 11A 23-year old fighter and ex-US marine from the US, nicknamed ‘Hewal Agir,’ guards a look out point during clashes with Daesh fighters in the outskirts of Tal Tamr on April 17, 2015.

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Ex-US marines aged 23 and 24 from the US, nicknamed by Kurdish fighters as ‘Hewal Agir’ (R) and ‘Hewal Agit’, guard a position outside Tal Tamr during clashes with Daesh fighters on April 17, 2015.
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Image 6 of 11:  6 / 11Ex-US marines aged 23 and 24 from the US, nicknamed by Kurdish fighters as ‘Hewal Agir’ (R) and ‘Hewal Agit’, guard a position outside Tal Tamr during clashes with Daesh fighters on April 17, 2015.

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A 33-year old from New Zealand, nick-named by Kurdish fighters as ‘Hewal Welat,’ brushes his teeth on April 17, 2015 just outside Tal Tamr.
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Image 7 of 11:  7 / 11A 33-year old from New Zealand, nick-named by Kurdish fighters as ‘Hewal Welat,’ brushes his teeth on April 17, 2015 just outside Tal Tamr.

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A 38-year old ex-member of the US military, nick-named ‘Hewal Cekdar,’ stands on the outskirts of Tal Tamr on April 16, 2015.
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Image 8 of 11:  8 / 11A 38-year old ex-member of the US military, nick-named ‘Hewal Cekdar,’ stands on the outskirts of Tal Tamr on April 16, 2015.

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‘Hewal Dilsad,’ a 26-year old from the US, shows a picture of his wife and son as he poses for a photo in Tal Tamr on April 14, 2015.
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Image 9 of 11:  9 / 11‘Hewal Dilsad,’ a 26-year old from the US, shows a picture of his wife and son as he poses for a photo in Tal Tamr on April 14, 2015.

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22-year old ‘Hewal Zagros’ from the US poses for a photo on April 14, 2015 on the outskirts of Tal Tamr.
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Image 10 of 11:  10 / 1122-year old ‘Hewal Zagros’ from the US poses for a photo on April 14, 2015 on the outskirts of Tal Tamr.

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A 41-year from the US, nick-named ‘Hewal Azad,’ smokes a cigarette outside Tal Tamr on April 15, 2015.
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Image 11 of 11:  11 / 11A 41-year from the US, nick-named ‘Hewal Azad,’ smokes a cigarette outside Tal Tamr on April 15, 2015.

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Nicknamed by Kurdish fighters, Canadian 'Hewal Zinar,” 67, and Briton “Hewal Cudi,”40, train on the outskirts of the Syrian border town of Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015. Fighters come from a diverse range of military backgrounds and have poured into Syria to fight alongside Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG.)

Image 1 of 11Nicknamed by Kurdish fighters, Canadian "Hewal Zinar,” 67, and Briton “Hewal Cudi,”40, train on the outskirts of the Syrian border town of Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015. Fighters come from a diverse range of military backgrounds and have poured into Syria to fight alongside Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG.)

2

A 21-year-old Briton and a 23-year-old American nicknamed 'Hewal Sores' and 'Hewal Agir' stand guard at a post outside Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015. Working alongside YPG troops who speak little English, foreign fighters are often placed together in troops.

Image 2 of 11A 21-year-old Briton and a 23-year-old American nicknamed 'Hewal Sores' and 'Hewal Agir' stand guard at a post outside Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015. Working alongside YPG troops who speak little English, foreign fighters are often placed together in troops.

3

26-year-old ‘Hewal Cudi’ poses with a machine gun just outside Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015.

Image 3 of 1126-year-old ‘Hewal Cudi’ poses with a machine gun just outside Tal Tamr on April 19, 2015.

4

‘Hewal Dilsad,’ A 26-year old foreign fighter from the US, nick-named by Kurdish fighters, points his sniper gun during clashes with Islamic State (IS) group fighters outside Tal Tamr on April 4, 2015.

Image 4 of 11‘Hewal Dilsad,’ A 26-year old foreign fighter from the US, nick-named by Kurdish fighters, points his sniper gun during clashes with Islamic State (IS) group fighters outside Tal Tamr on April 4, 2015.

5

A 23-year old fighter and ex-US marine from the US, nicknamed ‘Hewal Agir,’ guards a look out point during clashes with Daesh fighters in the outskirts of Tal Tamr on April 17, 2015.

Image 5 of 11A 23-year old fighter and ex-US marine from the US, nicknamed ‘Hewal Agir,’ guards a look out point during clashes with Daesh fighters in the outskirts of Tal Tamr on April 17, 2015.

6

Ex-US marines aged 23 and 24 from the US, nicknamed by Kurdish fighters as ‘Hewal Agir’ (R) and ‘Hewal Agit’, guard a position outside Tal Tamr during clashes with Daesh fighters on April 17, 2015.

Image 6 of 11Ex-US marines aged 23 and 24 from the US, nicknamed by Kurdish fighters as ‘Hewal Agir’ (R) and ‘Hewal Agit’, guard a position outside Tal Tamr during clashes with Daesh fighters on April 17, 2015.

7

A 33-year old from New Zealand, nick-named by Kurdish fighters as ‘Hewal Welat,’ brushes his teeth on April 17, 2015 just outside Tal Tamr.

Image 7 of 11A 33-year old from New Zealand, nick-named by Kurdish fighters as ‘Hewal Welat,’ brushes his teeth on April 17, 2015 just outside Tal Tamr.

8

A 38-year old ex-member of the US military, nick-named ‘Hewal Cekdar,’ stands on the outskirts of Tal Tamr on April 16, 2015.

Image 8 of 11A 38-year old ex-member of the US military, nick-named ‘Hewal Cekdar,’ stands on the outskirts of Tal Tamr on April 16, 2015.

9

‘Hewal Dilsad,’ a 26-year old from the US, shows a picture of his wife and son as he poses for a photo in Tal Tamr on April 14, 2015.

Image 9 of 11‘Hewal Dilsad,’ a 26-year old from the US, shows a picture of his wife and son as he poses for a photo in Tal Tamr on April 14, 2015.

10

22-year old ‘Hewal Zagros’ from the US poses for a photo on April 14, 2015 on the outskirts of Tal Tamr.

Image 10 of 1122-year old ‘Hewal Zagros’ from the US poses for a photo on April 14, 2015 on the outskirts of Tal Tamr.

11

A 41-year from the US, nick-named ‘Hewal Azad,’ smokes a cigarette outside Tal Tamr on April 15, 2015.

Image 11 of 11A 41-year from the US, nick-named ‘Hewal Azad,’ smokes a cigarette outside Tal Tamr on April 15, 2015.

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In this series, Simsek focused on a collection of Westerners inside YPG, who, like Daesh recruits, came to find themselves on Syrian soil after social media calls to action and with a wide net of backgrounds spanning former US military and everyday civilians. Estimates say hundreds of Westerners have joined the Kurds so far and dubbed themselves the ‘Lions of Rojava.’

Check out Simsek’s collection of a few of the English-speaking YPG fighters joining the fight against Daesh.

(Photographer: Uygar Onder Simsek/AFP)

 

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