By Erem Kansoy and Alan Sahin
Jac Holmes is one of the British volunteers in the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). He hails from Bournemouth in the south of England. Jac has actively participated in no less than three tours in Rojava as part of the YPG infantry. Having left behind a life in the UK, Jac learnt the Kurdish language and has gone on to become one of the most recognised faces of the YPG force who continue to fight ISIS in Rojava.
How did you get involved in the Kurdish struggle in Rojava? How were you introduced to the Kurds?
I was studying the Syrian civil war which is when I came across the YPG and the Kurds in Rojava. I found out they took foreigners and let them fight so I joined.
What is your motivation/are your personal reasons behind joining this war?
A combination of wanting to help people and fight against evil.
There seemed to be quite a few UK volunteers who took a similar path. Would you say you all shared a common goal to fight isis or would you say the reasons varied significantly?
Most people have the same idea, which is that they want to help the people here in Rojava and Syria to fight against evil, such as isis. But there are also alot of people who are more interested supporting the Rojava revolution as opposed to just combat.
How do you communicate with the Kurds while in Rojava?
I have learnt to speak Kurdish and although I’m not fluent I can communicate my needs as well as understand sufficiently.
Obviously there must have been quite a shock in terms of living in UK and being in Rojava, let alone a war zone in the Middle East, what would you say were the biggest challenges in terms of getting used to the change in environment?
The biggest issues here at first is the language, and secondly the culture. There are many significant differences between Middle Eastern culture and western culture, which means you need to be perceptive and notice the different 'rules' and adjust accordingly and respectfully. One of the other main challenges is probably the diet. We obviously do not eat as well as we might at home and the diet often times lacks variety. Most of our meals consist of beans, rice, pasta, naan bread and soup.
How are the preparations for the upcoming battle for Raqqa?
The YPG is making good ground on the push to Raqqa. We are currently about 20-25km away from the city and have taken a lot of ground and villages. The eastern front of the operation is due to begin shortly, maybe within the next few days. Once we have got closer to Raqqa on this side, we will see what the YPG plans to do next.
How did you perceive the attitudes of the UK government towards the British volunteers?
The UK government is careful in regards to the volunteers travelling to and from Rojava. We have all been detained and interrogated, myself a number of times. They know everything about us and what we do out here. They would prefer we weren't out here doing this, but it's not illegal and we have the freedom to do so.
There are numerous reports of the presence of other military groups fighting alongside the YPG in Rojava. Can you confirm this, and if so, from which countries? Have you met any of the foreign military forces?
There are alot of NATO special forces on the ground here co-ordinating with the YPG and offering assistance. Personally I have encountered Americans and French. But I have also heard of German, Canadian and British forces also being embedded with YPG.
Do you have a most memorable moment/significant memory during your tours in Rojava?
I think my most memorable moment is being shot during combat back in early 2015. But over all I have so many memories here good and bad. I have many significant memories of all of the operations I have been involved in, especially the people I have met, lived and fought with, Kurdish, Arab and Western - but also the friends that I have lost over my time here.
As of today, another British volunteer who died is on his way back to the UK. One of the earliest casualties was of course Kosta Eric Scurfield. Do you have any memories of him you would like to share?
Kosta was a great man and a good soldier. I've never encountered anyone who has had a bad word to say about him. He was a real warrior and is missed by everyone who knew him.
There appears to be a significant number of foreign volunteers in the YPG. Do you happen to know approximate numbers and how many brigades they volunteer in or form?
I would say at least 500 foreign volunteers have joined the YPG over the years. I think the number of active foreigners in the YPG at any one time is between 50-100. Usually they serve in Kurdish Units but there are also a few foreign units within the YPG.
Do you have a message for the British society reading this?
My message to British society would be: ISIS is not just a problem in Syria and Iraq it is a problem for every single human in the world. We need to be aware of what's happening in other places where ISIS is present, and actively do something to put a stop to it before the danger reaches our doorstep.
Also, do you have a message for the Kurdish youth?
For the Kurdish youth I would say that regardless of where in the world you are living you are and always will be Kurdish. You must learn and be able to live in the Kurdish language and be actively aware of your culture and identity. I don't think they all need to come and fight as not everyone can do it. However, there are a lot of other things you can do to help the cause such as raising funds and spreading awareness of the struggles. With regards to those who do want to fight, there is no reason why you can't do exactly what the foreign volunteers have been doing and continue to do. A tour involves getting to Rojava and spending approximately 6 months here, during which time you can see how you fare and gain a good insight and experiences. Having said so I recommend anyone considering volunteering here gives it serious thought and does not commit to something that you do not fully understand. On that note I wouldn't advise anyone Kurdish or otherwise to do what I and others have done.
What are your views on the arms deal Theresa May sold to Turkey only last week, in addition to the approximately £350 million worth of arms deals over the last two years.
I think the UK government and specifically Theresa may are disgusting excuses for human beings. The only thing they care about is money, they don't care about the current or future state of England and they certainly don't care about the wellbeing and stability of the Middle East. The people who voted these parasites into power need to sit down and have a real good think about themselves and the kind of legacy and future they want to leave for their own children to grow up in.
Which parts/areas of Rojava have you seen combat in?
I have been all over the Cizire canton. Tel Hamis, Tel Tamer, Abdulaziz, south of Abdulaziz, al Hawl and the first part of the Raqqa operation north of Raqqa.
Would you like to say a couple of words about British YPG volunteer Ryan Lock, who died recently in the fight against ISIS?
I met Ryan in Sulaimani before he crossed over to Rojava. He was a great guy, had good intentions and like most of us wanted to help people and fight against the evil that is ISIS.