In common with all states and major non-state actors in the region, the Autonomous Administration operates a program of compulsory military service for military-age males. ‘Self-defence duty’ is the name given to military service in North and East Syria.
As detailed in the text of the law below, military-aged men (from 18 to 40) must complete one year of military service. Only one son from any family must serve at any one time, while there are also a number of exemptions.
Families who have lost a member fighting in the war are exempted from conscription, as are students, only children, those with injured or disabled siblings, and those who have a relative fighting in another, non-conscripted armed force such as YPG. These exemptions are intended to ensure that families are not left in financial hardship as a result of a key breadwinner being called-up to military service. Women may sign up on a voluntary basis, but are not required to complete military service.
Self-defence duty does not typically mean fighting on active frontlines. Conscripts typically complete a course of ideological and military training, before being posted to man checkpoints and roadblocks, and offer second-line and logistical support to the YPG and other voluntary, non-conscripted forces during combat.
As explained in the text of the law, the regional, devolved administrations have autonomy as to how they apply this law and whom they call up to serve. As such, conscription does not currently take place in the majority-Arab regions recently liberated from ISIS – Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor, and Tabqa. This is intended to allow these regions time to recover following recent conflict, and build trust between local populations and the SDF and Autonomous Administration. (Due in part to the poor economic situation, many young men in these regions nonetheless sign up to fight with the SDF on a voluntary basis.)
Unsurprisingly, conscription is not an especially popular policy. The main complaint voiced by locals is that conscripts are often posted far from their homes, with young men from the border regions being sent to Raqqa or Deir-ez-Zor to complete their military service, due to the lack of conscription in these areas and the poor security situation requiring a high concentration of military personnel.
Nonetheless, the conditions the AANES offers for military service are highly preferable to those in the Syrian Government’s Syrian Arab Army – where years-long conscription in poor humanitarian conditions is commonplace – and indeed less stringent than the conscription laws in many neighboring states. As such, almost all young people who have the choice elect to complete their military service with the SDF, rather than with the SAA.
Law concerning the Self-Defense Forces, and the bylaws of the Self-Defense Office in North and East Syria
Updated: 22 June 2019
The duty of self-defense is a national, human and moral duty. Everyone has a duty to defend the borders of the country, its children and its institutions in accordance with the legitimate principles of self-defense, to protect society and preserve coexistence, equality and unity of diversity and create a free democratic society.
Labels and definitions:
The law is called the Self-Defense Duty Law, and this law adopts the following definitions:
A- Self-Defense Duty is an obligatory service, which males from the regions of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria aged 18 or over must complete.
B- Self-Defense Duty Department: One of the departments belonging to the Defense Office that supplies military bases with soldiers, through its centers.
C-The Self-Defense Duty Center conducts the affairs of those charged with the duty of self-defense, in accordance with the law and decisions of the Defense Office.
D- Conscript: Anyone who has reached the legal age to perform the ‘Self-Defense Duty’; the residents of North and East Syria, or those from outside the region who have lived there for more than five years, who are holders of Syrian nationality, or foreigners with no registration.
E-Combatant: Every person who has enrolled to complete the duty of self-defense, and attended a training course in a training center.
F- Absentee: Every conscript who has not obtained a Self-Defense Duty passbook, and/or has not committed to review at the Self-Defense offices, without legal excuse, within a period of 60 days from the date of his assignment.
G-Deferred: Every conscript whose service is postponed according to this law.
H- Exempt: Every conscript who is waived from Self-Defense Duty, according to this law.
L- Runaway: Any combatant who is absent from service after commencing his Self-Defence Duty, after a period of fifteen consecutive days has passed.
M- Missing in action (MIA): Every person about whom news has been completely cut off, and it is not known whether he is alive or dead.
N- Foundling: A child of unknown parentage who has no breadwinner.
O- Expatriate: All of those who would be charged with performing the Self-Defense Duty, but reside outside Syrian territory.
P-Training Center: A place to train, prepare and qualify fighters, and then screen them for military teams through the relevant authorities.
Q- Autonomous and civil administrations: The autonomous and civilian administrations in: Jazeera, Afrin, Euphrates, Manbij, Tabqa, Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor. [Note: ie., the seven administrative regions of North and East Syria].
R-Retention: The extension of Self-Defense Duty, based on necessity.
S-Reserves: Every citizen who has completed their Self-Defense Duty, and may be called upon according to need to join the reserve service.
General and basic principles:
The period of service for Self-Defense Duty in North and East Syria is twelve full Gregorian months, starting from the date of enrollment.
Women have the right to voluntarily join the duty of self-defense.
Expatriates returning to the areas of the Autonomous Administration shall be granted a document allowing them to travel freely, in order to complete the procedures for obtaining a Self-Defense Duty passbook within thirty days from the date of granting the initial document, which shall be given once.
Self-Defense Duty passbooks are granted depending on the place of registration of the conscript, or his place of residence, if he is a resident.
Fines shall be imposed on the passbooks in the following cases:
A- For a lost passbook, a fine of 5000SYP [C. $1.50 at the time of writing, around $8 when the law was implemented in 2019] in the first instance.
B- A fine of 10,000SYP [C. $3] in the second instance.
C- A fine of 60,000SYP [C. $18] in the second instance, with the case to be transferred to the military court.
D – For a damaged passbook, a fine of 5000SYP [C. $1.50] in the first instance.
E—A fine of up to 10,000SYP [C. $3] for subsequent instances.
F-For a passbook whose pages have ended, the taxpayer pays a fee of 500SYP [C. $0.15].
For any forgery or change in any official document that pertains to the Self-Defense Duty, the conscript is to be referred to the military judiciary so that he is duly tried and after the expiry of his sentence, is referred to a training center to perform his Self-Defense Duty.
The following cases are guaranteed to be exempt from the law, and may travel without a passbook:
1- The families of the martyrs [ie. if one son is killed during fighting, all other sons are exempt from military service.]
2-‘Permanently’ sole children [ie. without any other brothers, and with a mother aged 50+ or dead, so there is no chance of another brother being born].
3- Those medically exempt from Self-Defense Duty.
4- Those who have completed their Self-Defense Duty.
5- Those who hold foreign residency, after having settled their status in accordance with Article (25) of this law.
6- Students who study outside Syria, or who have obtained permission to study in universities outside Syria.
The following cases shall be exempted from the law, on the basis of a guarantee:
1- ‘Temporarily’ sole children [ ie., without any other brothers, but with the possibility for more
to be born ].
2- Medical conditions that cannot be treated.
3- Students whose studies have been postponed inside Syria.
4- Those who have deferred their Self-Defence Duty.
B- The guarantor shall pay an amount of 1,000,000SYP [c. $3000], only if the conscript does not return within thirty days from the expiry of the period specified in the guarantee, or renew the guarantee. [ie. guarantor agrees to pay the fine if the exempt individual does not renew their guarantee on an annual basis].
Payment of the guarantee does not absolve the taxpayer from the Duty of Self-Defense.
All conscripts are assigned to undergo a preliminary medical examination by a specialized medical committee.
Students who perform the Self-Defense Duty are granted an exam leave outside the training course period after presenting documents that confirm this. This leave is not taken from the period of active service.
The age of assignment for males who have completed eighteen years of age begins and ends with the completion of the prescribed period of Self-Defense Duty, or exemption from it, and the conscript who has not completed his service may be obligated to perform the service until he has completed the age of forty. [ie. one can be called up at any time from the ages of 18 to 40, but only once].
The birth-dates of those charged with performing the duty of self-defense are determined by a decision issued by the Defense Office in each of the autonomous and civil departments [in each region], according to the decision of each department, after approval by the Defense Office for North and East Syria.
Every absentee shall be punished by the addition of one month to the end of his service.
Students assigned to Self-Defense Duty may postpone their service a full academic year starting from the date of 15 March of each year and ending with the same date of the following year, provided that they produce the necessary documents, within the following age limits:
1- Applications for postponement from secondary-school students are accepted until the age of 21 years only.
2- Applications for postponement from college students are accepted until the age of 24 years only.
3- Applications for postponement from university students are accepted until the age of 26 years only.
4- Applications for postponement from engineering and medical students are accepted until the age of 28 years only.
5- Applications for postponement from MA students are accepted until the age of 29 years only.
6- Applications for postponement from PHD students are accepted until the age of 34 years only.
7- Applications for postponement from medical students completing specialisms are accepted until the age of 34 years only.
Students who have received a study postponement and have not yet entered the age of assignment, for example someone who has received a postponement of study while he is still aged 17, are exempt from having this counted as one of their years of postponement.
Students who have twice failed the same academic year, and in the following year in the first semester wish to receive administrative postponement until 3 March of the following year, may only do so upon obtaining a school certificate at the beginning of the new school year. This is done depending on the documents granted from the university or institute.
Concerning the suspension of study for a period of one year, this is not to be considered a failure for a one-time period during the period of study at the university or institute, so long as evidence is provided and the suspension is noted.
Self-Defense Duty is postponed for those conscript who continue their undergraduate studies, specialized studies or post-graduate studies abroad, provided that their age has not passed the legal age specified for the academic postponement plus one year, or two years for those studying foreign languages.
Postgraduate students are postponed at the registration stage, dependent on the presentation of qualifying documents, in addition to the necessary documents for a period of six months. As for those admitted to postgraduate studies, they are postponed depending on the presentation of a receipt of registration at a university and the necessary documents for a full academic year.
All students in the year of graduating from universities and institutes, who cannot obtain certification because they have passed the legal age of postponement, can postpone for a period of a year based on the presentation of the university documents.
Interned legal attorneys are postponed for a full year according to the papers presented, provided that they do not exceed 29 years of age. They may postpone for two years in a row.
1- Only one brother from each family should participate in Self-Defense Duty at any one time, subject to six-month renewal.
– Each of the following cases is administratively postponed:
1- Those newly returning from outside Syria, for six months only.
2- Only children, for a period of two years [after which the case will be reviewed].
3- Those who have a missing brother, for a period of two years.
4- Those whose brother or father is deceased or wounded in the war, for a period of one year.
B – All cases mentioned are granted postponement after an assessment from a center of the Self-Defense Duty, and with the approval of the Self-Defense Duty Department.
1- The residents and residency holders of Turkey and Iraq are exempted upon payment of an annual postponement fee of $400 for each year from the date of the law’s issuance.
If a conscript is arrested trying to cross the border illegally, they will be transferred to a training center of the Self-Defense Duty.
Exempt from Self-Defense Duty:
1- The sons and brothers of a martyr, who are officially registered in the records of the Committee of the Families of the Martyrs, and who have the certificate.
2- People with special needs and patients with diseases that prevent them from performing their duties. This is assessed according to medical reports by the Military Medical Center, with the approval of the Defense Office in the autonomous, regional Administrations.
3- Only children, whether their parents are alive or dead.
4- Those whose brothers are disabled are considered as though they were only children.
5- Foundlings with no parents.
The combatant shall be demobilized if he completes the period of service in Self-Defense Duty, unless required to remain on.
Only one brother for each combatant joining the military is deferred from Self-Defense Duty, via an official letter from the General Command of the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD).
Regarding the demobilization of fighters and members:
For more than four years, those who join the military forces are released from Self-Defense Duty via an official letter from the General Command of the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD).
Affiliates of the military regiments shall be demobilized for two consecutive years after completing the contract period of the Self-Defense Duty, via an official letter from the General Command of the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) attached to a copy of the contract.
The members of the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) who spent more than five years serving within the period of service mentioned in the contract are discharged from Self-Defense Duty, via an official letter from the General Internal Security Command attached to a copy of the contract.
A combatant shall be demobilized upon permanent or partial disability, confirmed via a report from the competent medical committee and the approval of the Defense Office in the devolved, regional administration in question.
Each conscript who fails to claim their Self-Defense Duty passbook for more than two months after the date of his assignment is fined as follows:
1- 6000SYP (c.$1.80) for not claiming the book.
2- 5000SYP (c. $1.50) for failing to postpone for more than two months [following the date of assignment].
The Defense Office of North and East Syria must issue executive instructions within a month of the date the law is issued.
All previous laws concerning the Self-Defense Duty in the Autonomous Administration regions are repealed. This law is effective from the date of issuance.