A worker at the only prosthesis factory of North and East Syria

The war against ISIS, but also the recurring Turkish invasions in North and East Syria have left tens of thousands of fighters and civilians injured and long-term disabled. Yet, with a healthcare system in crisis the AANES is struggling to meet the medical needs of its population. The Federation of Wounded Individuals in North and East Syria was created in order to advocate for and represent those who have been long-term or permanently disabled as a result of the war.

Agid Brahim is the co-chair of the Federation. He outlines the aims of the organization as well as the general situation for war-wounded individuals in NES. Whether civilians or combatants, a majority of those injured during the conflict are encountering problems in access to healthcare. Faced with these difficulties, the Federation is trying to develop local solutions to guarantee the provision of care to all. The interview was made in September 2020.

The Federation was created following the Congress of Wounded Individuals which brought together people from all regions of NES. It is represented by two co-chairs, male and female, like all the institutions of the democratic movement in this region. The Federation’s mission is to represent all people wounded during the war: veterans of the YPG and YPJ, of course, along with the security forces (Asayish) and other self-defense forces; but also civilians, who constitute a very significant portion of the victims of the conflict. The Federation supervises different committees related to its mission in advocating for wounded individuals: access to healthcare and other forms of care, of course, but also education, media, finance… In addition, the Federation is made up of a web of local committees present in each region of NES.

Beyond material support, the Federation works on the recognition of [the cause of] injured individuals within NES’ civil society. This is why we are developing education programs for wounded individuals so that they can be useful, it is important for them.

Beyond material support, the Federation works on the recognition of [the cause of] injured individuals within NES’ civil society. The martyrs [ie. those killed during the war] represent the values of the revolution. But we also want to highlight the sacrifice of wounded individuals, not forgetting their history and what they brought to this revolution. Therefore, our organization also has the mission of providing them with opportunities to participate in society in their own way. This is why we are developing education programs for wounded individuals so that they can be useful, it is important for them. 

Injured veterans receive a salary of 300,000 SYP per month [at the time the interview was taken, this was c. $100, roughly five times the salary of an average day laborer and higher than the average wage paid to AANES employees]. This is a salary that is rather high compared to the average salary in Syria today [where there is an ongoing economic crash]. This is because the salary should cover the expenses for care, as well as supporting the families of injured individuals.

The Federation also enables injured individuals to participate in social life and to get involved by working for the community. When you meet injured people, it is impressive to see how high their morale is, and how they can be a source of inspiration. But there are also many difficulties they must face, it’s true. Some of them find it difficult to find work and may feel useless, so our academies help them to get training. We still lack a sufficient number of academies, so we want to develop more of these institutions.

Many of the injured individuals are waiting for treatment or surgery. For example, some of our members in wheelchairs could walk if they were operated upon. The lack of infrastructure and professionals is one of the major difficulties we face.

The Federation also deals with health issues. The lack of infrastructure and professionals is one of the major difficulties in this area. Many of the injured individuals are waiting for treatment or operations. The Federation of the Wounded Individuals works together with member states of the International Coalition to Defeat ISIS, as well as NGOs, to offer solutions for access to care, but we face many obstacles. Many of the injured individuals are waiting for treatment or surgery. For example, some of our members in wheelchairs could walk if they were operated upon.

We face increasing difficulties to access treatment in other regions [outside NES]. Political tensions and the impossibility of reaching political agreements with the Syrian [Government] make it hard for patients to get treatment in the regime’s hospitals. The KRI’s Sulaymaniya hospital, which previously welcomed patients coming from NES, is tightening access conditions due to pressure from Turkey on the [Iraqi] Kurdistan Regional Government. The veterans of the war against ISIS are stigmatized as ex-combatants, in spite of international laws that grant injured individuals the right to be considered as civilian non-combatants. Some of them manage to travel to Europe by their own means in order to receive appropriate treatment, but this solution is only affordable to a small minority. 

We are planning to create a whole ‘town’ to house injured comrades, a place where they could live and receive appropriate help, but also where they could tell their story of the revolution. 

One of our main objectives is therefore to develop autonomous local structures, in order to remove dependency insufficient and uncertain external aid. We also need more centers for physiotherapy. We need help from NGOs and the Coalition in this respect. There is a center in Sheddadi and we are in the process of opening one in Heseke, but we are still short of places. We are planning to create a whole ‘town’ to house injured comrades, a place where they could live and receive appropriate help, but also where they could tell their story of the revolution.

Our Federation has been able to open an academy to train staff for physiotherapy, funded by the SDF, but more centers are needed. Discussions are underway with the coalition and NGOs to obtain support, which so far has been almost non-existent. I am myself war-wounded and I can say, we are proud of our revolution and of our sacrifice. Our comrades may be wounded in body, but their spirit remains determined. If war threatened their city tomorrow, they would all go to defend it, without hesitation.

Read more on medical, political and social strategies for war-wounded individuals in North and East Syria, in our new dossier “Standing alone“. It gathers testimonies and discuses the whole ecosystem of healthcare provision to wounded individuals in NES.