Al Jazeera: Suphi Nejat Agirnasli lived a scholar’s life on an island in the Sea of Marmara, a short ferry ride from the center of Istanbul. He was translating a multivolume encyclopedia of psychology from German into Turkish. He often worked in the living room, in sweatpants, looking out at the water.
“He told me that he didn’t want to grow up. He didn’t want to go to the adult world,” said his close friend Omer, a student who asked to be identified by only his first name.
But in August, Agirnasli cleaned out his room and vanished, leaving no indication of his destination. Two weeks ago, the news came that the 30-year-old died after joining Kurdish forces defending the besieged Syrian town of Kobane from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Images from that brief final chapter of his life contrast with earlier photographs of the scholar hunched over his papers. In a portrait taken during his weeks with the Kurdish militia, Agirnasli stands straight, looking directly into the camera, a smile on his unshaven face. He is dressed in fatigues. In a video posted online, he states his name, birthdate and parents’ names. He holds a gun. Explosions can be heard in the background.
In the widening crisis emanating from Syria, Agirnasli’s profile stands out among the hundreds of men and women from Turkey — most of them ethnic Kurds — fighting in Kobane and the other parts of Syria.
Most of the estimated 15,000 volunteer foreign fighters who have been flooding into that theater of war are joining ISIL and other armed groups. But Agirnasli was fighting against them, making him one of the few non-Kurds, perhaps a few dozen men and women, who have taken up arms against ISIL.
“I think it will remain a small phenomenon in terms of fighters who are going across, but you’re seeing the fault lines played out inside Turkey coming from the Syrian conflict,” said Aaron Stein, a Geneva-based associate fellow with the defense think tank Royal United Services Institute. “It’s the militant left who are going to fight for the communist revolution and see the PYD as on the front lines against Islamism.” The PYD, or Democratic Union Party, is a Syrian Kurdish political party whose armed wing has been leading the battle against ISIL in Kobane. [Continue reading…]