European Kurds swap violins for Kalashnikovs

Hundreds of Kurds from across Western Europe are returning to Iraq’s Kurdistan region to join the peshmerga's ranks and help defend their ancestral lands from the jihadist threat. 

As the sun dips into the dusty horizon, Lukman Hassan and Hussein Mohammad emerge from their armoured personnel carrier emblazoned with the official flag of Iraq’s Kurdistan region with a fiery sun in the centre. 

It's dusk, and it’s time for the Kurdish peshmerga to return to their base in northern Iraq. Hassan and Mohammad left their families in Germany to return to their ancient homeland three months ago when the jihadist threat to Kurdistan became acute. 

A father of five, Hassan, 50, left his home in Munich to join the resistance against the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS or ISIL. 

“Every day, we heard that the terrorist organisation called the Islamic State was attacking our brothers and sisters, and was trying to take over our land,” said Hassan. 

“So we had to return and defend it, even if it costs us our lives. Many Kurds have returned, not just from my town, but from Cologne, for example.” 

While the number of foreign nationals fighting in the peshmerga's ranks has not come close to more than 2,000 estimated foreigners in the IS group, a growing number of Kurds from the European diaspora are returning to defend their ancestral lands. 

Mohammad is one of the fighters in the Cologne brigade. He gave up his job as a musician in a Kurdish orchestra – swapping his violin for a Kalashnikov. 

The two German Kurds are not newcomers to warfare. In the 1990s, both fought in the peshmerga ranks against former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's army.

Hassan’s cell phone is full of pictures from the battles he's seen this time around. Relaxing under the now dark, open skies, 

Mohammad says that these days, Kurds in the diaspora are rapidly responding to calls to defend their people. 

“The media has become so fast that, from Germany, we can see straightaway what's going on here,” says Mohammad. 

“Every day we get calls from young Kurds back in Germany. They ask us how to get here and how to take part in the fighting. They're ready, and they're desperate to defend Kurdistan."  

As the long night begins on the peshmerga base, Hassan and Mohammed insist they won't return to Germany until the fighting here is done. 

by Luke Brown

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