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Previously banned UCLU Kurdish Society event takes place at UCL

Previously banned UCLU Kurdish Society event takes place at UCL

Mary Newman reports on the controversial UCLU Kurdish society event

On Wednesday night UCLU’s Kurdish Society hosted the originally no-platformed speaker, Macer Gifford, who spoke to a packed room about his experiences of fighting ISIS on the ground in Syria.

UCLU originally refused to allow the former City worker and member of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) a platform to speak because of his involvement in a militia. They were, however, successfully pressured into reversing their decision. The subsequent popularity of the event after it was reinstated meant it had to be ticketed.

Speaking to the audience about his motivations for joining the conflict, Gifford spoke with a somewhat detached, although humorous, tone. Describing the conflict, he said, “this war is fascism”, citing the atrocities committed by ISIS in the lead up to his departure in December of last year, 2014. Frustrated by the lack of action on the part of either the United States or the UK, Gifford originally travelled to Iraq via Turkey, to meet the YPG, who recruited him through Facebook.

From there he crossed into Syria, where he attended training camp before becoming an active fighter. Despite being a member of the Territorial Army, Gifford was one of several recruits with little to no experience of fighting. He joined, however, an international force of men and women, with representatives from countries such as the United States and France, as well as Afghani Kurds.

Standing side by side with the Kurdish forces as part of the YPG, they took on ISIS across northern Syria, regaining crucial towns and land in the agricultural heartland of the region. In his only reference to the current refugee crisis, partly resulting from the conflict in Syria, he recounted the almost instantaneous return of civilians once cities were liberated. This quick resettling is one of the aims of the group, who hope to create a federated democracy within Syria once both ISIS and Assad have been removed from power.

Throughout the talk and Q&A, which together lasted nearly two hours, Gifford stressed the responsibility of Western nations in combating ISIS. Describing the crack of bullets above his head as ISIS fighters had him pinned down, Gifford reiterated the need for support from the West, both in terms of basic equipment such as helmets and armour, and airstrikes, which were authorised by parliament today. He was quick to dismiss claims of civilian lives lost, claiming that most Syrians have already fled the main ISIS strongholds in the region. He also described the success of targeted bombing efforts, such as that which killed Jihadi John.

Having spent six months fighting in Syria, Gifford returned to Britain in August of this year. He now hopes to encourage support both among the public and politicians in favour of intervention in the region, having already spoken at SOAS on the 26th of November.

The President of the Kurdish society, Kavar Kurda, spoke after the event, and commented on the “excellent turnout and questions asked”, helped probably in part by the union’s attempted censorship.

Featured image credit: Mary Newman

Mary Newman

Mary is a fourth year languages student, and of the EiC’s of Pi online 2017-18.