How Amir Taaki Tried to Build Bitcoin Economy in Syria While Fighting ISIS

Amir Taaki, a well-known developer within the Bitcoin community as the creator of Dark Wallet, spent nearly four months fighting in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) while trying to introduce the local community to Bitcoin.

With Bitcoin and Kalashnikov

In early 2016, Taaki disappeared from the Bitcoin scene and traveled to Syria to fight against the terrorist group ISIS. With the Kurdish People's Protection Units [YPG] military group, the anarchist hacker stood at the front line and actively engaged in the war against ISIS. In an interview, Taaki stated:

"When I discovered Rojava [the term Kurds use to refer to northern or Syrian Kurdistan] I felt I had to go there. At first, I was completely scared - I thought I was going to die. I got sent to the frontline. I had no training, and I was given a Kalashnikov. I learned how to use a gun on the way, another Western fighter showed me. I found myself on the front with a gun, I had to fight. But I wanted to go elsewhere, where my skills would be useful."

Who is Amir Taaki?

Taaki, who is best known as the creator of DarkMarket and operator of Bitcoin exchange Bitcoinica, was one of the most important figures in the early stages of Bitcoin development. In fact, New York Times reporter Nathaniel Popper, who wrote the book Digital Gold, initially planned on focusing the narrative of his book on Taaki and his involvement with Bitcoin.

At one point, Taaki was one of the four main developers to write off the Bitcoin code. During that time, Taaki also introduced DarkMarket, an anonymous marketplace which operates like Tor’s darknet marketplaces, which allows users to purchase or sell items with full anonymity. The platform was based on a technology called Dark Wallet, that essentially allowed users to make anonymous Bitcoin payments, for financial privacy.

However, in August of 2012, the Bitcoin exchange Bitcoinica, which Taaki took over, was hacked. The hack led to the loss of $228,000 worth of Bitcoin and one Bitcoin was equivalent to $10 at the time of the hack. Prior to the August 2012 hack, Bitcoinica also lost more than 40,000 Bitcoins in a security breach. In total, based on the current Bitcoin price, Bitcoinica was responsible for the loss of $66 mln worth of Bitcoin.

Many executives and CEOs of existing Bitcoin companies suffered from the hacks of Bitcoinica. Two of the many victims were Kraken CEO Jesse Powell and Bitcoin.com CEO Roger Ver.

The anonymity and intrigue of developers like Taaki ultimately attracted more attention to Bitcoin and added more unique characteristics to Bitcoin. As Popper wrote:

"Bitcoin's survival early on depended on young programmers like Amir who had the naive hubris to think that they could change the world, and the programming skills to begin laying the groundwork for that change."

Support for revolution

The motive of Taaki wasn’t his opposition against ISIS. The reason why Taaki left the UK to fight in Syria was to bring peace in the Middle East with his abilities to create a decentralized and fair economy. Like he did for Bitcoin, Taaki aimed to contribute in creating an alternative financial infrastructure for the local people and thus, develop a lasting economy.

Taaki said:

"My main goal with going to Rojava was not because I opposed ISIS, it's because I support their [the Kurds'] revolution. I support their politics and their struggle. It is the only solution for lasting peace in the Middle East. They're trying to create a people's economy. To establish a decentralized economy, you need decentralized money. Rojava's under embargo, so there's no way to move money in or out. So we have to actually create our own Bitcoin economies. Now we have a technological tool for people to freely organize outside the state system. Because it is a currency not controlled by central banks."

Upon his return to the UK, Taaki was immediately arrested by local police. Currently, he is on police bail and awaiting for the investigation to close.