Voices from Al-Hasaka Part 1

In the north-east of Syria, lies Al-Hasaka governorate, almost fully controlled by the Kurdish forces, except for a very small and limited area held by the Syrian government. Both local and international media talk about it mostly only when it comes to military and political updates, ignoring the whole community residing there.  As if fighting the he terrorism of DAESH was not enough, a new conflict entered the arena when Kurdish forces declared their intention to separate the northern Syria and have what has come to be known as Rojava, or Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria.

With the current advance towards Ar-Raqqa, the stronghold of DAESH, hopes of the Kurdish forces lead by YGP (People’s Protection Union) to add the city to their control are getting higher, but on the other side there is the fear of more disorder and displacement for ethnic reasons as well as more division in the country. Mainstream media, especially the one backed by the US, is promoting the Kurdish militias in Syria as heroes promoting a democratic governance mode at a time when in reality their authoritarianism is no better than the one they criticize the Syrian government for. This authoritarianism is not only affecting non-Kurdish ethnicities, but Kurds themselves as well.

Kurdish fighters in Qamishli, in northeastern Syria. Credit Agence France-Presse

To know more about that we contacted some residents of Al-Qamishli city through our contributor Sarah Abed, who is originally from Al-Qamishli. Sarah has not been able to visit her home town for 6 years by now not only due to the ongoing war in Syria but also due to the fact that life in Al-Hasaka governorate in general has turned into a real challenge for non-Kurdish population.

Despite the long tense history between Kurdish population and the Syrian government, there were hopes of improvement when in 2011 the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad issued a legislative decree granting Syrian citizenship to stateless Kurds registered as “foreigners” in Hasaka, in an attempt to settle the long-term disagreement. However, that did not stop the Kurdish political and armed entities from declaring once again their project of a separating northern Syria from the rest of the country.

But how did those militias get such powerful stand?

The whole story began when the Syrian government decided to cooperate with the Kurdish militias in the north east of Syria to take part in the protection of that area from the advance of DAESH, the government supplied them with arms, and granted them its full support. Thinges started got more sophisticated as those forces recruited PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighters who used to fight in Qandil Mount in Turkey. Soon after that events started to take a different turn with the beginning of the illegal American intervention through the US-led coalition in Syria; American administration has backed the Kurds to declare independence and achieve the long-waited dream of Kurdistan in Syria, like what happened in Iraq. With that began what is known as the self-administration governance in northern Syria.

The Americans approached the Kurdish forces by offering them arms and support in their fight against DAESH, soon after that an American military base was established on Syrian territory with the help of the Kurdish forces, and with that the Kurds started to pronounce their plan of federalization which were strongly supported by the Americans.  The project aims at establishing a Kurdistan in Syria that runs from Malikiyah to Ayn al-Arab, and Efrin in Aleppo, as well as Ar-Raqqa. The Kurdish demand to create Kurdistan is not new to the political arena in Syria and the region, but it never got any close to becoming real for very simple reasons: first, is the national sovereignty of Syria, no one from any ethnicity or religion has the right to cut off a piece of the country and claim it their own just like that. Second, the Kurdish population in al-Hasaka barely makes 30% in total and the rest of population completely refuse to reside under Kurdish control.

Al-Hasaka governorate municipalities

According to the people we spoke to, the claim of the self-administration to lead a democratic society is too far from true as numbers of people who have migrated due to bad circumstances are on the rise. Our contacts spoke to us of the accelerating migration of Assyrian and Armenian migration from the area, and of ill treatment of Arab refugees as they are being discriminated against in a very aggressive manner, starting from being placed in miserable camps, to obstacles of obtaining proper housing in Kurdish neighbourhoods, to the freedom to choose whether or not to serve in in the Kurdish cantons, in what came to be known as “Mandatory Self-Defence Duty”. This forced military service, adopted on 14 July 2014 by the Kurdish autonomous administration, is now a main reason why a whole generation of men (18-33) has almost disappeared from society in Kurdish-controlled territory. The law applies to all men regardless of their ethnic or religious background and regardless of whether they have completed their military service in the Syrian army. Whenever Kurdish militias reach an area, they force its men to join them or elsewhere they threaten of displacing them from their homes.  Those forces are confronting Syrian Army and its paramilitary forces, so joining them means fighting the Syrian Army. Their cooperation with the illegal American presence in Syria raises a lot of questions on what would be the future of the Syrian north if it truly comes to be under their control once and for all, especially that now a new American airbase in being prepared for in Tal Baydar as our contact has informed us.

Kurds are part of the Syrian community, and this article along with the ones to follow are by no means an attack on Syria Kurds as “others” or as “non-Syrians”. Our aim is to shed the light on the party that wants to divide the country instead of working on uniting it at such times of hardship.

To be continued…

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*Interview with our contact done by: Sarah Abed

* Our contact in Al-Hasaka prefers to keep their identity hidden for personal reasons, and that we are obliged to respect.

 

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