November 5, 2013
The cities of Hasakah and Qamishli, sandwiched between Turkey and Iraq in northeastern Syria, form the epicenter of Syria’s Kurdish population. Fully opposition-controlled, the two cities have experienced yet another wave of internecine violence as insurgent Islamist extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), Syrian extremist group Jabhat al-Nasra along with more mainstream Free Syrian Army groups and Kurdish groups vie to fill the regime’s power vacuum. They are also fighting for control of strategic border crossings with Turkey and Iraq.
Hamza al-Mashhadani, 27, studied media at Damascus University and now lives in Syria’s northeastern province of Al-Hasakah. A supporter of a civil, democratic Syria, he recently attended the Istanbul conference to form the Syrian Democratic Union, under the leadership of Michel Kilo, the former head of the Democratic List in the exiled Syrian National Coalition.
Hamza spoke with Syria Direct’s Nuha Shabaan about the chaos in Al-Hasakah, the growth of ISIS and why he believes the Free Syrian Army is no army at all.
Q: What is happening on the Turkish Syrian border now? Where is this heading?
A: According to information I have been given from the ground, there is fighting between a united Jabhat al-Nasra and ISIS against the FSA.
At the same time, we see that ISIS is publically calling Jabhat al-Nasrakufar (infidels), and Jabhat al-Nasrais calling ISIS kufar as well.
A: Because the two sides disagree politically. Many fighters are defecting from Jabhatal-Nusra and joining ISIS, as they believe ISIS is stronger.
With rebels from Liwa Hamza following their capture of Shadadi in Al-Hasakah province in March of this year. Photo courtesy of Hamza al-Mashadani.
Q: Why is the Free Syrian Army fighting Jabhat al-Nasra? In the past, they have fought together.
A: As I see it, inside Syria there is no such thing as the Free Syrian Army. The Free Syrian Army is just a military institution with a leadership that gives orders which are not followed on the ground.
Every four or five people create a battalion, which later becomes ten people, and they form a brigade. A little while later, there are twenty people, they call it a band.
It is possible today to say, “I have a brigade of six fighting battalions, and I cannot order anyone to do anything.”
Q: Have ISIS and Jabhat al-Nasra ignited the violence in Al-Hasakah?
A: We cannot say that they started the fighting. This is a war of interests. There are very important positions [that all sides are vying for]. I was there when it happened, on the ground. When Jabhat al Nasra liberated the village of Shadadi, I asked them, why don’t you liberate Al-Hasakah and al-Bida, controlled by the (Kurdish) PKK?
“We do not kill Kurds on their ground,” Abo Osama, a leader of Jabhat al-Nasra, said to me verbatim.
Q: Do you think the Syrian people have lost trust in the FSA? Who do they trust now?
A: The Syrian people are crushed. They have no hope. I think that if the situation stays this way, they will support Jabhat al Nasra and ISIS. They are waiting for anything that is not the [Syrian National] Coalition.
Q: Is the opposition capable of leading Syria in the future?
A: Of course not. It cannot go to liberated areas, it is not able to solve minor problems for refugees or internally displaced people. How will it lead in the future? It is a failed opposition.
Q: You are working to build the Syrian Democratic Union. There are many Kurds in it as well. Why do you think this is?
A: Many Kurds are now in the axis which is building the Democratic Union, supported by the international community, overseen by Michel Kilo, and Kurds are a winning card internationally for him.
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