November 12, 2013
On October 27th, the Kurdish militia YPG wrested control of the Al-Yarubiyeh Border crossing, after extremist Islamist group Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) manned the eastern Syria-Iraq crossing for six months.
The victory at the border crossing was another chapter in the continued struggle between Kurdish groups and insurgent ISIS, as well as native extremist group Jabhat al Nusra and the Free Syrian Army to fill the power vacuum left by Assad’s retreating forces which retains little power in Syria’s northeastern provinces of al-Hasakah and a-Raqqa.
Houkar Ibrahim, a Syrian Kurdish teacher from al-Hasakah, spoke with Syria Direct’s Mohammad Rabie about recent YPG gains in his province and speculation they are supported by the government in Damascus.
Q: Tell me about the conflict between ISIS and Kurds? Is the FSA in the area?
A: The FSA is not in the area. ISIS is in the area, and it clashes with the PPK. ISIS is centered in the area near the oil fields. The only organized armed group in that area was the YPG, which is the armed party of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), all a part of the Kurdish Laborer Party in Syria.
I am against the PYD and its agendas, but sometimes you have to choose between two options; you cannot be a shade of gray. The conflict was between YPG and ISIS, who invaded the oil wells and the crossing points. Then it started to implement its rules, steal from people and kill people. ISIS started suicide bombing in the cities. That caused all the young men, even if they are not members of the YPG, to defend their land against ISIS.
A little while ago, YPG took control of the al-Yarubiyeh crossing point. The FSA is not fighting there, because they do not want to hurt the displaced people in Qamishli, which is a safe place for more than 100 thousand displaced people from Homs and other provinces. It is now under the Kurdish militia's protection.
An earlier image of the Al Yarubiyeh Border Crossing between Syria and Iraq. Photo courtesy of Al Alam.
Q: Why are the Kurdish militias and the FSA not fighting side-by-side against the regime?
A: The Kurdish YPG has had connections with the Assad regime since the beginning of the revolution. Before the revolution, the Kurdish Labor Party was the regime's enemy, and used to operate against the regime. Now, they have common interests.
The regime will not get close to this area and will not target it. The Kurdish militias will stay in their positions, the regime will not interfere in the district and will not target the people there.
Q: If the Kurdish militias are protecting people, why have thousands of Kurds gone to Iraq as refugees?
A: Many of the refugees, some of whom are my relatives, left because of the bad financial situation and lack of services.
ISIS cut the electricity in al-Hasakah province: there is now electricity only three hours a day. They also closed the road to Damascus, and there is beginning to be a lack of food in the area. If food is available, prices are very high.
People move to Kurdistan for jobs, not safety. Sometimes suicide bombings happen, but al-Hasakah is not like Homs or Aleppo at all. As of now, the regime is still paying employees their salaries in al-Hasakah, but people have left because of the cost of living.
Q: Who supports Kurdish militias? What type of weapons do they use?
A: The only Kurdish militia is the YPG: they have one leader and follow an administrative hierarchy. They all follow orders, unlike other battalions who do what they like without coordinating with other battalions
In the beginning, they had only light weapons, but they have seized many regime tanks and heavy weapons in the area. The regime has also provided them with weapons. Since the Turkish government is against the Kurds and Turkey is against Bashar al-Assad, so Bashar began a new stage with the Kurds. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Q: As you are a teacher, do you support teaching the Kurdish language in areas with a dense Kurdish population? Or you think it is better to teach it as an extra language?
A: No one can forbid me from speaking my language. We are Muslims, and Arabic is the language of the Quran, but the Kurdish language should also be taught in schools alongside English and Arabic.