Dozens of people are currently holding a sit-in on the Syrian side of the only border crossing between Kurdish-controlled Hasakah province and Iraqi Kurdistan. The demonstrators want the Kurdish authorities in Iraq to reopen the border, Kurdish news site BuyerPress reported on Monday.
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters affiliated with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) closed their side of the Simalka border crossing on March 16. Since that time, the price of vegetables in Hasakah has skyrocketed—a kilo of tomatoes that sold for SP150–200 in March now costs more than SP800, pro-opposition Enab Baladi reported last week.
“The opening and closing of Simalka depends on the political mood of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP),” Hassan Hasso, Deputy Interior Minister in the Self-Administration of Jazira Canton (located in Hasakah province), tells Syria Direct's Mohammed Abdelsitar Ibrahim. President of Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani's KDP is the dominant political party in the KRG parliament, located in Erbil, Iraq.
According to Hasso, KDP officials told a delegation from Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), which dominates the Self-Adminstration, “that they would not open the border until the YPG returned to the terms of the Dohuk agreement which includes the admission of Peshmerga fighters into Rojava.”
Among the stipulations of the Dohuk agreement, reached between the PYD and pro-KDP Syrian Kurdish parties in October 2014, was the entrance of Syrian Peshmerga fighters affiliated with the KDP into Syria to assist in the fight against the Islamic State.
Although KDP officials have not released a public statement regarding the closure of the Simalka crossing, at least one KDP border official says they have “tried to cooperate” with the PYD.
“Simalka was originally opened by President Masoud Barzani on January 16, 2013 and we have tried to cooperate with the other side since that time,” Major Shawket Barbahai told reporters at the northeastern border crossing on Monday.
Hasso says there is no reason to close the border because PYD officials accept the entrance of Peshmerga fighters “under the conditions of the Dohuk agreement.”
Protesters gather on Syrian side of Simalka border crossing on Monday. Photo courtesy of Rojava Federal Union.
Q: How long has the Simalka crossing been closed? What effect has the closure had on Al-Hasakah's economy?
The crossing has been closed since March 16. Of course, the closure has had a negative impact on the economy and the people living in Rojava since it is the only crossing that allows people to go to Iraqi Kurdistan to conduct business and receive medical treatment.
[Ed.: Rojava, or western Kurdistan, is made up of three Kurdish-dominated cantons in northern Syria: Jazira (Hasakah province), Kobane (northern Aleppo province), and Afrin (northwestern Aleppo province).]
Q: Why was the crossing closed? Why is the situation so complicated?
The opening and closing of Simalka depends on the political mood of the Kurdistan National Council (KNC). The KNC wants to impose its will on the people of Rojava.
Q: According to Sobhi Elyas, one member of the six-person Self-Administration delegation that negotiated with the KNC about the border last week, a representative of the KNC, Shawket Barbahai, told him they would not open Simalka unless “Peshmerga fighters were allowed to enter Rojava” from Iraq. Is this true?
Mr. Elyas and the others in the delegation went to meet with Major Shawket Barbahai and others charged with running the Iraqi side of the border. Barbahai and the others told the delegation that they would not open the border until the YPG returned to the terms of the Dohuk agreement, which includes the admission of Peshmerga fighters into Rojava.
Q: Why does the Self-Administration refuse to allow Peshmerga fighters into Rojava? Wouldn't the combination of Peshmerga and YPG forces strengthen the Kurds' position there?
The reality is that the Self-Administration is always in need of fighters, whether they are Kurdish, Arab or Syriac. However, we cannot accept chaos and we cannot accept an outside group imposing its will on the people of Rojava. Those who want to bring Peshmerga fighters to Rojava are trying to undermine the Self-Administration's institutions. We agreed to the presence of Peshmerga fighters in Dohuk and accept them now—but only under the conditions of the Dohuk Agreement.