March 24, 2015
Kurdish People’s Protection Units [YPG] reportedly burned at least five Arab-majority villages in the rural heart of Al-Hasakah province earlier this week after winning control of them from the Islamic State [IS] just weeks before.
The YPG, which denies the accusations of burning homes, has been fighting with IS for hundreds of villages in the far northeast province, including around Tel Brak where this week’s burnings allegedly took place.
Tel Brak, the largest and most strategically significant town located on the main highway between Al-Hasakah city and the YPG-controlled city of Qamishli, is surrounded by a collection of smaller Arab and Kurdish villages.
The Kurdish Democratic Party [PYD]—the political arm of the YPG—declared self-governance in Al-Hasakah in late 2013, but have maintained a tacit agreement with the government to jointly rule the province, most notably in the provincial capital of Al-Hasakah city.
The burnings are the latest of what activists in Al-Hasakah call a series of targeted attacks by the YPG against Arab villages.
Some of the villages were “totally destroyed and wiped off the face of the map,” says Siraj al-Din al-Hasakawi, 28, a Hasakah-based citizen journalist.
Al-Hasakawi, who also works with several pro-opposition news organizations, is part of a team of Arab activists documenting alleged human rights abuses by the YPG in Al-Hasakah.
The YPG, and by extension the PYD, “are not just hostile to the Arabs, but are enemies of the people and the revolution in its entirety,” al-Hasakawi tells Syria Direct’s Ammar Hamou.
Q: The opposition media is reporting renewed burnings of Arab villages by the YPG. How accurate is this information? And what are its motivations for the attacks on these villages?
The media hasn’t been shy in reporting on the subject, and what has been published on social media sites is the reality, not a figment of the imagination. The policy of expelling [residents from] Arab villages shows the characteristics of a plan for changing the demographic map and the distribution of the Arab residents who represent an overwhelming majority in the province.
From another angle, there have been revenge operations reported to have occurred in [the town of] Tel Hamees [in Al-Hasakah]. YPG fighters openly say that it is a revenge operation for their fighters killed last year in Tel Hamees and Tel Brak, where they lost tens of fighters. The units returned this year to take revenge on unarmed local residents.
YPG sets fire to Arab homes. Photo courtesy of Mohannad Al-Katee.
Q: Is the burning of villages a new phenomenon or have there been previous cases? And if so, who has done this before?
The burning of villages is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an isolated one as some members of the YPG leadership have claimed. At one point, [Arab] villages partially bordering [the YPG-controlled city of] Qamishli were subjected to a [YPG] attack in which 15 villages were burned, some of them totally destroyed and wiped off the face of the map and turned into a burning heap.
We have documentation and witness statements that prove this and we aim to present them to international courts and organizations.
Q: An activist from the Kurdish Reform Assembly [a party opposed to the practices of the YPG] considers the targeting of these areas part of its campaign of targeting Islamic State fighters in the region. What are your comments on that?
If what they claim is true and this is part of their war against IS, then why were there villages burned that IS never entered? Why have families been expelled and other villages completely looted and why were seven Arabian horses killed? Were they also [members] of IS?
Q: Do you think it’s possible that an unknown group burned the villages and framed the YPG in an attempt to spread Arab-Kurdish discord in the region, seeing as Shahrazad Zaydi, the YPG leader, denied those charges?
If we look at the situation from a military standpoint, there are two main groups carrying weapons in Al-Hasakah: the first is the Islamic State and the second is the regime, and each of them is supported by local and ethnic militias.
For example, the regime is supported by the YPG, which is attacking the village of Tel Hamees [and the surrounding villages] with support from the international coalition and its air cover.
The villages have been burned under the watch and with the cover of the international coalition, which means that the coalition is a participant in the forcible expulsion and burnings in Tel Hamees, although there are those among them who deny it. However, the recorded witness statements and the video clips don’t lie.
Q: So what is the intention of the burnings, in your opinion?
After the announcement of Kurdish self-governance, the application of the secession plan and the process of partitioning Syria began. Following this, the YPG were able to help the regime in suppressing the revolution and its opposition.
Today, with the aid of the US-led international coalition [strikes], they have been able to expel the Arabs that constitute the overwhelming majority of the population. Thus, they are carrying out a demographic change of the region in order to pave the way for a political enterprise, its goal being the partitioning of Syria into weak micro-states.
Thus we are calling for international human rights commissions to inspect the area and look into what happened.
Q: Do you have documentation of the number of burned houses or villages? What is the solution for the civilians whose villages were burned?
Yes, we have dossiers and significant evidence that documents most of the violations by the YPG against all of the parties involved, among them the Amuda massacre of Kurdish activists, the killing of six demonstrators against the Assad regime, the Tel Brak massacre in which 35 civilians were victims, as well as other the massacres.
Today, we are working hard to complete the dossier [in its entirety], and we are adding the matter concerning the burning of the villages and the expulsion of the population [based on] ethnic and national identity.
As for the civilians whose villages were burned, a large portion of them are sleeping outdoors without tents or shelters. Most of Al-Hasakah and its countryside is impoverished and does not have housing facilities available for these waves of displaced whose numbers have now reached 30,000, according to the lowest estimate.
A number of them were able to reach Turkey and join the refugee camps that were hastily prepared with the help of aid organizations and the Turkish government.
Q: Does the YPG depend on the approval and support of the Syrian Kurds for its actions?
It’s impossible to say that an armed faction bearing nationalist slogans represents an entire nation, but rather it only represents those who support it and carry weapons with it.
The YPG today doesn’t have a base of support among the population.
Q: Do you have anything that proves your claims in regard to the violations of the YPG in Al-Hasakah and have you communicated with international parties and organizations regarding this matter?
No, we are still documenting. We have an archive that we will provide a copy of to you as well as to all the human rights institutions and international organizations upon finalizing it. We call on all human rights and media organizations to communicate with us and aid in documenting and conveying the truth to the world.
Q: Don’t you think the burning of villages has been exaggerated? How many villages are there in al-Hasakah and what is the average number of residents in each village such that the YPG was able to burn them down and wipe them out?
Activist’s [photographs] and the survivors’ testimonies confirm the burning of the villages, and our specific evidence is ready and available as we previously stated. As for the number of villages in Al-Hasakah, the province is comprise of more than 1,700 villages and nearly 1,200 of these villages are Arab. In other words, Arab villages represent nearly 70 percent of all villages.
I’d like to emphasize here that the villages in Al-Hasakah are small. For example, the Tel Hamees area comprises of 222 villages and the area’s population is 74,000 people, which means that the average number of one village’s residents in Tel Hamees is only between 250 and 2000 people.
Q: The Arabs and the Kurds are both part of the demographic composition of the population in Al-Hasakah. How was relationship between the two before the revolution? Since the revolution have you witnessed tensions? And if so, why?
Close ties and affinities still link the Arab people with their Kurdish brothers. Work, joint participation, business, trading, and agriculture go beyond political disputes. The Kurds of Syria reject the YPG’s behavior and as of yet, Arabs and Kurds and Christians in Tel Hajar in the city of Al-Hasakah still visit each other and share congratulations in times of happiness, and help each other in times of sadness.
Q: What is the reason for the YPG’s antagonism toward the Arabs and when did it rise?
The PYD are not just hostile to the Arabs, but they are the enemies of the people and the revolution in its entirety. They have repressed demonstrations and killed [members of] the opposition on behalf of the regime.
Recently, they stormed villages, sometimes under the pretext of terrorism, sometimes by accusing their populations of being IS supporters, and at other times for their subordination to Turkey, etc.
Consequently, we don’t know what the next pretext will be when IS exists no longer.