Since completely driving the Islamic State (IS) from Al-Hasakah city in late July after a month of heavy fighting, Syrian regime forces and Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have divided administration of the city between themselves.
In the weeks since, residents of the provincial capital have lived under a patchwork administrative system, with seventy-five percent of the city’s districts under dual rule by both Kurdish forces and the regime, leaving civilians paying fees and services to both.
Under dual rule, some of the city’s residents pay taxes to two municipal authorities, hold two driver’s licenses, and must obtain two permits to operate their businesses, says Alev Hisen, a Kurdish correspondent with Radio ARTA FM in Al-Hasakah city.
For Al-Hasakah’s military-aged youth, dual rule has made avoiding compulsory military service increasingly difficult, with some compelled to serve both entities, Hisen tells Ghalia Mukhalati.
“There is no escape. Every road leads to military service.”
Q: Can you give some details of living conditions in the city in light of [split] Assad and Kurdish rule?
One example of duplicate organizations is that there is a regime municipality and a Kurdish self-administration municipality. Restaurant owners are required to pay taxes and health insurance to the self-administration municipality and to the regime as well.
Their profits only cover their tax burdens, which drives them to move from inside the city to areas under a single authority.
Shop and kiosk owners also have to obtain a double permit from the self-administration and the regime, and need two driver’s licenses.
Q: Some media have reported on the imposition of dual military service by Assad and the Kurds. Are there any examples of civilians who have finished military service for one group and been asked to serve the other?
The self-administration military service, termed “self-defense duty,” is for those living under the self-administration, no matter their background: Kurd, Arab, Christian, Yazidi, Assyrian, Syriac.
The self-administration protects the young people who have served the “self-defense duty” as much as is possible from being called for Syrian regime military service.
However, there are many cases of Kurds who served in the self-administration’s mandatory service also being dragged into regime military service.
There are also cases of those who had completed regime military service and are now performing the “self-defense duty.”
[After taking control], the Kurdish self-administration conducted a census that became a problem when young people are wanted for military service.
They used to be able to disappear into various neighborhoods and escape service, but now every civilian has a record, so in Kurdish neighborhoods it is also the case that there is no escape. Every road leads to military service.
Q: Is there any criticism of the current situation? Protests?
There is no official criticism.
There were complaints by car owners and a strike by taxi drivers because both the regime and Kurdish self-administration traffic departments had imposed taxes on them. Taxis stopped working because of having to pay taxes to both sides. That led to a response by the self-administration, which reduced the tax.
Q: Are there any civilians who prefer dual administration to IS policies?
The matter of IS is like a scar on the face of the people and the city.
There are still people in the city who fear that IS will slip into the city at any moment, but what gives them patience is the [presence of] international coalition planes, which are the factor separating them fromIS attack or infiltration operations on the city.
Most civilians prefer the dual rule over IS control of the city or province, which would usher in a period of inescapable misery.
Q: What are the differences between living in areas of regime control and areas of Kurdish control?
The differences are between each ruling organization’s ability to provide for the needs of the people in areas under their control.
For example, the local councils in YPG areas give residents a voucher through which fuel and food is distributed at prices below market value.
In regime-controlled areas, this assistance does not exist, which forces many civilians in those areas seek refuge in areas controlled by the Kurdish self-administration in order to request gas and diesel fuel, which are available there at a lower price.
Q: Are there any conflicts between the YPG and the regime?
There have been some skirmishes between regime brigades and YPG forces, mostly over control of an area or the placement of checkpoints.
Checkpoints are one way to assert control over an area depending on whose soldiers are stationed at them.
The latest example of skirmishes was at the al-Teir checkpoint at the crossroads of the Aziziyeh and the al-Salihiyeh neighborhoods, when the regime wanted to place a checkpoint near the [YPG] checkpoint in the self-administration area. This led to clashes with heavy weaponry between regime and Kurdish forces, ending with regime artillery fire.
There have been arrests and harassment at regime checkpoints just because a person is Kurdish.
I have relatives from western al-Nashua [a village just southwest of the city] who were forced to abandon it and flee to other villages after they were subjected to various kinds of harassment from regime forces for being Kurdish after disputes between the regime and the Kurds [YPG] because of the imposition of roadblocks.
Q: What is the future of areas formerly in IS hands before they withdrew? Is there rehabilitation or rebuilding of the areas?
There are two types of areas that were liberated from IS control: those that the regime retook and retained control over, and areas that the YPG and aligned forces retook. Those [YPG-held] areas are under operations of restoration and rehabilitation, but very slowly.