Syrian Kurdistan campaign (2012–present)

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Syrian Kurdistan campaign
Part of the Syrian Civil War
PYD checkpoint Afrin Syria.png
YPG checkpoint in Afrin.
Date 19 July 2012 – ongoing
(2 years, 1 month and 3 days)
Location Al-Hasakah Governorate, Ar-Raqqah Governorate,[4] Aleppo Governorate Syria
Result Ongoing
  • Kurdish fighters took control of 365 towns and villages in the Syrian Kurdish region and 2 districts in Aleppo by September 2012.[5]
  • Qamishli remains the only city in the area with a few checkpoints still controlled by Assad government forces.
  • Arab rebels and Kurds clash violently in Ras al-Ayn in December 2012 and January–February 2013
  • Kurds capture Ras al-Ayn on 17 July 2013[6]
  • YPG forcibly expels Assad government troops from oil fields in the Kurdish region
  • Kurds capture al-Yarubiya town and border crossing on 26 October 2013[7]
Belligerents
Western Kurdistan[8] Syrian National Coalition

Mujahideen

Syrian Arab Republic
Commanders and leaders
Salih Muslim Muhammad (PYD leader)
Sipan Hemo (YPG commander)
Nujin Derik (YPG Aleppo commander)
Çekjîn Efrîn [13] (YPG Dêrik commander)
Hajji Ahmed Kurdi (Jabhat al-Akrad commander)[14]
Walid Faysal Al Ashoui (Marouane Ben Al Hakem Brigade Leader) 
Abu Ahmed (Jabhat Al Nusra Hasakah commander)[15]

Abu Louay al-Haleb[16]
Nawaf Ragheb al-Bashir[17]
Abu Musab (Tall Abyad ISIS emir) (POW)[18]
Mahmud al-Kari'i  (Ahrar ash-Sham senior commander in Hasakah)[citation needed]

Muhammad Fares (Qamishli Popular Committees leader)[2]
Strength
YPG: 4,000 (July 2012)[19]
10,000 (December 2012)[20]
40,000 (October 2013)[21]

Jabhat al-Akrad: 7,000 (claimed)[22]

Unknown 1,500 soldiers (54th special Forces)[23]
Casualties and losses
65 killed (until April 2013; multiple claims)[24]

191 killed (since 16 July 2013; SOHR claim)
379 killed (2013; YPG claim)[25]

152-178 killed (until 16 July 2013; multiple claims)[26]

491 killed (since 16 July 2013; SOHR claim)
2,923 killed, 587 captured (2013; YPG claim)[25]

376 killed (2013; YPG claim)[25]
156 civilians killed (until 18 July 2013)[27]

At the outset of the Syrian Civil War Kurds remained mainly inactive, with Kurdish militants sporadically clashing with both Assad government forces and the Free Syrian Army over control in north and north-eastern Syria.[28][29]

Since February 2013 Kurdish factions have become more involved with the conflict taking place in Syria, siding with the rebels against the Assad government and signing military and political agreements with rebel factions.[30] Furthermore, while some Islamist Kurds have risen to leadership roles in Islamist factions such as Al-Nusra Front,[31] the main Kurdish opposition group PYD and its armed branch YPG have been battling Al-Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant since 2012. Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) expelled Al-Nusra Front and ISIS members from the strategic town of Ras al-Ain in Hasaka province and have fought them in northern Raqqa province in July 2013.[32][33][34]

Background[edit]

Further information: Kurds in Syria

Kurds make up between nine and fifteen percent of Syria's population, or well over 2 million people. The Assad government considers the northeast of the country where many Kurds live strategically important, because it contains a large percentage of the country's oil supplies.[35]

Qamishli riots[edit]

Further information: 2004 al-Qamishli riots

Since 2004, several riots in Syria's Kurdish areas have prompted increased tension. In 2004, riots broke out against the government in the northeastern city of Qamishli. During a chaotic soccer match between a local Kurdish team and a visiting Arab team from Deir ez-Zor, some Arab fans brandished portraits of Saddam Hussein (who slaughtered tens of thousands of Kurds in Iraq during the genocidal Al-Anfal Campaign in the 1980s), provoking strong reactions from the Kurds. Tensions quickly escalated into open protests, with Kurds raising their flag and taking to the streets to demand cultural and political rights. In the ensuing crackdown by the police and clashes between Kurdish and Arab groups, at least 30 people were killed with some claims indicating a casualty count of about 100 people. Occasional clashes between Kurdish protesters and government forces have occurred since then.[36][37]

State discrimination[edit]

Further information: Human rights in Syria

Anti-government sentiment has been present among the Kurdish population for a long time. The Syrian government does not officially acknowledge the existence of Kurds in Syria and a number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and instead were registered as foreigners. The Kurdish language and culture has also been suppressed. However the government attempted to resolve these issues in 2011 by granting all Kurds citizenship, but only an estimated 6,000 out of 150,000 stateless Kurds have been given nationality and most discriminatory regulations, including the ban on teaching Kurdish, are still on the books.[38]

Syrian uprising[edit]

Kurds participated in the early stages of the Syrian uprising in smaller numbers than their Syrian Arab counterparts. This was explained as being due to the Turkish endorsement of the opposition and Kurdish under representation in the Syrian National Council (SNC).[39] "The regime tried to neutralize Kurds," said Hassan Saleh, leader of the Kurdish Yekiti Party. "In the Kurdish areas, people are not being repressed like the Arab areas. But activists are being arrested."[40] According to Ariel Zirulnick of the Christian Science Monitor, the Assad government "successfully convinced many of Syria's Kurds and Christians that without the iron grip of a leader sympathetic to the threats posed to minorities, they might meet the same fate" as minorities in Lebanon and Iraq.[41]

Kurds and the opposition[edit]

2013 VOA report about the Kurdish situation in Syria

The National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria, which consisted of Syria's 12 Kurdish parties, boycotted a Syrian opposition summit in Antalya, Turkey on 31 May 2011, stating that "any such meeting held in Turkey can only be a detriment to the Kurds in Syria, because Turkey is against the aspirations of the Kurds, not just with regards to northern Kurdistan, but in all four parts of Kurdistan, including the Kurdish region of Syria." Kurdish Leftist Party representative Saleh Kado stated that "we, the Kurds in Syria, do not trust Turkey or its policies, and that is why we have decided to boycott the summit."[42]

During the August summit in Istanbul, which led to the creation of the Syrian National Council, only two of the parties in the National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria, the Kurdish Union Party and the Kurdish Freedom Party, attended the summit. Kurdish leader Shelal Gado stated the reason they did not participate was that "Turkey is against the Kurds … in all parts of the world," and that "If Turkey doesn't give rights to its 25 million Kurds, how can it defend the rights of the Syrian people and the Kurds there?" Abdulbaqi Yusuf, representing the Kurdish Freedom Party, however, stated that his party felt no Turkish pressure during the meeting and participated to represent Kurdish demands.[43]

On 7 October 2011, prominent Kurdish rights activist Mashaal Tammo was assassinated when masked gunmen burst into his flat, with the Syrian government blamed for his death. At least 20 other civilians were also killed during crackdowns on demonstrations across the country.[44] On 20 September, the Kurdish politician Mahmoud Wali was assassinated by masked gunmen in the town of Ras al-Ayn.[45]

Politically unaligned[edit]

Democratic Union Party (PYD) chairman Salih Muslim Muhammad said that the lack of participation was due to a tactical decision, explaining that: "There is a de facto truce between the Kurds and the government. The security forces are overstretched over Syria's Arab provinces to face demonstrators, and cannot afford the opening of a second front in Syrian Kurdistan. On our side, we need the army to stay away. Our party is busy establishing organizations, committees, able to take over from the Ba'ath administration the moment the regime collapses."[46]

Senior Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Cemil Bayik stated in November 2011 that if Turkey were to intervene Syria Kurdish region, the PKK would fight on Kurdish side. The PKK's Syrian branch was alleged in the same month to be involved in the targeting of Kurds participating in the uprising.[47] Murat Karayılan, the PKK's head military commander threatened to turn all Kurdish populated areas in Turkey into a war-zone if Turkish forces were to enter Syria's Kurdish area.[48]

By 10 March 2012, 40 of the 10,553 casualties during the Syrian uprising (representing approximately 0.38% of the casualties) had occurred in the primarily Kurdish Al-Hasakah Governorate, although the Governorate was home to nearly 7% of Syria's population.[49][50] On 10 June 2012, the Syrian National Council, a major opposition group, announced Abdulbaset Sieda, an ethnic Kurd, as their new leader.[51]

Erbil agreement[edit]

On 22 July 2012, Serê Kaniyê (Ra's al-'Ayn) pictured above and a series of other towns in the Kurdish inhabited northeast of Syria were captured by the People's Protection Units (YPG).

Anti-government protests had been ongoing in the Kurdish inhabited areas of Syria since March 2011, as part of the wider Syrian uprising, but clashes started after the opposition Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdish National Council (KNC) signed a seven-point agreement on 11 June 2012 in Erbil under the auspice of the Iraqi Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani. This agreement, however, failed to be implemented and so a new cooperation agreement between the two sides was signed on 12 July which saw the creation of the Kurdish Supreme Committee as a governing body of all Kurdish-controlled territories.[52][53][54]

Kurdish inhabited towns captured[edit]

The newly created People's Protection Units (YPG) stormed the city of Ayn al-Arab (Kurdish: Kobanê) on 19 July, followed by the capture of Amuda (Kurdish: Amûdê) and Efrîn (Kurdish: Efrîn) on 20 July.[55] The KNC and PYD afterwards formed a joint leadership council to run the captured cities. The cities fell without any major clashes, as Syrian security forces withdrew without any major resistance.[55] The Syrian Army pulled out to fight elsewhere.[56]

The YPG forces continued with their advancement and on 21 July captured Al-Malikiyah (Kurdish: Dêrika Hemko), which is located 10 kilometers from the Turkish border.[57] The rebels at the time also intended to capture Qamishli, the largest Syrian city with a Kurdish majority.[58] On the same day, the Syrian government attacked a patrol of Kurdish YPG members and wounded one fighter.[59] The next day it was reported that Kurdish forces were still fighting for Al-Malikiyah (Kurdish: Dêrika Hemko), where one young Kurdish activist was killed after government security forces opened fire on protesters. The YPG also took control over the towns of Ra's al-'Ayn (Kurdish: Serê Kaniyê) and Al-Darbasiyah (Kurdish: Dirbêsî), after the security and political units withdrew from these areas, following an ultimatum issued by the Kurds. On the same day, clashes erupted in Qamishli between YPG and government forces in which one Kurdish fighter was killed and two were wounded along with one government official.[60]

The ease with which Kurdish forces captured the towns and the government troops pulled back was speculated to be due to the government reaching an agreement with the Kurds so military forces from the area could be freed up to engage opposition forces in the rest of the country.[61] On 24 July, the PYD announced that Syrian security forces withdrew from the small Kurdish city of 16,000 of Al-Ma'bada (Kurdish: Girkê Legê), located between Al-Malikiyah and the Turkish borders. The YPG forces afterwards took control of all government institutions.[62]

Kurdish inhabited areas self-governed[edit]

On 2 August, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change announced that most Kurdish dominated cities in Syria, with the exception of Qamishli and Hasaka, were no longer controlled by government forces and were now being governed by Kurdish political parties.[63] In Qamishli, government military and police forces remained in their barracks and administration officials in the city allowed the Kurdish flag to be raised.[64]

It was reported in August that the Kurds in northern controlled Syria had set up local committees and checkpoints to search cars. The border crossing between northeastern Syria and Iraq was no longer occupied by government forces. Kurds stated that they would defend their towns if government or opposition forces attempted to enter them. In some areas of Qamishli, government checkpoints were still active, however, Kurds denied cooperation with the Syrian government and stated that the troops remained in their checkpoints with hopes of avoiding a military confrontation.[65] In the same month, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) successfully bombed the government's intelligence center in the city.[66]

Since the withdrawal of military and security forces, the city of Ayn al-Arab (Kobanê) has suffered from a lack of food and fuel. The situation has also worsened because of the influx of refugees from Aleppo.[67] Because of the poverty in Ayn al-Arab, residents of the city it was claimed had begun to grow cannabis (marijuana), which carried a strict life imprisonment sentence under the government's laws. Some locals, however, expressed doubts that the practice arose recently, while others deemed it a Turkish instigated plot to undermine local Kurdish sovereignty.[68]

On 6 September, Kurdish activists reported that 21 civilians were killed in the Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud in Aleppo, when the Syrian army shelled the local mosque and its surroundings. Despite the district being neutral during the Battle of Aleppo and free of government and FSA clashes, local residents believed that the district was shelled as retaliation for sheltering anti-government civilians from other parts of the city. In a statement released shortly after the deaths, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) vowed to retaliate.[69] A few days later, Kurdish forces killed 3 soldiers in Afrin (Kurdish: Efrîn) and captured a number of other government soldiers in Ayn al-Arab (Kurdish: Kobanê) and Al-Malikiyah (Kurdish: Dêrika Hemko) from where they drove the remaining government security forces. It was also reported that the government had begun to arm Arab tribes around Qamishli in preparation for a possible confrontation with Kurdish forces, who still did not completely control the city.[70]

At least 8 government soldiers were killed and 15 wounded by a car bomb in the al-Gharibi district of Qamishli on 30 September. The explosion targeted the Political Security branch.[71]

Kurdish-FSA fighting[edit]

The earliest incident of Kurdish-FSA fighting happened between 29 June and 3 July 2012. The rebels and the PYD clashed in the town of Afrin, during which two rebel fighters and one ex-PYD member were killed.[72]

The situation in Afrin district

On 25 October, some 200 rebels moved into the district of Ashrafiyeh in the Kurdish-controlled area of Sheikh Maqsud of Aleppo city. It was the first time that government or rebel forces moved in a substantial way into the Kurdish areas. Previously the area had been regarded as neutral with Kurdish militia clashing with both rebel and army units. The rebel unit responsible is allegedly the Liwa al-Tawhid brigade who reportedly told the locals "We are here to spend Eid with you." Ashrafiyeh is important as a part of the city heights and controls routes between the north and south of Aleppo.[73][74] Previous rebel attempts to move into the district had been repelled.[75]

Rebel activists have claimed that Kurdish forces had either reached agreement with rebels to allow their rapid advance or assisted the rebels by simply leaving their checkpoints overnight.[76] One rebel spokesman has even gone as far as to indicate that Kurdish forces may join the Free Syrian Army.[77]

On 26 October, rebels clashed with Kurdish militias that tried to stop them entering the Sheikh Maqsud neighourhood. 19 rebels and 3–5 Kurdish fighters were killed.[78][79] One Kurdish leader said that they had "a gentlemen's agreement" with the rebels that they would not enter Kurdish areas and that the rebels had violated it when they entered Ashrafiyeh.[80] According to another report, by activists who organised a Kurdish protest at a PYD militant checkpoint between the Kurdish areas of Ashrafiyeh and al-Sheikh Maqsoud, rebel fighters opened fire on the protesters, leaving eight dead[81] and five wounded. The Kurds warned that this may lead to clashes between Arab and Kurdish fighters in the area.[82] Overall, the PYD stated that 10 Kurds were killed during the clashes, including the three fighters.[78] SOHR put the Kurdish toll at 11, for a total of 30 dead, when including the 19 rebels. 200 people were kidnapped or captured as a result of the fighting. The PYD captured 20 rebel fighters, while the rebels detained 180 Kurds, civilians and fighters,[83] 120 of them near the town of Hayyan.[81] SOHR said that the PYD was still in control of the Ashrafiyeh neighbourhood. A PYD statement published after the fighting blamed both the Syrian army and the FSA for the violence. "We have chosen to remain neutral, and we will not take sides in a war that will only bring suffering and destruction to our country," the statement said.[84] The rebels said that the clashes started after their forces attacked a security compound in Ashrafieh, which was defended by both PKK fighters and government troops.[85]

On 28 October, near the Kurdish village of Yazi Bah, close to the Turkish border in the Aleppo countryside, rebel forces reportedly tried to storm the town of Qastal Jindo (al-Kastal). During the fighting that followed between the PYD and the rebels, 4–5 rebel fighters were killed. Among the dead was also Abou Ibrahim, the leader of the rebel Northern Storm Brigade. He previously claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims. The next day, SOHR reported that a Kurd, taken prisoner by the rebels near Hayan, was tortured to death.[86][87]

On 30 October, the third consecutive day of clashes at al-Kastal, the town was shelled with mortars from the rebel stronghold of A'zaz. Sporadic gunfire also occurred near the village.[88] Meanwhile, in a new round of clashes in the Kurdish areas of Aleppo city, rebels opened fire on Kurdish protesters killing three of them.[89] The day after, PYD fighters ambushed rebels near the rebel-held Turkish border crossing of Bab al-Salameh, killing one fighter and wounding two.[90] On 2 November, the rebels reportedly executed Shaha Ali Abdu, a Kurdish PYD militia leader, who they previously captured in Aleppo city while she was on a mission to return the bodies of rebel fighters that were killed during the clashes between the FSA and the Kurdish militia.[91] Reports of Shaha Ali Abdu's execution were later found to be untrue as she turned up unharmed in the town of Afrin 9 days later.[92] The next day, a government airstrike on Ras al Ain killed 7 rebels.[93]

On 5 November, both YPG and FSA signed a truce, promising release of detainees and closer cooperation in fight against the Assad government.[94]

The Kurdistan Workers' Party has threatened to intervene on behalf of the PYD.[95]

Battle of Ras al-Ayn[edit]

Main article: Battle of Ras al-Ayn

On 8 November, the FSA attacked Syrian army positions in town of Ras al-Ayn (Kurdish: Serêkanî) and later released video showed FSA fighters in control of the town. Al-Kurdiya News correspondent on the ground also said that local Kurds aided the FSA in the attack.[96] According to Turkish journalist Mehmet Aksakal two Turks have been injured in the border town of Ceylanpınar. He also suggested that clashes may be result of growing dissatisfaction between KNC and PYD. However, another Kurdish activist claimed that even though PYD had their armed wing in the city, it was controlled fully by the government and PYD did not participate in clashes. Around 10 rebels and 20 Syrian soldiers were killed in the fighting, while about 8000 residents fled to Ceylanpınar as fighting raged.[97][98]

On 10 November, YPG militiamen aided by local Kurds stormed the last government security and administrative stations in the towns of Al-Darbasiyah (Kurdish: Dirbêsî) and Tel Tamer. This attack was prompted by violence in Ras al-Ain where the FSA stormed the town because of the presence of government security units. It also left only 2 major towns in hands of government in Al-Hasakah GovernorateAl-Hasakah and Qamishli.[99] The following day, an airstrike conducted on Ras al-Ayn by the Syrian Air Force killed at least 16 individuals in the town.[100]

On 13 November, YPG militia forced out remaining security units from the town of Al-Malikiyah (Kurdish: Dêrika Hemko), in order to prevent FSA from having an excuse to launch an attack like in Ras al-Ayn.[101] On 14 November, FSA fighters took control of an army post near Ras Al Ain, reportedly killing 18 soldiers based there.[102] On 15 November, FSA announced that they had taken full control of Ras Al Ain capturing or killing the last remaining Syrian Army soldiers stationed there. There were also no government airstrikes in the town for the first time in the past 3 days as Government forces appeared to have given up in trying to retake the city.[103]

On 19 November, the FSA launched an assault on a PYD checkpoint in Ras al-Ayn[104] that initially left six rebels dead. The rebels also assassinated Abed Khalil, the president of the local Kurdish PYD council, when a sniper shot him dead.[105] The next day it was reported by SOHR that the death toll in the rebel-PYD fighting in the town had reached 34. 29 of the dead were members of the rebel Islamist Al-Nusra Front and the Gharba al-Sham battalion. The other five included four Kurdish fighters and the Kurdish official.[106][107] The four Kurdish fighters were reportedly executed after being captured by the rebels.[108] The opposition activist group the LCC put the number of dead at 46: 25 Kurdish and 20 FSA fighters and the official.[109] 35 Kurds and 11 FSA fighters were captured by both sides.[110]

As a result of the fighting, there has been a buildup in the number of forces deployed by both sides in Ras al-Ayn. By 22 November, Kurdish forces had strengthened their numbers to around 400 militiamen, who faced 200 fighters from the al-Nusra Front and 100 fighters from Ghuraba al-Sham, supported by 3 captured Syrian Army tanks.[111]

On 19 November, members of the al-Nusra Front and Ghuraba al-Sham opened fire on a YPG checkpoint, sparking clashes that killed dozens of people, including at three rebel leaders. A Kurdish activist stated that the presence of hostile Islamist fighters had alienated Kurdish locals. Both the Kurdish National Council and top FSA commander General Riad al-Asaad condemned the clashes, with the KNC calling the presence of rebel fighters in the town "pointless and unjustifiable", and al-Asaad attributing the violence to "some groups trying to exploit the situation in order to blow up relations between Kurds and Arabs" while expressly denying any FSA affiliation with Ghuraba al-Sham.[112]

On 22 November, SOHR reported that eight members of the al-Nusra Front and one PYD fighter were killed in fighting for Ras al-Ayn. The fighting had claimed an estimated 54 lives to date. The next day, however, a tenuous two-day ceasefire was announced between Kurdish fighters and Islamist militants of the al-Nusra Front and Ghuraba a- Sham in order to determine terms of a possible permanent agreement between the two sides. Prior to this announcement, the PYD claimed that its forces had killed 25 rebels, wounded 20 more, and destroyed three vehicles.[113]

On 3 December, air raids conducted by the Syrian Air Force on a police station and old post office in the Mahatta neighbourhood killed twelve and injured dozens more. Among the dead were six Kurds, three of them children. Ambulances from Turkey took at least 21 of the wounded to a hospital in the predominantly-Kurdish town of Ceylanpınar across the border. Turkey scrambled a number of F-16 fighter jets based at Diyarbakir in response to the strikes.[100]

On 22 January, at least 56 people were killed in a week of fighting in northeast Syria between anti-government rebels as hostilities re-opened in Ras al-Ayn.[114]

Clashes with government forces and Kurdish infighting[edit]

On 28 December 2012, government forces opened fire on pro-FSA demonstrators in al-Hasakah city, killing and wounding several individuals. Arab tribes in the area attacked YPG positions in the city in reprisal, accusing the Kurdish fighters of collaborating with the government. Clashes broke out, and three Arabs were killed, though it was not clear whether they were killed by YPG forces or nearby government troops.[115] Demonstrations were organised by various Kurdish groups throughout Western Kurdistan in late December as well. PYD supporters drove vehicles at low speed through a KNC demonstration in Qamishli, raising tensions between the two groups.[116]

On 2 January 2013, a bomb was detonated by unknown assailants in front of a government security office in Qamishli, wounding four members of the local security forces.[117]

From 2 to 4 January, PYD-led demonstrators staged protests in the al-Antariyah neighbourhood of Qamishli, demanding "freedom and democracy" for both Kurds and Syrians. Many activists camped out on site. On 4 January, approximately 10,000 people were participating in the rallies, which also included smaller numbers of supporters of other Kurdish parties,[118] such as the KNC, which staged a rally in the Munir Habib neighbourhood. PYD organisers had planned for 100,000 people to participate, but such support did not materialise. The demonstrations were concurrent with rallies conducted across the country by the Arab opposition, though Kurdish parties did not use the same slogans as the Arabs, and also did not the same slogans amongst their own parties. Kurds also demonstrated in several other towns, but not across the entire Kurdish region.[119]

Meanwhile, several armed incidents occurred between the dominant PYD-YPG and other Kurdish parties in the region, particularly the Kurdish Union ("Yekîtî") Party, part of a Kurdish political coalition called the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union formed on 15 December 2012, which excludes the PYD.[120] On 3 January, PYD gunmen staged a drive-by shooting on a Yekîtî office in Qamishli. Armed Yekîtî members returned fire, injuring one PYD member.[121] The same day, armed clashes broke out between YPG fighters and members of the newly formed Jiwan Qatna Battalion of Yekîtî in ad-Darbasiyah. Four Yekîtî members were abducted by the YPG, who accused them of being affiliated with Islamist groups, though Yekîtî activists alleged that the PYD wanted to prevent other Kurdish groups from arming themselves. Following demonstrations in the town demanding their release and an intervention by the KNC, the four men were released by the end of the day.[122] On 11 January, YPG forces raided an empty Yekîtî training ground near Ali Faru which had been built in early January, tearing down both the Kurdish and FSA flags that had been flying at the base. Though PYD members defended the raid by saying that the flags could have attracted government airstrikes, Yekîtî condemned the action.[123]

In mid-January, as clashes re-erupted between rebels and Kurdish separatists in Ras al-Ayn, YPG forces moved to expel government forces from oil-rich areas in Hassakeh Province.[124] Clashes broke out from 14 to 19 January[125] between the army and YPG fighters in the Kurdish village of Gir Zîro (Tall Adas), near al-Maabadah (Kurdish: Girkê Legê), where an army battalion of around 200 soldiers had been blockaded[126] since 9 January.[125] YPG forces claimed to have expelled government after the clashes.[124] One soldier was reportedly killed and another eight injured, while seven were captured (later released[125]) and 27 defected.[126] Fighting at the oil field near Gir Zîro ended on 21 January, when government forces withdrew after receiving no assistance from Damascus.[127] In Rumeilan, directly west of al-Maabadah, another 200 soldiers had been surrounded by YPG forces, and 10 soldiers were reported to have defected.[124]

On 28 January, Arab tribesmen attacked the homes of Christian Armenians and Assyrians in the village of ad-Dalawiyah (25 kilometres (16 mi) south of Qamishli) and attempted to steal their harvest. The Assyrian Democratic Organisation condemned the attacks, characterising them as "foreign deeds". Islamist rebels have repeatedly called for Christians in the province to leave.[128]

On 31 January, Kamal Mustafa Hanan, editor-in-chief of Newroz (a Kurdish-language journal) and a former Yekîtî politician, was fatally shot in the Ashrafiyah district of Aleppo. It was not clear if he was the victim of a stray bullet or of a politically-motivated assassination. Yekîtî organised a funeral procession in the town of Afrin in the Kurdish-held northwest corner of Aleppo Province on 1 February, which members of both the PYD and KNC attended.[129] Also on 1 February, Kurds staged demonstrations in several towns and villages across West Kurdistan concurrent with opposition demonstrations elsewhere in the country. The demonstrations were organised by various Kurdish groups, including the PYD and KNC. Demonstrators from the KNC demanded an end to fighting in Ras al-Ayn and the withdrawal of armed groups from the town, while PYD demonstrators stressed solidarity with their YPG units and the Kurdish Supreme Council.[130]

From 2 to 5 February, YPG forces blockaded the village of Kahf al-Assad (Kurdish: Banê Şikeftê), inhabited by members of the Kurdish Kherikan tribe, after being fired upon by unknown gunmen in the village. YPG checkpoints were also established around other Kherikan villages. The Kherikan are traditionally supporters of the Massoud Barzani government of Iraqi Kurdistan, and as oppose the PYD. The blockade was the third time in two years that hostilities had broken out between the PYD/YPG and locals from Kahf al-Assad.[131]

On7 February, YPG members kidnapped three members of the opposition Azadî party in Ayn al-Arab.[132]

From 8 to 11 February,[133] heavy clashes broke out between the YPG and government troops in the PYD/YPG-held district Ashrafiyah where, according to SOHR, at least 3 soldiers and 5 pro-government militiamen were killed. The fighting followed deadly shelling on 31 January on Ashrafiyah, in which 23[134] civilians were killed after FSA units moved into the Kurdish sector of Aleppo.[135] According to its own reports, the YPG lost 7 of its members the fighting, while also claiming that 48 soldiers were killed and 22 captured,[134] and a further 70[136] injured.

On 14 February, FSA-affiliated Arab fighters tried unsuccessfully to storm a cattle farm in Tal Tamr, sparking a firefight with YPG units in which several of the attackers were killed.[137]

On 22 February, Osman Baydemir, mayor of the city of Diyarbakır in Turkey, announced the initiation of a one-month humanitarian aid programme in which his city—along with the surrounding districts of Bağlar, Yenişehir, Kayapınar, and Sur—would provide food assistance to Kurdish areas in Syria affected by the war, which had received little of the humanitarian aid that other regions of Syria had received.[138]

On 26 February, the Syrian army once again shelled the PYD-held Kurdish sector of Aleppo, causing extensive damage to civilian areas. Five people were killed in the bombardment, and eleven more—including four children—were injured.[134]

In the beginning of March, YPG forces took complete control of oil fields and installations in north-east Syria after government forces in it surrendered. During the same time YPG assaulted government forces and took control of town Tall ʿAdas, which is adjacent to Rumeilan oil fields, and also took control of Al-Qahtaniya (Kurdish: Tirbespî).[139]

On 14 April, government warplanes bombed the predominantly Kurdish village of Hadad, in Hasakah Governorate. 16 people were reported killed.[140]

Kurdish-Islamist conflict[edit]

On 4 May, YPG forces and Jihadist militants, including Al Nusra, clashed in areas close to the cities of Hasaka and Ras al-Ain.[141] Reports seemed to suggest that FSA forces were arming Arab tribes in the town of Tal Tamer; encouraging them to confront Kurdish groups. Despite hit and run attacks which led to the deaths of several YPG members as well as civilians, YPG forces reportedly held off the armed groups.[142]

On 25 May, clashes erupted between rebels and YPG forces in the Afrin region; leaving 11 rebels dead and 20 wounded.[143]

The situation in Hasakah governorate as of December 29, 2013

On 26 May, a statement titled “Echo of Qussayr“, signed by no less than twenty-one armed Islamic groups, declared the YPG "traitors to the jihad". Their goal, according to the statement was a complete "cleansing process" of "PKK and Shahiba". The statement was reportedly published by the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front.[142]

The following day, Kurdish forces and rebels clashed near the Turkish border. Following this, Syrian rebels kidnapped hundreds of Kurds in Aleppo and were reported to be holding them hostage in a northern town.[144]

On 5 June, Kurdish forces attacked rebel-held Kurdish villages in the Afrin area. The rebels, who were entrenched in the villages for the previous two weeks after taking them over, were the same ones who attacked the Kurdish villages on 25 May. After two days of fighting, by 7 June, YPG forces captured the villages of Basila and Bashmera and secured the roads linking the villages of Jelbiri, Mirimin and Tel Rif'at, where they set up security checkpoints. As the rebels were retreating from Basila they burnt down Kurdish houses and property. The fighting and the destruction of their homes caused a mass migration of Kurds out of the village. It was also reported that rebel forces were trying to besiege Afrin city itself.[145][146]

On 8 June, clashes erupted on the road between the villages of Jelbara and Beineh.[147]

On 20 June Islamist rebels and YPG fighters clashed in the northern Syrian town of Ifrin, killing 4. At least 30 people have been killed on both sides in fighting over the last week. Many more have been kidnapped by each side in "tit-for-tat" attacks. Fighting broke out recently after loyalist forces reinforced the villages of Zahra and Nubbul, which are situated between Aleppo and Ifrin. Rebels accused Kurdish farmers of supplying these villages, leading to the Islamist rebels setting up roadblocks stopping Kurdish farmers from getting their food to market in Idlib and Aleppo. In many cases Kurdish trucks can only pass after paying high bribes.

The latest fighting occurred after YPG fighters attacked an Islamist roadblock, the group responsible for these roadblocks are an off-shoot of the Nusra Front. Kurds blamed the fighting on the financial pressure being exerted by these roadblocks leading to losses in the ability of farmers to get to market, bribes being paid to the rebels and the price of luxury goods rising in Ifrin. The FSA tried to intervene by brokering a truce between the two sides; however, it broke down after two days. The renewed fighting was blamed on the lack of influence that the FSA commander, Colonel Mustafa al-Sheikh, had over the Islamist forces.[148][149]

On 17 July, Kurdish fighters expelled the jihadists from the town of Ras al-Ain after a night of fighting[150] and soon after took control of the border crossing with Turkey.[151] 11 people were killed during the fighting, including nine jihadist and two Kurdish fighters.[152]

On 18 July, the YPG captured the al-Sweidiya oil area. Fighting still continued between the YPG and the al-Nusra front in the al-Sweidiya area of the Rmeilan oil fields. Clashes had also erupted in the villages of Tal A'lo, Karhouk and A'li Agha and al-Nusra had bombarded areas of Ras al-Ain.[153] Later in the day, the YPG captured the village of Qasrouk which was previously held by al-Nusra.[154]

On 19 July, the YPG captured the village of Tal A'lo as well as the al-Sweidiya village. Fighting was still continuing in Karhouk and A'li Agha.[155] By the next day, 35 jihadist and 19 YPG fighters had been killed in the fighting.[156]

On 20 July, clashes erupted in another border city - Tell Abyad. Clashes started after jihadists attacked a school in the town which served as YPG HQ after which YPG captured ISIS emir in the town, Abu Musab.[18]

On 22 July, it was announced that Islamists had taken over Tell Abyad, and Abu Musab, who was detained there two days earlier, had been freed. Al Jazeera aired footage of what appeared to be the town of Tal Abyad under rebel control, as well as the school where Abu Musab was held.[157] However, there are conflicting reports on this, with others saying that he was released as part of a prisoner exchange deal.[158]

On October 23 the YPG launched an offensive to capture the strategic town of al-Yarubiyah (Til Koçer) and its border crossing. Fighting continued for three days as the YPG advanced on the town, capturing the villages of Mazra'a and Seiha as well as 7 military posts previously held by the Jihadists.[159] On 26 October the YPG took control of the Yarubiyah border crossing with Iraq[160] as well as the town itself.[161]

Renewed government-Kurdish tension[edit]

On 31 December 2013, as YPG units were locked in large-scale and bloody fighting around the jihadist stronghold of Tall Hamis, Kurdish sources reported that government forces simultaneously attacked a YPG checkpoint in the Hasakah neighbourhood of Kallasah and an Asayish checkpoint in nearby Tall Hajar neighbourhood. The sources claimed that seven soldiers were killed by the YPG and Asayish as they counterattacked and secured both areas, while one YPG fighter lost his life and two Asayish members were wounded; civilian deaths and injuries were also reported. Government forces soon retreated, and a tense calm had returned to the city by the following day.[162][163]

On 13 March 2014, Kurdish sources claimed that members of the pro-government National Defence Force shot a YPG fighter in Qamishli city. The YPG responded by launching an operation in the Qadour Bek district of Qamishli, killing seven pro-government fighters and detaining 10 others. It was also reported that the YPG captured parts of the Qadour Bek district, including the Customs Building and the Qamishli's Bread Factory.[164]

On 27 March, SOHR reported that the Syrian army shelled the Kurdish-held neighbourhood of al-Msheirfah in Hasakah city.[165] The Syrian Kurdish news agency ANHA, citing a YPG source, stated that the attack began at 11:30 AM, and that mortar shells fired by the army struck the YPG's "Martyr Shiyar" office and a cotton mill, causing material damage.[166] This incident occurred while the YPG was fighting off an ISIS attack against the town of Jaz'ah near Ya'rubiyah.[167]

On 5 April, according to the SOHR, the leader of the NDF center in Hasakah was killed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Al-Shadadi, south of Hasakah.[168]

On 28 June, regime forces, backed by the NDF, took control of 5 villages after clashes with ISIS and allied tribes near Qamishli. Regime forces bombarded ISIS strongholds in the area.[169]

Towns under Kurdish control[edit]

As of January 2013, the following towns were under Kurdish control:

  1. Afrin (Efrîn)[170]
  2. Al-Darbasiyah (Dirbêsî)[60]
  3. Al‑Jawadiyah (Çil Axa)[171]
  4. Al-Ma'bada (Girkê Legê)[62]
  5. Al-Malikiyah (Dêrika Hemko)[170]
  6. Al-Qahtaniyah (Tirbespî)[172][173]
  7. Ali Kuz (Aali Kôz)[174]
  8. Ashrafiyeh (Eşrefiye, district of Aleppo)[175]
  9. Amuda (Amûdê)[170]
  10. Ayn al-Arab (Kobanê)[170]
  11. Ain Diwar (Eyndîwer)[176]
  12. Jindires (Cindirês)[172]
  13. Rajo (Raco)[177]
  14. Ra's al-'Ayn (Serêkanî)[170]
  15. Sheikh Maqsoud (Şêx Meqsûd, district of Aleppo)[175]
  16. Tel Adas (Girzîro)[178][179]
  17. Rumeylan[173]
  18. Tell Tamer (Girê spî)[97]
  19. Al-Yarubiya (Tel Koçer)

According to the Jerusalem Post, the YPG control the city of Afrin along with its 360 surrounding villages.[180]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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