Tell Abyad

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Tell Abyad
تل أبيض
Town and nahiyah
Tell Abyad is located in Syria
Tell Abyad
Tell Abyad
Location in Syria
Coordinates: 36°41′51″N 38°57′24″E / 36.6975°N 38.9567°E / 36.6975; 38.9567Coordinates: 36°41′51″N 38°57′24″E / 36.6975°N 38.9567°E / 36.6975; 38.9567
Country  Syria
Governorate Al-Raqqah
District Tell Abyad
Elevation 350 m (1,150 ft)
Population (2004 census)[1]
 • Town 14,825
 • Nahiyah 44,671
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 • Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
P-Code C5792
Geocode SY110200

Tell Abyad (Arabic: تل أبيض‎‎, Kurdish: Girê Spî‎) is a town and nahiya in Syria. It is the administrative center of the Tell Abyad District within the Ar-Raqqah Governorate. Located along the Balikh River, it constitutes a divided city with the bordering city of Akçakale in Turkey.

On 16 June 2015, the town was captured by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in the course of their Tell Abyad offensive, and since then has remained under their control.[2] As a preliminary result of the ongoing Syrian Civil War, Tell Abyad today is situated within the autonomous Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava.

Tell Abyad is the administrative center of Nahiya Tell Abyad and the Tell Abyad District.


In antiquity, Tell Abyad and the surrounding region was ruled by the Assyrian Empire and settled by Arameans. Tell Abyad could have been the site of the neo-Assyrian–era Aramean inhabited settlement of Baliḫu, mentioned in 814 BC.[3] Later, various other empires ruled the area, such as the Romans, Byzantines, Sassanids, Umayyads, Abbasids and finally the Ottoman Empire. Tell Abyad remained Ottoman till the end of World War I, when it was incorporated in the French mandate of Syria.

The modern town was founded by Armenian refugees from Turkey and survivors of the deportations conducted during the Armenian Genocide, with around 250 Armenian families living in the city prior to the civil war.[4]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

The majority of inhabitants are Sunni Arabs,[5] with small Turkmen and Kurdish minorities.[6][7] According to a Turkish writer, Kurds constitute 40-45% of the population;[6] however, a Turkish authority estimated that Arabs and Turkmen constitute 98% of the population in the Tell Abyad area.[7] According to Kurdish, Germany-based huiman rights group Kurdwatch, Tell Abyad is mainly populated by Arabs, while the environs of Tell Abyad, 15% of the population is Turkmen, 10% Kurdish and the rest being Arabs.[8]

On June 30, 2014, Tell Abyad was captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who raised their flag at the border crossing with Turkey.[9] After ISIL defeated the Kurdish forces, the YPG and Jabhat Al-Akrad, ISIL fighters announced from the minarets of the local mosques that all Kurds had to leave Tel Abyad or else be killed. Thousands of civilians, including some Turkmen and Arab families, fled on 21 July.[10][11] ISIL fighters systematically looted and destroyed the property of Kurds, and in some cases, resettled displaced Arab Sunni families from the Qalamoun area (Rif Damascus), Dayr Az-Zawr and Ar-Raqqah in abandoned Kurdish homes.[11]

In June 2015, the town was besieged by the YPG and its allies.[12] On June 15, 2015, the city was retaken by Kurdish YPG and the Free Syrian Army forces. Members of the Democratic Union Party accused the Turkish military of opening fire at its forces after the majority of the town was included into a Kurdish enclave. The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu confirmed it and he said that Turkey had warned the PYD not to cross to the "west of the Euphrates and that we would hit it the moment it did. "We hit it twice".[13]

On February 27, 2016, Tell Abyad came under attack from ISIL militants. The YPG and Kurdish security forces reportedly repelled and eliminated all of the ISIL attackers but lost at least 20 of their members in the fighting. A YPG spokesman claimed that some of the ISIL attackers had crossed from Turkey to attack the town. Turkey quickly denied this claim. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, there was not any infiltration from Turkish borders as Russians and Kurds claim, but there were a large number of dormant IS sleeper cells under the age of 18 who entered the town one month before the operation, and many others entered the town on the eve of the offensive dressed in Kurdish Self-Defense uniforms.[14]


After the capture of Tel Abyad district, some groups and authorities have accused Kurdish YPG fighters of deliberately displacing thousands of Arabs and Turkmens from the areas they captured from ISIL forces in northern Syria, including Tel Abyad district[15][16] — a charge strongly denied by the Kurds.[17] The accusation was not backed by any evidence of ethnic or sectarian killings.[17] The head of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the people who had fled into Turkey were escaping fighting and there was no systematic effort to force people out.[18] A report published by Kurdwatch, a Germany based internet portal, also claimed the accusations of displacements against PYD[19] but stated the following:

"None of KurdWatch’s Arab or Turkmen interview partners reported of ethnically motivated mass expulsions from Tall Abyad and the surrounding areas. In fact, we can assume that there have been no large-scale ethnically motivated expulsions in the region. For demographic reasons alone a »Kurdification« of the area is out of the question. The proportion of around ten percent Kurds is simply too low. At the same time, regulations such as only Kurds from ʿAyn al-ʿArab or Tall Abyad can act as a guarantor for refugees so that they can return to Tall Abyad from Turkey clearly discriminate on the basis of ethnicity."

According to the group, repressive measures have been taken out in first line against persons with ties to the Islamic State or other political opponents.[8]

Tell Abyad under the rule of the PYD[edit]

After Tell Abyad was captured it was administered by the PYD as part of the Kobani Canton, despite being a predominantly Arab area. However on 21 October 2015, a council including representatives of local Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen and Armenian communities declared Tell Abyad part of the de-facto autonomous region of Rojava. While remaining under Kobanê Canton's administration, the town will be granted self-governance.[20]


Some sources have claimed that the majority of the inhabitants are Arabs,[21] with a Kurdish,[6] Turkmen[22] and Armenian minority.[23][24][25]

The PYD formed a council of elders in Tell Abyad which has the task to administer the region and which is said to be a fair representation of the ethnic composition of the town and the Arabic majority population. It consists of 15 people, of which are ten Arabs, three Kurds and respectively one Armenian and one Turkmen.[8]

Germany-based internet portal Kurdwatch claims that Tell Abyad is mainly populated by Arabs, and estimates that in the environs of Tell Abyad, 15% of the population is Turkmen, 10% Kurdish and the rest being Arabs.[8]

Other sources claim that Kurds make up between under 30%[26] up to 55%[6][27] of the population. Turkish Şanlıurfa governor claimed that 98% of the region is made up of Arabs and Turkmens.[22]

However, the real composition of the population remains unclear, since recent events in the Syrian Civil War like flows of refugees and displacements caused major changes, which make it almost impossible to identify how the demographics are actually composed. Another problem which makes it difficult to say with certitude how the demographics look like are the tensions between Arabs and Kurds and the consequential ambitions to make the respectively own side look stronger.


  1. ^ "General Census of Population and Housing 2004: Tell Abyad nahiyah" (in Arabic). Syrian Central Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 15 October 2015.  Also available in English: "Syria: 2004 census data". UN OCHA. Retrieved 15 October 2015. 
  2. ^ Master. "YPG and rebels take full control on Tal Abiad city". Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  3. ^ Edward Lipiński (2000). The Aramaeans: Their Ancient History, Culture, Religion. Peeters Publishers. pp. 122–. ISBN 978-90-429-0859-8. 
  4. ^ Taştekin, Fehim (October 29, 2015). "Is Turkey setting a Kurdish trap?". Al-Monitor. 
  5. ^ "Arab Tribes Split Between Kurds And Jihadists". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 2015. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Kurds eye new corridor to Mediterranean". Al-Monitor. 
  7. ^ a b "US Expresses Concerns About PYD Human Rights". BasNews. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Ethnic cleansing in Tall Abyad?" (PDF). Kurdwatch. January 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2016. 
  9. ^ Tulin Daloglu (2014-06-30). "ISIS [sic] raises flag at Turkish border". Al-Monitor. Retrieved 2015-09-10. 
  10. ^ "Selected testimonies from victims of the Syrian conflict: Twenty-seventh session" (PDF). UN Human Rights Council. 
  11. ^ a b "Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic: Twenty-seventh session". UN Human Rights Council. 
  12. ^ Lefteris Pitarakis And Bassem Mrque (June 14, 2014). "Thousands of Syrians flee into Turkey amid intense fighting". AP The Big Story. Associated Press. Retrieved June 15, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Turkey attacks Kurdish fighters inside Syria". aljazeera. 
  14. ^ "By Califate Cubs and Self-Defense Uniforms, IS make a Big Opperation". syriahr. Retrieved February 28, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Kurds accused of "ethnic cleansing" by Syria rebels". cbsnews. Retrieved June 22, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Syrian rebels accuse Kurdish forces of 'ethnic cleansing' of Sunni Arabs". The Telegraph. Retrieved June 22, 2015. 
  17. ^ a b "Kurdish Fighters Seize Large Parts of IS Border Stronghold". The New York Times. 
  18. ^ "Syrian Kurds battle Islamic State for town at Turkish border". Reuters. 
  19. ^ "New Report: Ethnic Cleansing in Tall Abyad? Characteristics of YPG and PYD rule in the areas captured from the IS". KurdWatch. 
  20. ^ Tom Perry (21 October 2015). "Town joins Kurdish-led order in Syria, widening sway at Turkish border". Reuters. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  21. ^ "Arab Tribes Split Between Kurds And Jihadists". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 2015. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  22. ^ a b "US Expresses Concerns About PYD Human Rights". BasNews. Archived from the original on August 6, 2015. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  23. ^ "PanARMENIAN.Net - Mobile". Retrieved 14 May 2016. 
  24. ^ [ "Surviving Aleppo: An Interview with Nerses Sarkissian"] Check |url= value (help). Armenian Weekly. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 14 May 2016. 
  25. ^ "BasNews". 6 August 2015. Archived from the original on August 6, 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2016. 
  26. ^ "YPG's greatest challenge: Kurdish-Arab relations in Syria". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 14 May 2016. 
  27. ^ "Violation Documentation Centre" (PDF). 2013. Retrieved 14 May 2016. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Tell Abyad at Wikimedia Commons