Liv­ing un­der two mas­ters in Syria’s di­vided north­east­ern city of Hasakeh


Life in the Syr­ian city of Hasakeh, di­vided be­tween al­lied Kur­dish and regime forces, comes at a price: two lots of mil­i­tary ser­vice and dou­ble the taxes.

Raed, a Syr­ian Arab liv­ing in the north­east­ern city, avoids pass­ing through check­points run by the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG).

“I fin­ished my com­pul­sory mil­i­tary ser­vice in the gov­ern­ment army four years ago. The YPG are de­mand­ing that I com­plete their six-month com­pul­sory ser­vice,” the 28-year old told AFP.

“But I have a wife and chil­dren, and I can’t be away from them for that long.”

Con­trol of Hasakeh city — and other parts of the province by the same name — is di­vided be­tween Kur­dish mili­tia and forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad.

Sep­a­rate gov­ern­ment and Kur­dish-run in­sti­tu­tions cre­ate a labyrinth of ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­cesses, where res­i­dents liv­ing un­der one au­thor­ity are afraid of cross­ing into the other’s ter­ri­tory.

And where the two author­i­ties over­lap, civil­ians are forced to sub­mit to both to stay out of trou­ble.

In the ma­jor­ity-Kur­dish town of Amuda, 85 kilo­me­ters north of Hasakeh, Aziz has not seen his mother — who lives in a regime-con­trolled zone of Hasakeh — in two years.

“I’m too scared to visit be­cause I have to pass through a regime check­point, and they would force me to do the com­pul­sory mil­i­tary ser­vice,” Aziz, who has com­pleted his YPG ser­vice, tells AFP.

“Why do we, the res­i­dents of Hasakeh, have to spend our lives on the front lines and sub­mit to dou­ble the mil­i­tary ser­vice?”

Dou­ble Mil­i­tary Ser­vice

Af­ter gov­ern­ment troops with­drew from Kur­dish-ma­jor­ity ar­eas in 2012, a year af­ter Syria’s civil war broke out, lo­cal forces, in­clud­ing the YPG and its po­lit­i­cal arm, the Demo­cratic Union Party (PYD), stepped in to fill the void.

Damascus con­tin­ues to pay the salaries of gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees and to pro­vide province-wide elec­tric­ity and wa­ter, and it has left gov­ern­ment troops de­ployed in some ar­eas.

In 2013, the PYD an­nounced au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish ar­eas in three ar­eas: Hasakeh province, which the Kurds call Jazire, and Kobane and Afrin in Aleppo province.

“Ev­ery res­i­dent un­der Kur­dish con­trol, whether Arab or Kurd or Assyr­ian, be­tween the ages of 18 and 30, must come to us to get their pa­pers in or­der to serve in the YPG’s ranks,” said Red­wan Mo­ham­mad Sharif, head of the YPG’s Mil­i­tary Ser­vice Unit.

Mil­i­tary iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pa­pers for the YPG force were piled on his desk.

“Peo­ple who served in the gov­ern­ment’s army are not ex­empt from the com­pul­sory ser­vice in the au­ton­o­mous ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Sharif said.

Less than a kilo­me­ter away, posters of As­sad and flags of his rul­ing Baath party adorned the gov­ern­ment’s im­pos­ing re­cruit­ment build­ing.

Bi­lal, an ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant re­clin­ing un­der an um­brella to avoid the beat­ing sun, also said the regime does not rec­og­nize mil­i­tary ser­vice com­pleted with the YPG.

Khalil Khalil, a univer­sity stu­dent in his 20s, com­pleted both ser­vice re­quire­ments to have more free­dom of move­ment.

“I fin­ished the army’s mil­i­tary ser­vice in 2004, and I didn’t think that one day I would pick up a gun or wear mil­i­tary gear

again, but I didn’t have a choice,” Khalil said.

‘Hurt by both’

Mansur Usi, 56, also holds two mil­i­tary IDs, as well as two driver’s li­cences and two li­cence plates for his car — a white gov­ern­ment plate, and another green one for the YPG.

The Kur­dish taxi driver and for­mer gov­ern­ment em­ployee moves freely be­tween Hasakeh city and Qamishli, a Kur­dish­ma­jor­ity city to the north­east.

“I have two driver’s li­cences: the first is for the gov­ern­ment, in case the state po­lice stops me, and the sec­ond is for the Kurds, in case the Asay­ish (Kur­dish po­lice) stops me,” he said. In Qamishli, lo­cal shopown­ers had scores of com­plaints. Some stores in Kur­dish-con­trolled ar­eas stopped pay­ing gov­ern­ment taxes, while those in ar­eas with over­lap­ping author­i­ties have been charged twice.

Bah­fared, 50, owns a phar­macy in one of the ar­eas where both regime and Kur­dish ad­min­is­tra­tions have in­flu­ence.

“We suf­fer from the pres­ence of two author­i­ties: the first be­longs to the gov­ern­ment’s Phar­ma­cists Syn­di­cate, where we pay yearly sub­scrip­tion fees,” Bah­fared said.

“And now there’s also a sec­ond side... is­su­ing me tick­ets be­cause they say my prices are too high,” he said, in an ap­par­ent jab at Kur­dish forces.

A man who runs a cell phone store said he pays monthly gov­ern­ment taxes as well as a weekly fee for Kur­dish author­i­ties to clean the streets out­side.

“We are both­ered by both sides... Life in this can­ton means be­ing hurt by both of them.”


(Top) Syr­ian gov­ern­ment traf­fic po­lice­men mon­i­tor a road in Qamishli, a Kur­dish-ma­jor­ity city in Syria’s north­east­ern Hasakeh province on July 16. (Above) Fight­ers from the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) drive a tank in the al-Zo­hour neigh­bor­hood of the north­east­ern Syr­ian city of Hasakeh on Sun­day, Aug. 2, a week af­ter Syr­ian troops and Kur­dish fight­ers ousted the Is­lamic State group from Hasakeh.

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