Kurds attack former Sunni neighbours
Thousands of civilians have fled their homes in northern Syria as Kurdish forces carry out what appears to be a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sunni Arabs.
A source from one of the largest humanitarian organisations working inside Syria said the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – the West’s closest allies in the war against Islamic State – had been burning Arab villages in areas of northeastern Syria that are under their control.
These include settlements around Kobani, the border town that became a totem of Kurdish resistance after it held out against an Isis onslaught for four months late last year. More than 10,000 people are thought to have fled in the past six months, as neighbours who had lived together for decades turned against each other.
‘‘The YPG burnt our village and looted our houses,’’ said Mohammed Salih al-Katee, who left Tel Thiab Sharki, near the city of Ras al-Ayn, in December.
‘‘I knew one of them – he is from one of the next villages. He was the one pouring diesel on the furniture of my house.’’ Northeastern Syria is an ethnically mixed area that, over the past three years, has regularly changed hands between the Syrian regime, the Free Syrian Army, various groups linked to alQaeda, the YPG and Isis.
The attacks appear to be part of a campaign of collective retribution against local Sunni Arabs, who the Kurds and their allies accuse of sympathising with Isis and harbouring its fighters. A patchwork of Kurdish, Christian and Sunni Arab communities, it lies between Isis’s two main stronghold cities of Raqqa and Mosul.
‘‘The YPG said to us: ‘We will shoot at your children, and you will die if you stay here’,’’ al-Katee said. ‘‘I saw one of them writing on our wall: ‘YPG don’t forget, don’t forgive’.’’
Pictures on social media show the aftermath of the latest attacks in Hasakah province, with hundreds of families streaming through sun-parched fields clutching their few possessions.
Mohammed Alawwad, a father of six, said he had been forced out of his home in al-Razzaza, about 25 kilometres west of Hasakah city, last week after the YPG seized the village. ‘‘After Isis retreated, the YPG told us to leave and threatened to shell the village, but we stayed,’’ he said.
‘‘Four days later, cars full of armed YPG men came to the village. One of them came into my house carrying a tyre and threatened my family with a gun. We had no other choice but to leave. Just before we reached the dirt road I saw the fire coming out of my house.’’ Sunnis say they are being punished by the Kurds because they share the same religion as the Isis fighters, who enforce a literalist version of Islam that is ideologically close to Wahhabism, the dominant sect in Saudi Arabia. However, most Syrian Sunnis, while religiously conservative, abhor the extreme version of Islam espoused by Isis, and are often accused by the jihadists of being apostates.
‘‘They consider any area that was under Isis control to be a popular base of Isis, but in reality the people are civilians,’’ said Mohammed, 25, a law student who asked to be identified by his first name only. He fled the village of Aliya, close to the YPG-Isis front line south of Ras al-Ayn, as the YPG began burning villages.
‘‘Two of the elders from our village went to Ras al-Ayn and met with Hussein Kocher, the YPG commander there. They were told that all the young men in our village are wanted by the YPG for political reasons – even though there was only one man in Aliya who supported Isis out of the 40 families who live there.’’