by Rozh Ahmad*
The al-Qaeda linked “Jabhat al-Nusra” (al-Nusra Front) in Syria, has been held responsible for having instigated a sectarian racist war against civilian Kurds in Syria’s northern Kurdish region, the outcomes of which recently led to the massacre of hundreds of Kurdish women and children, “some of whom were raped and beheaded by jihadists”, says Syrian opposition officials, witnesses and victims.
Human rights activists in Syria’s Kurdish region have confirmed that 450 Kurdish civilians, “mostly women and children, were slaughtered indiscriminately inside their homes at the hands of jihadists of the al-Nusra Front in Tal Abyad, Tal Hassil and Tal A’ran areas of Syrian Kurdistan from July 28 – August 2, 2013.”They say the attacks are continuous against civilian Kurds, adding that several Kurdish women have also requested urgent help claiming al-Qaeda linked jihadists had gang-raped them soon after their husband and brothers were shot dead in cold blood in front of them.
Naze Alyama, a Syrian-Armenian human rights activist working for the “Heyva Sor a Kurdistane”(Kurdistan Red Moon) charity in Syria’s Kurdish region, whose mission is now stationed on the Syrian-Iraqi Kurdish border, says, “We have helped several women to cross the border into Iraqi Kurdistan who were victims, raped by jihadists of the al-Nusra Front, some of whom had witnessed their husbands shot dead in front of them before they were gang raped by jihadist gunmen.”
“Jihadists slammed into the house, shot several bullets, then they came for me and made me sign papers at gunpoint,” says one of the victims, who a few days ago fled for Iraqi Kurdistan region with the help of human rights activists on the border.
She says human rights activists, like Alyama, had later on explained the paper she was forced to sign, “Apparently this was a religious document that permitted my ‘Marriage for jihad’ with all those gunmen who were in front of me, who raped me, one after the other, until I was unconscious. ”
She declined to have her name mentioned in this report, “I am not only afraid of the jihadists.’ She says, “it would lead to stigma in society too, because when people find out you were raped, things would not be normal any more, well, things are no longer normal for me and my situation is really bad.”
Kurdish human rights activists had found her among the refugees in the Syrian Kurdish border village of Taws, in north east Syria. She is one among the estimated 25,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees, who a few days ago, poured in desperation into the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region.
The Kurdish tragedy inside war-torn Syria has finally reached international media outlets, after Iran’s state media confirmed the news of the massacres and broadcast videos showing mass slaughter of Kurdish civilians. These films documented how jihadists blew up Kurdish homes afterwards, in the Tal Abyad area.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has criticised the UN Security Council for being “reluctant to condemn terrorist attacks” against the Kurds in Syria. The UN and US State Department recently joined the call condemning the massacres of civilian Kurds by groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in Syria.
“In the last six months al-Nusra fighters have burned Kurdish homes, killed civilians indiscriminately and the group continues to kidnap many Kurds on a daily basis throughout Syria’s Kurdish region, all with Turkish military aid and medical support on the ground,” says Khalid Issa, Europe’s representative of the ruling Syrian Kurdish “Democratic Union Party” (PYD) and vice president of the wider Syrian opposition coalition, “National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change in Syria’ (NCC).
“Al-Nusra fighters kill everybody, including women and children,” says Issa, confirming that Kurdish women have also been raped during attacks on Kurdish areas, “just like al-Nusra fighters have done in the rest of Syria. They believe that it is religiously allowed to rape women of any area, ethnicity and religious group they think is ‘unholy’. They now target Kurdish civilians because some extremist mullahs and Islamic muftis have recently classed Kurds in Syria as infidels and unholy people.”
Cemil Xero, a Kurdish resident of the town of Tal Abyad in Syria’s Kurdish region, where one of the recent massacres of civilian Kurds occurred, said in a telephone interview, “When al-Nusra fighters attack Kurds in areas like Tal Abyad for instance, Arab Imams then call on the local people through speakers of the mosques, to do whatever they can to help the jihadists attack Kurdish residents.”
“Many of the Arab residents would then do what the Imams had just asked them to against the Kurds,” Xero added, “The people attacked us Kurds just like that in Tal Abyad, because Arab Imams had announced fatwas declaring it is religiously ‘Halal (permissible)’ to kill Kurdish men, then take their property, women and children as slaves. It is really scary to hear it when the mosque is next door to your house in a small town like here, Tal Abyad.”
Syrian Kurdish officials blame Turkey for much of what is happening, claiming that Turkey is concerned that any Kurdish advance in Syria could later impact on Turkey’s repressed Kurds.
Issa of PYD and NCC says that they have considerable “evidence suggesting Turkish military aid on the ground for these extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.”
He adds, according to PYD figures, “More than 1,200 Kurdish civilians have been abducted in the last two weeks alone across ‘Rojava’ (Syrian Kurdistan), the number of which may be higher even, we don’t know, because the kidnapping and killing of Kurdish civilians have become a daily routine for these extremist groups entering Syria from Turkey.”
The attacks on civilian Kurds have emerged amid intense months-long violent clashes between al-Qaeda linked groups and the predominantly Kurdish popular militia in Syria, “Peoples Defense Units’ (YPG).”
The YPG militia, majority members of which are female fighters, is now seen as the only capable military force that can confront al-Qaeda linked groups on one front, on the other, the Syrian army, across the Kurdish region.
It is estimated that YPG fighters number an estimated 50,000. Its female and male co-leaders claim that they are running, “a democratically elected popular militia comprising all the people of Syrian Kurdistan, including Assyrians, Armenian and Arabs to defend themselves from the catastrophes of the Syrian Civil War.”
They also claim that they are involved in heavy clashes with both the Assad army and al-Qaeda groups like the al-Nusra Front in places like Aleppo, where YPG fighters defend the Kurdish neighbouthoods of Sheikh Maqsood and al-Ashrafia.
In the latest developments, the YPG has even organized a “Battalion of Arab brothers and sisters”, which is attracting hundreds of Arab residents of Syria’s Kurdish areas, including Arabs from Aleppo.
Kurds have now become prime targets for jihadist groups in Syria. Kurdish officials, who’ve gone to exchange prisoners of the al-Nusra Front for Kurdish civilians in the last weeks, have been reportedly beheaded. A car bomb assassinated earlier this month, Isa Huso, a renowned PYD official in the Syrian Kurdish capital of Qamishlou and leading member of the cross-party Supreme Kurdish Council. In the eastern border town of Derk, a suicide bomber on Saturday killed 7 YPG fighters at a checkpoint; meanwhile the town of Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain) scored heavy clashes between al-Nusra Front and YPG fighters.
How long can the pro-Kurdish PYD and YPG forces sustain this confrontation with al-Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in Syria? This is unanswerable, since the intensity of the upheaval of the war within Syria on the northeastern front is escalating on an unprecedented level.
There is little doubt, however, that this Battle for Syria’s Kurdish region, will soon confirm whether a locally–organised popular militia comprising local young men and women, like that of the pro-Kurdish YPG, can eventually stand the ground against al-Qaeda linked groups in Syria and else where in the Middle East.
*Rozh Ahmad is a freelance journalist, in the last three years he has reported from Europe, Iraq, Turkey and Syria for different Kurdish and English publications.