Kurdish militia in Syria accused of war crimes
HASAKAH (Syria) - Mahmoud Khalaf fled with other villagers from the north-eastern Syrian town of Gharnata shortly before a Syrian Kurdish militia attacked it, leaving old men behind to protect it.
“As we fled, we saw columns of smoke rising above the village as the attacking militias burned down its mud houses and arrested all the elderly who remained behind,” Khalaf said from his new home in Qamishli, a Hasakah district.
In the village of Akrasha in the suburbs of Qamishli’s Tal Hamis, Um Yasser said she was forced out of her home by invading Kurdish militias.
“Men fled before the militias arrived so that they would not be arrested or killed, leaving behind women, children and the elderly,” she said. “They asked us to leave but we refused, so they sent in women units who beat us and dragged many women by their hair in the streets.”
“We had to leave,” the school teacher said from her new home on the edge of the Turkish town of Urfa.
“It was evident that the Kurdish militias wanted to purge the towns of their Arab inhabitants.”
The testimony of Arabs who fled their homes in northern Syria followed a report by Amnesty International (AI) that accused the Syrian Kurdish militia, supported by the United States, of war crimes by driving out thousands of non-Kurdish civilians and demolishing their homes.
The London-based watchdog said it documented cases in more than a dozen villages in Kurdish-controlled areas where residents were forced to flee or had their homes destroyed by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which seized large areas of northern Syria from Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
AI senior crisis adviser Lama Fakih said the organisation has “evidence of war crimes committed by the YPG”.
“We know that individuals were displaced unlawfully and their property destroyed unlawfully,” Fakih told The Arab Weekly in Beirut.
“We believe that these displacements were often done in retaliation for alleged support for ISIS,” she said. Fakih said thousands of people had been forcibly displaced.
The YPG rejected the allegations, claiming, “The Amnesty International report is arbitrary, biased and unprofessional. It further said the document is “dangerous, unethical and unworthy of” the organisation. The response included line-by-line rebuttals of charges outlined in the 38-page AI report.
Among the accusations, Amnesty International said the forced displacement of mostly non-Kurds after the YPG captured villages in northern Syria was often in retaliation for “residents’ perceived sympathies with or ties to members of ISIS or other armed groups”.
The group said it interviewed 37 people who said they had experienced Kurdish abuses in Hasakah and Raqqa provinces.
“They (YPG) pulled us out of our homes and began burning them. Then they brought the bulldozers and they began demolishing the homes,” one was quoted as saying.
Amnesty said militiamen threatened civilians with coalition air strikes if they did not abandon their homes.
AI quoted Ciwan Ibrahim, the head of the Kurdish internal security force known as the Asayish, as admitting there had been forced displacements, however, they were “isolated incidents” and that civilians had been moved for their own safety.
The YPG has proved the most effective partner on the ground for a US-led air campaign against ISIS. Asayish received military training from the Americans.
The YPG previously denied Turkish accusations its members deliberately drove out Arab and Turkmen civilians from areas under its control, especially Syria’s strategic town of Tal Abyad, once a lifeline for smuggled items to ISIS.
Mohannad al-Katae, a researcher from Tal Hamis, said the “policy of the burning land adopted by YPG was based on the assumption that ISIS was among the civilians whose homes were destroyed or burned down to ashes in a week-long battle”.
“It’s a systematic policy that aims at intentionally changing the demographics of the area,” Katae said. “This is evident when villagers in Hajiyeh and Tal Khalil refused to leave, at least 30 of them, including women and children, were killed in cold blood [at] the hands of YPG, although they’re not affiliated to any group.
“But YPG considers all Arabs as ISIS.”