Middle East, News

Thousands of Arabs driven out by Kurds’ ethnic cleansing

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“The YPG said to us: ‘We will shoot at your children, and you will die if you stay here’,” said Mr al-Katee. “I saw one of them writing on our wall: ‘YPG don’t forget, don’t forgive’.”

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 told The Times that the Kurdish people’s protection units (YPG) – the west’s closest allies in the war against Islamic State – have been burning Arab villages in areas of northeastern Syria 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 Sharqi, 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 has regularly changed hands over the past three years between the Syrian regime, the Free Syrian Army, various groups linked to al-Qaeda, the YPG and ISIS.

The attacks appear to be part of a campaign of collective retribution against local Sunni Arabs, whom the Kurds and their allies accuse of sympathising with ISIS and harbouring their fighters. The region is currently one of the key battlegrounds in the Syrian conflict.

A patchwork of Kurdish, Christian and Sunni Arab communities, it lies between ISIS’s two main stronghold cities of Raqqa and Mosul, and would be an important strategic prize for the jihadists.

“The YPG said to us: ‘We will shoot at your children, and you will die if you stay here’,” said Mr al-Katee. “I saw one of them writing on our wall: ‘YPG don’t forget, don’t forgive’.”

Pictures posted on social media show the aftermath of the latest YPG attacks in Hasakah province, with hundreds of families streaming through sun-parched fields clutching their few possessions in bags.

Mohammed Alawwad, a father of six, said he had been forced out of his home in al-Razzaza, about 15 miles 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. On May 10 he fled the village of Aliya, close to the YPG-ISIS front line south of Ras al-Ayn, as the YPG advanced and began burning nearby 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.”

Resource: The Times, June 1, 2015

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