Afrin Operations: Interview with a Kurdish Activist of the Shami Front by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi


The Syrian rebel-held pocket of north Aleppo countryside that is located between Azaz and Jarabulus and backed by a Turkish military presence contains many villages with Kurdish populations. A current list of these villages- including those with mixed populations (i.e. a considerable proportion or even majority of Arabs and/or Turkmen)-is provided below. The number of families has not been ascertained for all of these villages, and in cases where a number has not been determined, there is no entry for that column in the table. Some specific cases could also be disputed (e.g. Qabasin, located near al-Bab city, could perhaps be described as ‘mixed’ in composition rather than Kurdish). Nonetheless, the list illustrates the general point about a substantial distribution of Kurds throughout this ‘Euphrates Shield’ zone. Any additional notes of my own are in square brackets.

No. Village name Number of families Composition
1 al-Ghuz 350 Kurds
2 Jabb al-‘Aas 100 Kurds
3 Thalathina 100 Kurds
4 Thalthanah 150 Mixed
5 Dwair al-Hawa 200 Kurds
6 ‘Abla 300 Kurds
7 al-Wash 50 Mixed
8 Shadud 300 Kurds
9 al-Baruza 350 Mixed
10 Tal Batal 250 Kurds
11 Qa’ar Kalbain 350 Kurds
12 al-Burj 150 Kurds
13 Sheikh Jarah 350 Kurds
14 al-Hadath 250 Kurds
15 Qibat al-Shih 600 Kurds
16 Ka’iba 1400 Kurds
17 Nu’man 350 Kurds
18 Susenbat 300 Kurds
19 Arab Buran 500 Mixed
20 Tarhin 100 Mixed
21 Masibin 150 Mixed
22 Tal Jerji [Tel Jerja] 200 Kurds
23 Shabiran 300 Mixed
24 Balikha 250 Mixed
25 Zamgha 300 Mixed
26 Kandar Liya 150 Mixed
27 Barshaya 400 Kurds
28 Qabasin 3400 Kurds
29 Tuways 250 Kurds
30 Katlaja 200 Kurds
31 Bir Fawqani 180 Kurds
32 al-Ya’qubiya 100 Mixed
33 Mazra’at Killi 30 Kurds
34 Qandariya 250 Mixed
35 al-Halwaniya 225 Mixed
36 al-Waqasiya 35 Kurds
37 Dudiyan 375 Mixed
38 Marighal 145 Mixed
39 Jaka 220 Mixed
40 Tel Sha’ir 120 Mixed
41 Qarah Kawz 100 Mixed
42 Shwairin 280 Kurds
43 Kadrish 335 Kurds
44 Qarah Mazra’a 157 Mixed
45 Saburan Kurds
46 Mazra’at al-Ghuz al-Sharqiya Kurds
47 Mazra’at al-Ghuz al-Muhdatha Kurds
48 Mazra’at al-Ghuz al-Janubiya Kurds
49 ‘Izatiyah Mixed
50 Halimiyah Kurds
51 Khalfatali Mixed
52 Tal Tahin Kurds
53 Iksar Kurds
54 Sheikh Alwan Mixed
55 Yan Yaban Mixed
56 Baghidin Mixed
57 al-Kamaliya N/A
58 Bahuratah Mixed
59 Hawar Kilis Mixed
60 Tal Batal Gharbi Kurds
61 Harjala Mixed
62 Hadbat Mixed
63 Arab Wairan [notable for having contested for control with Syrian Democratic Forces] Kurds
64 al-Ra’i Mixed
65 Na’asaniyah Kurds
66 Kafr Ghan Mixed
67 Shawa Kurds
68 Ma’arin Mixed
69 Yazi Bagh Mixed

The list was provided to me by Abu Hamo, a Kurdish media activist for the Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group the Shami Front, one of the main rebel factions in the Euphrates Shield zone and a participant in the Turkish-backed operations against the Afrin enclave controlled by the PYD-led autonomous administration and the associated YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces. The PYD is the main Syrian Kurdish party at this point and is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Abu Hamo’s real name is Haitham Hamo al-Alo, originally from the Kurdish village of Susenbat in the al-Bab area. He graduated in business and economy from Aleppo University in 2010. Two years ago he began working with the Shami Front, the main successor for affiliates of the Aleppo rebel group Liwa al-Tawheed. I interviewed him on the Kurdish situation in north Aleppo countryside and the Afrin operations.

Note that he did not answer the following questions:

a) Commenting on the opposition-affiliated Kurdish National Council’s (KNC) condemnation of the Afrin operations and the question of whether the KNC has a support base among Kurds in north Aleppo countryside. For context, note that the KNC is not linked to any rebel factions and in fact has a largely negative view of them. At the same time, the KNC has been affiliated with the Turkey-based Syrian political opposition called the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), which declared its support for the Afrin operations, generating a political crisis within the KNC regarding its relations with the SNC.

b) Why Free Syrian Army groups still refer to Syria as the ‘Syrian Arab Republic’ in their statements.

c) Comment on talk about Manbij and Qamishli being the next targets after Afrin.

The existence of Kurdish communities in the rebel-held areas of north Aleppo countryside does show that claims that the rebels want to exterminate Kurds or remove Kurds entirely from their areas are not substantiated. However, in general, it is still the case that among Syrian Kurds, the opposition and rebels are the least popular side in the Syrian civil war, something that was obvious to me in my own experiences in the northeast of Syria. One of the reasons for this lack of popularity is the perception of how the opposition and rebels became so closely entangled with jihadists. It also cannot be denied that many people in Afrin fear the rebels, at least some of whom have chanted chauvinist slogans. Further, Turkish president Erdogan also referred to Afrin’s demography as supposedly majority Arab and restoring the area to its true owners, prompting justified fears of a project of demographic change.

Below is the interview transcript slightly edited for clarity. The interview was conducted on 30 January 2018.


Q: The Da’esh [Islamic State] intelligence apparatus claimed that the Kurdish villages in north Aleppo countryside like the PYD. What is your comment on that?

A: Firstly, nothing can be taken from Da’esh. It always distorts facts as it wants, and this claim is absolutely not true.

Q: Is there evidence of displacement of the Kurds from their villages in north Aleppo countryside at the hands of Da’esh?

A: There are many families that fled and abandoned their villages because of the oppression and criminality of Da’esh and its forcing them to comply with external dress and appearance for people, paying extortion taxes, and religious extremism they imposed on all the villages whether Arab or Kurdish. And after the liberation of their villages, they returned to them.

Q: Don’t you think that the PYD has a popular support base in Afrin, Kobani and the cities like Qamishli?

A: The Kurdish people have suffered from the repressive and dictatorial policies of the PYD more than the Arabs in the area, for it repressed them in the demonstrations at the beginning of the revolution, and imprisoned all the activists and citizens opposed to its policies and deeds and all this was for the interest of the criminal Assad regime, in addition to imposing on them conscription and taking extortion fees from them. All of these criminal policies have left for it no support base, but rather to avoid imprisonment and displacement, the Kurdish people have remained in their homes within the areas that fall under the control of this organization.

Q: Are there any Kurdish groups participating in the Olive Branch operations? Do they have relations with the Kurdistan region in Iraq?

A: There are many Kurdish revolutionaries who are gathered within battalions and spread within the factions of the Free Syrian Army, among them: Kata’ib Ahfad Salah al-Din, Kurdish Salvation Movement, the Kurdish wing in Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Shaheed Mash’al Tamo, Katibat Azadi and Kata’ib Thuwar al-Kurd. Also there are many Kurdish activists present within the liberated areas in the revolution and they are opposed to the PYD organization.

Q: Don’t you think that many of the inhabitants of Afrin are afraid of the Free Army and the possibility of ethnic cleansing?

A: The inhabitants of Afrin are in need of someone to save them and liberate them from the terrorist PYD organization for it has imposed repressive and criminal policies on them leading to the displacement of many of the inhabitants of Afrin. Many statements of reassurance were issued to the people of Afrin by the participating factions and some of the leaders.

There is no support base for the PYD organization in the area because of what I mentioned to you from criminal, repressive and dictatorial deeds in coordination with the criminal regime in Syria and because of its collaboration with the enemy of the Syrian people: Russian and Iran, who have bombed and killed the Syrian people. And this party has worked to plant division and hatred among the one Syrian people through its occupation of Arab villages in north and east Aleppo countryside and its carrying out of racist actions against the Arabs, resulting in reverse negative impacts on the Kurdish people in Syria.

Q: Do you consider the PYD and YPG to be separatist forces?

A: Yes. I consider the PYD to be an agent of the criminal Assad regime before being separatist, for it deals in the Kurdish cause at the expense of the Kurdish people.

Q: What is the aim of the Olive Branch operations? Liberating all of the Afrin area? Or only besieging the city of Afrin?

A: The Olive Branch operations aim to liberate Afrin and the Arab villages surrounding it from the terrorist PYD organization.

Q: The reason for my question about the issue of the popular support base is that some of the Kurds I have got to know said they were oppositionists but after what they saw from the extremist factions, they abandoned the opposition and now prefer the Syrian Democratic Forces.

A: These words are totally inaccurate. Which extremist factions, man?

Q: The extremist factions, meaning HTS [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham], Da’esh, not the groups like the Shami Front.

A: They [i.e. the factions involved in Olive Branch operations] are all Free Army. I don’t know if you know the Free Army. My friend, there is no Da’esh or HTS in the battle.

Q: Of course I know that.

A: Da’esh has not even remained in the eastern area.

Q: But they [the people I got to know] are speaking in a general sense.

A: This talk is not true.

Q: I see.

A: My friend, the PKK media has portrayed the Kurds who are participating in the Olive Branch as extremists. That is, it intends to attack us. We have begun to mock it and ask some: are we extremists?

Q: They [the people I got to know] were commenting on all the events in the Syrian revolution, not Olive Branch. Have you understood what I mean?

A: This is another matter. In origin they have not differed from the Da’esh people. The two are extremists and criminals and have repressive policies. They have imprisoned and displaced all who oppose them. The part are the Da’esh people of the Kurds, but in yellow colour. I have understood you, brother, but I am telling you now no Da’esh people have remained and they have no contact with HTS. The battle is from the side of the Free Army only with the help of the Turks.

Q: Right, but possibly they are commenting on the situation in Idlib for example and HTS’ control of many of Idlib’s lands.

A: Yes, but what does Idlib have to do with the matter? They are looking for any matter, even if false, in order to connect it with the Olive Branch operation. And the matter is very clear.

Q: Right, but I am transmitting to you what they said to me regarding the opposition in general and why they abandoned the opposition.

A: This organization must be destroyed for the interest of the Kurdish people. Just as they are against HTS and Da’esh, we are also against them.

Q: Another question: in the Euphrates Shield areas, is there teaching in Kurdish language for the Kurdish children?

A: Of course not. Until now there is no comprehensive education system or complete plan for education.

Q: Currently what is the education system in the Euphrates Shield areas? Are they using opposition curricula?

A: The affiliation of education is with the regime but modified.

Q: I see. So the teachers are still receiving salaries from the regime?

A: No brother, from the Syrian Interim Government. There were previously aid organizations supporting them. And currently Turkish benefit has begun supporting them.

Q: Yes. What is your personal opinion on the idea of a federal system in Syria after Assad’s departure?

A: I [support the idea of] of a unified Syria with giving the Kurds all our rights from education, freedom, dignity and fairness that the regime denied us. We will take these rights through imposing our presence within the revolution. Brother, the two foundations of the system followed in the liberated areas are handing over the affairs of the town to the town’s local council and the facilitation of that. Likewise the Kurdish villages will be managed by local councils elected by the sons of the village. Our Kurdish villages have local councils managed by the sons of the village. Even when the matter is one of security and military, the Kurds are also participating within these formations. Our rights as Kurds are present and guaranteed and protected within the revolution and its principles.

Q: I see. So it is not necessary to establish a federal region for the Kurds.

A: It suffices that the blessed Syrian revolution has offered recognition of the existence of the cause of an oppressed people in Syria and that they must devise a new constitution guaranteeing the rights and addressing the grievances of its Kurdish people. It suffices that the Syrian revolution has demolished a series of chauvinist measures like the Arab belt and acknowledged that there are in Syria more than 150,000 deprived of identity as the Syrian state did not recognize them as citizens. It suffices that the Syrian revolution has restored to the Kurds the consideration of them and their pivotal centre. It suffices that the Syrian revolution has exposed secrets and what is in minds and has uncovered the succession of hypocrites and war merchants and has removed the fig leaf from the defects of the agents from the likes of the partly open politicians.

It suffices that the Syrian revolution has exposed the Kurdish parties and showed the infantilism of their brains and the brittleness of the policies of these parties and that they are nothing but a basket on offer for selling and buying. It suffices that the Syrian revolution has exposed the PKK organization before those previously deceived by it, and has made clear that it is nothing but a mafia and a Ba’athist-Shi’i corridor, which never bore Kurdish nationalist ideas and whose struggle was never in the path of removing oppression and liberating the Kurds. It suffices that the Syrian revolution has shown the extent of the brittleness of the foundation of our societies and that the intimate and friendly relations and declared affection were nothing but fake intention and lying concealing behind it the darkness and ugliness of hearts.

But on the contrary, what have the Kurdish parties (at the head of them the PYD) brought forth except denial, killing, singling out, exploitation and arrest of those who struggle and repressing them? What have these parties brought forth except expulsion, forced displacement, destruction, division and increase of hatred? What have they brought forth besides vice, calumny, hypocrisy, destruction of ethics and spreading societal corruption?

Yes, dear ones, the revolution has brought forth much for us, but the gang that has seized the party foundations and turned these parties into family, mercenary, terrorist mafia foundations is trying to use the parties and bases as a service for its interests and implement its agendas. And they are trying to destroy the Kurdish cause in Syria and destroy our towns.