Kurdish Town & Villages Around Aleppo Worry About Takeover by Islamists

By RUDAW 9 13-1-2014 ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdish residents of the town of El-Bab and surrounding villages in Syria’s Aleppo province are deeply concerned about deadly fighting among rival opposition groups and worried about a takeover by al-Qaeda jihadists.

According to Yassir al-Kurdi, a Kurdish political activist in El-Bab, intense fighting continues between jihadists of the al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) plus other Islamic groups.

“As the fighting intensifies among the various groups, the Kurdish residents still try to hold on to life in the area,” al-Kurdi told Rudaw on the telephone.

El-Bab is a multiethnic town, home to Kurds, Arabs, Christians and Turkmen.  Al-Kurdi said that there are around 70 Kurdish villages in the vast farmlands around El-Bab. He added that El-Bab is under the control of the ISIS, but that the entire region is teeming with other Islamic groups which have declared war on the regional branch of al-Qaeda.

“The Kurds of El-Bab prefer to stay in the town, hoping to escape the violence by staying neutral,” al-Kurdi explained.

However, as Kurdish groups in Syria have declared they intend to stay out of the revolution against the regime in Damascus, some Kurds have taken the personal decision to join different rebel groups, among them the ISIS and other smaller groups. Al-Kurdi said that due to the fighting, the siege of El-Bab and many roadblocks, the town is often cut off from the rest of the country, mainly the city of Aleppo, the lifeline for many smaller towns in the region. “The villagers try to help each other out,” he explained.

The survival strategy adopted by the Kurds in this hostile environment is to maintain good relations with civilians and rebels alike, al-Kurdi further explained. “The Kurds of El-Bab and the villagers have maintained friendly relations with different units of the Syrian opposition and with their neighbors,” he added. “But they are afraid of the ISIS taking over the area.”

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the country since the anti-regime uprising nearly three years ago, settling in camps in Jordan, the Kurdistan Region, Lebanon and Turkey. Many Syrians who have stayed in the country have pledged allegiance to various groups.  The Kurds, meanwhile, have to walk a tightrope in order to stay alive, al-Kurdi said. “The Kurds try to avoid the ethnic and religious sensitivity in the area. All they want is to protect their homes, to protect their land, to protect their villages. They don’t want violence, and they want peace to return to the region.”

According to al-Kurdi, some rebel groups try to protect the villagers from the ISIS fighters, but “it is rather a political game on their part,” because the little protection they offer is to win support among the people.

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