The Massacre of Amuda & the Struggle for Kurdish Syria

August 1, 2013 – by Jehad Saleh – The city of Amuda on the Northeastern Syria-Turkey border entered the Syrian civil war during the 2004 Kurdish uprising when residents smashed a statue of the late president Hafez al-Assad in a symbolic gesture of breaking the wall of fear in this Baathist-ruled nation. Amuda was also one of the first cities to peacefully revolt after the uprising in Daraa on March 26, 2013. It is a city that has continued in this struggle against the Assad regime and the violent Baath political machine.

However, the people of Amuda and the Kurdish community at large never imagined a day when the city of Amuda would be suppressed by Kurdish forces and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), claiming that they are the protectors of the Kurdish people. The PYD — the Syrian affiliate of the Turkish Kurdish nationalist terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – is in fact using their current position of authority to manipulate Syria’s Kurds, acting against their best interests.

Thursday, June 27 was a dark day for Amuda. 7 martyrs were lost, the offices of the Yekiti and Azadi parties were burnt, and over a 100 people were arrested; most of them members of the Yekiti party. But this should come as no surprise: Saleh Muslim and his party’s forces and militias, in protest against these parties, have arrested, abducted, and killed throughout the Kurdish areas since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. The regime has left the Kurds to their internal struggles as well as infighting among factions of the Syrian opposition, letting the revolution smolder. This has created fertile soil for the supporters of Ocalan and the PKK to forcefully control the Kurdish areas in order to impose their partisan laws and open prisons to detain and torture Kurdish activists on silly charges reminiscent of the state security courts and the Baath regime’s Emergency Law. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is affiliated with Ocalan and the PKK and considered to be the political and military with of Kurdish workers in Syria, has undertaken a new policy and strategy. In November 2012, the PYD, with the support of the residents of Ras al-Ain, entered into a battle with some of the Islamist factions including Jabhat al-Nusra when they infiltrated the city with the help of Turkey. Yet the Syrian Kurds were later shocked when the PYD engaged in a series of treaty talks with the Islamist factions and Jabhat al-Nusra, which resulted in dividing control of the region and its oil and gas fields.

Since then, Ocalan supporters have become the dominant presence and the Kurdish areas have fallen under their military and economic control through the imposed royalties that Kurds must pay when crossing the border. After the massacre of Amuda, Saleh Muslim’s forces stayed in the city for “protection,” and even prevented resident from burying their martyred sons. On June 30, Muslim released a statement in Al-Hayat newspaper saying, “the security forces of the Council of Western Kurdistan imposed a curfew on the city of Amuda in al-Hasaka in the Northeast to prevent attempts by the “313 Brigade” to take control of the city.” Muslim also accused Kurdish groups, especially members of the Yekiti party, of inciting an uprising against the Democratic Union Party.

The Kurdish people of Syria welcomed the statement made by the U.S. State Department in July 2013, condemning the massacre at Amuda and rejecting the actions that the Democratic Union has taken. This statement frightened the PYD as they realized this was a message from the U.S. condemning the violations that the party and militia had made against the Kurds. The party’s reply to the statement was perceived by many as being superficial and forced, claiming that the victims in Amuda were members of Jabhat al-Nusra, though in truth, they included four children, two 60-year-old men, and a young man from the Yekiti party.

What is happening now to the Kurds of Syria was caused primarily by the Turkish intervention by sending the Islamist factions into the Kurdish regions under the name of the FSA due to its fears of Kurdish aspirations for a federal Syrian state. Not only is there the political axis of al-Talibani and Barzani with the Syrian Kurdish forces, but the PKK through Saleh Muslim is also intervening in order to take part in the regional and international game in  the struggle for Syria. While a majority of Syria’s Kurds hope for a regional government like Kurdistan Iraq, the massacre of Amuda has pushed them to question the role of this regional government in helping the Kurds of Syria. Why doesn’t Barzani put pressure on the leaders of the PKK to stop meddling in issues affecting the Kurds of Syria?

After the massacre of Amuda committed by the PYD, when several detainees were tortured in detention centers and prisons in Qamishli (the Hammo prison) and in Dirik, the PYD proposed the formation of a Kurdish government and parliament to represent the Kurds of Syria through an administrative regional government with the blessing of the leadership in Qandil, Barzani, and the PKK.

There is need for a new alliance to prevent such regional forces from marginalizing the other Kurdish forces and putting the Amuda massacre and all the violations committed by the Democratic Union Party against the Syrian Kurds into a dark tunnel. With the loss of hope in Kurdish unity and unified political policy, hope now lies in taking down the Assad regime and setting milestones for after the fall.

This rhetoric of self-restraint toward Syrian Kurds and the fear of Kurdish on Kurdish fighting in fact works in favor of Saleh Muslim and his armed militia who, in the face of international weakness, have left the Kurds of Syria to face the crisis alone in the midst of the power struggle between Turkey, Iran, Russia, and Kurdistan. This will only increase the complexity of the problems and will ultimately benefit the regime in its battle against the Syrian revolution and the vitality of the Kurdish role.

The Kurds of Syria wonder how much longer the silence surrounding the crimes of the PYD, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Islamists will last. They ask how much longer this betrayal by the regional government of Kurdistan, the interventions of the PKK, and the enforcement of its policy in Syria will continue. In reality, Syrian Kurds are under three highly dangerous occupations: the regime, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the PKK through the PYD. The Kurds of Syria call upon the democratic community to intervene to protect them and support their ability in leading the way in taking down the regime and establishing a democratic future in Syria.

Jehad Saleh is a Kurdish researcher and journalist in Washington D.C.