WEST KURDISTAN : PYD Accused of Abuse of Power in Kurdish Areas of Syria

18/09/2012 RUDAW –  By HEVIDAR AHMED – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Kurds in Syria say the armed groups of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are arresting citizens and threatening them in the name of security. There are also reports that the groups have extorted money from those who want to travel to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The situation in the Kurdish areas of Syria is different from other areas of the country where battles between President Bashar al-Assad’s army and opposition forces have been raging for 19 months.

The Syrian regime has been using tanks, cannons and warplanes to bombard the cities of Aleppo, Homs, Daraa, Damascus and Hama, but Kurdish cities are calm now that Syrian troops have withdrawn from the area. Barav Hassan, a member of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Qamishli, believes that the Syrian army has withdrawn from the Kurdish regions to instigate a conflict among Kurds.

“But we did not fall for it and the Syrian regime is aware of its failure,” he said.

Before getting involved in politics, Hassan was a businessman. “The situation in Syria and West Kurdistan left us no choice but to become political,” he said.

Hassan’s job in the KNC is to organize people in Qamishli and teach them how to defend themselves and their neighborhoods.

“The Syrian government was plotting to have the Kurds in Qamishli kill each other by creating power outages in the middle of the night,” he said. “Some Kurds began to rob houses during the blackout. The families had no choice but to defend themselves and their property.”Hassan said that when they discovered the blackouts were a government plot to encourage theft, they formed security groups in each neighborhood.“The Syrian regime discovered that their plot had failed and feared these small, organized, armed groups of locals might develop into bigger ones. Therefore, they stopped the power outages,” he said. Hassan has visited Iraqi Kurdistan in the past through smuggling routes. He said that anyone who now wants to visit must inform the PYD and write their name on a list. He criticized the PYD for violating two important provisions of the Erbil Agreement.

“According to the treaty of Erbil, the armed groups in Western Kurdistan must not appear among civilians while armed, and must not arrest people and set them free in return for cash. But the PYD have been walking among the civilians with their weapons, arresting civilians and setting them free after extorting money from them,” said Hassan.

“Around 1,000 members and senior officials from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have entered Western Kurdistan and formed mobile groups,” he said. “They are moving from one city to another. They have created military camps in Qamishli, between Kobane and Efrin in order to give military training to people to fight and protect security.”

He added, “The KNC has neither the ability nor the permission to create such military camps. The PYD has armed groups that arrest people and then set them free and financially support their own cadres.” Muhammad Salih Muslim, leader of the PYD, said that the group’s armed forces do not leave their bases if they don’t have to, and that when they do, it is to protect the people.

“This situation will continue until a joint armed group is formed as required by the Erbil Agreement,” he said, adding that the Kurdish Supreme Committee, made up of both KNC and PYD members, has decided to form such a group. “There was some misunderstanding regarding the issue of PYD armed groups, but from now on the security issues shall be controlled by the supreme committee,” Muslim said.

He also denied claims that PYD armed groups arrested civilians and extorted money from them. “There are people who come from outside the Kurdish regions; they are Arabs. They are the ones who arrest Kurds and extort money from them and accuse the PYD of their crimes. They are lying,” said Muslim.

Hassan, who has been in Iraqi Kurdistan for 10 days, arriving and returning via the smuggler’s route, said that the Kurds in Syria are still living in constant fear.

“There are five security headquarters of the Assad regime still in Qamishli,” he said. “The entire city is under the control of Syrian government security forces. The security forces of Assad are helping the PYD to make them stronger than the other Kurdish groups in Western Kurdistan.”

He also noted that the Syrian regime has handed over the control of all public facilities — such as gas stations, factories and the border control between Syria and the Kurdistan Region — to the PYD.

This has given the PYD a great source of revenue, especially from the border. They have made more than $200 million from controlling the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, taking tax on a variety of goods that pass through the checkpoints.

Muslim did not deny controlling the borders and imposing taxes. “We take $8 from each person crossing the borders and some extra money if they carry goods. The revenue from the border is very small and barely enough to cover the expenses of the border guards,” he said. He also denied that $200 million profit had been made from this practice, stating, “This is not true.”