Autonomous Administration reverses decisions to calm protests

Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces - 23 March 2021 (AFP)

Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces - 23 March 2021 (AFP)

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Enab Baladi- Ali Darwish

People in areas run by the Autonomous Administration in northern and eastern Syria have successfully imposed their demands on the administration using peaceful protests, despite being met with deadly force in some cases.

The Kurdish-run administration has responded favorably to the demonstrators’ demands, ending rising fuel prices and the compulsory conscription campaign waged in the city of Manbij, east of Aleppo, since mid-May. 

The administration postponed the mandatory military service for young men from areas controlled by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA).

The administration also released Hussam al-Kass, a member of the media office of the Assyrian Democratic Organization affiliated with the Peace and Freedom Front.

The Autonomous Administration controls Manbij, Ayn al-Arab in rural Aleppo, cities of Ras al-Ain and Tell Abyad on the Turkish border, Raqqa, and parts of the countryside of Deir Ezzor, as well as al-Hasakah and most of the city of Qamishli, except for the city’s airport, the security square, and part of the residential neighborhoods, which the Syrian regime controls. 

Popular pressure forced the administration to repeal its decisions

Bassam al-Ahmad, the director of Syrians for Truth and Justice, points out that the administration’s acknowledgment of the protesters’ requests came as a result of “popular pressure and resentment” without any external intervention, meaning that it emerged “from the local community itself.” The political groups, which do not agree with the administration, such as the Kurdish National Council (KNC), did not pressure the administration to reverse its decisions.  

Al-Ahmad told Enab Baladi that several people who support the administration and belong to different sects, such as Arabs, Syriacs, Kurds, and their affiliated groups participated in the demonstrations against the administration.

The US-led international coalition, the leading supporter of the administration, especially its military and security wings, intervened to ease tensions occurring in Manbij and find a comprise such as raising salaries of people working in the administration’s institutions, the security and military forces, but on one condition; there must be voluntary recruitment, al-Ahmad said. 

Anas Shawakh, a Jusoor Center for Studies researcher, believes that the administration did not fully respond to the demonstrators’ demands. In fact, such a change in its decisions will be like “a compromise” because the demonstrators have not fulfilled their basic demands represented in the abolition of the compulsory conscription law.

 Anas Shawakh suggested considering the previous incidents; there would be no fundamental developments on the ground because the administration established an accountability committee. “Its outcomes will be settled in favor of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Moreover, the administration will procrastinate and will not hold those who killed protesters in Manbij accountable.”  

The SDF, the military wing of the Autonomous Administration, is accused of dominating the military and civilian aspects of life in the region.

The SDF and the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) affiliated with the administration were able to suppress all previous demonstrations rejecting forced conscription and carried out arrest campaigns against activists allegedly accused of belonging to the Islamic State group.

The international coalition often pressures the SDF to retract some decisions, as happened recently because “this may plunge the whole region into a new chaos and civil conflict that will not be in the interest of the international coalition,” according to Muhanad al-Kate’, a researcher in Syria’s social and political history from the city of Qamishli.

Positive effect of recent events

The recent events, including the peaceful protests and the resulting reversals of decisions by the Autonomous Administration, will generate great motivation for the residents of the remaining areas under its control. They will have more courage to demand their rights, and their attempts could prove more feasible. In other words, they can hold higher expectations for a response by the administration, according to researcher Anas Shawakh.

Researcher Shawakh added that the reversal of the Autonomous Administration’s decisions regarding the forced conscription law could be seen as “a golden opportunity for all the people of the region.” People will invest in this opportunity via urban strikes and peaceful protests, even though people know their prices will be very high. 

Al-Kate’said that people must continue carrying out peaceful activities to strengthen their position. They have to “reject all policies of the de-facto authorities–such as imposing certain ideas and principles on the education system and the society as a whole, imposing names and activities that are not commensurate with the values of society or the national situation–and rejecting all foreign symbols, figures and flags the PKK group seeks to impose.”

Muhannad al-Kate’ stressed that people should stand together when standing against the administration. Protestors should document or air their activities or what they are exposed to directly. This is because airing demonstrations and uprisings constitute tremendous pressure on the de-facto Autonomous Administration.

Bassam Al-Ahmad pointed out that people can strengthen their positions to put pressure on the Autonomous Administration to achieve their demands by organizing themselves, participating in fundamental institutions and authorities, putting forward their requirements and interests, and ignoring the interests of other countries.

Lack of mechanisms to deal with protests

Researcher Anas Shawakh said that the SDF would not respond differently to protests because it lacks an appropriate mechanism to deal with such forms of expression.

A special security apparatus affiliated with the SDF must be trained to control riots or disperse protests. The SDF should create a crowd control unit that would operate by measures followed worldwide, such as the use of tear gas and water cannons.

If the international coalition does not press to establish this particular unit, the change will not occur soon.

Three incidents in less than a month

Hussam al-kass, member of the Assyrian Democratic Organization’s media office, was arrested by masked SDF fighters after being beaten in front of a shop in the city of Malikiyah after he criticized the forced conscription followed by the SDF on his Facebook account, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

However, the SDF released media activist Hussam al-Kass two days after his arrest, on 4 June, amid reports that he had been beaten in detention.

The SDF was forced to suspend the law of Self-Defence Duty (Compulsory conscription), imposed in the city of Manbij, and refer it to study and discussion, following the tensions in the city and the burning of SDF checkpoints and centers in some areas’ villages in protest against the conscription law. 

During the protests, eight people were killed, and dozens were injured, Reuters reported.  

The protests erupted in Manbij led to the SDF’s postponement of military service for the residents of areas controlled by the SNA, according to a circular issued on 5 June.   

Since 2015, the SDF has enacted laws that imposed compulsory conscription on young males aged between 18-30 years in its area of control. 

Security checkpoints are stationed in various areas under the control of the SDF to stop anyone who may be covered by the conscription law. This scene reminds Syrians in the region of what the Syrian security forces’ checkpoints used to do by taking men forcibly to compulsory service.  

The Autonomous Administration canceled resolution No. 119 last May, which stipulated raising fuel prices to double, and returned the prices set before the resolution was issued. 

The resolution was canceled because of the demonstrations that broke out in northeastern Syria in protest against the hike in fuel prices.

However, the administration commented in its statements on the protests that they were exploited by “tamperers with public security,  in order to strike security and stability by attacking military points, centers and civil institutions, and using weapons against the security and military forces among civilians, leading to  significant deaths and injuries.” This is the same rhetoric used by the administration when faced with recent events in Manbij and even the previous tensions.

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