Arabs look for missing representation in SDF-controlled areas
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
The Syrian Arabs, who form a majority of the inhabitants of the eastern areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), have complained of discrimination and unequal representation in the autonomous body.
Even representatives of the Arab tribes are loyal to the Autonomous Administration and have not fulfilled the aspirations of the region’s residents from Arab tribes over the years of the AANES, the political umbrella of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Last March, the Deir Ezzor Civil Council of the Autonomous Administration held a meeting with tribal and notable figures from Deir Ezzor governorate after protests by the locals who demanded the release of detainees and the improvement of the living and service conditions.
According to a video recording of the meeting, which was published by the local al-Sharqiya Correspondent network via the Telegram application, a notable figure in Deir Ezzor threatened representatives of the council not to allow its institutions to enter the area if they did not replace Arab representatives with Kurdish officials in the region.
To which the Administration responded by dismissing the head of its Deir Ezzor Civil Council due to his repeated efforts to strengthen the Arab component, according to local news accounts on social media platforms.
The SDF replaced the head of the council, Ghassan al-Youssef, with another person loyal to it in the region and transferred al-Youssef to work within the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC).
SDF is a “totalitarian System”
At a time when the Autonomous Administration is presenting itself as a “comprehensive democratic entity,” the issue of ignoring the original components of the region is an issue that is inconsistent with a new authority based on international support within large areas of Syria.
Repeating the exclusion of nationalities and groups of Syrian society from political and service representation does not achieve any gains, as was the case when the Syrian regime excluded the Kurds from political representation in Syria, except for the personalities loyal to it.
Qamishli-based researcher Muhannad al-Katee believes that the SDF is a name given by the Americans in 2016 to the Syrian Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) wing in Syria, which is classified on international terrorist lists, and which is defined as a “totalitarian system” that does not believe in institutional work and does not accept any participation or representation from outside its system, not only towards the Arabs but towards the rest of the region’s Kurds as well.
Therefore, this system uses some Arabic or Syriac names in a formal representation without any executive authority, effectiveness, or decision-making ability.
The researcher in social and political history added that Deir Ezzor is an absolutely Arab region, dominated by the tribal character. Yet, its people do not have their own decision, despite the presence of some marginal personalities that the SDF sometimes presents in administrative positions, but in practice, they are without real authority.
This prompts the residents of Deir Ezzor, as well as the rest of the areas controlled by the SDF, to condemn “the usurpation of their will.” Therefore, the protests against the SDF are increasing throughout the region.
Different areas of Deir Ezzor governorate have witnessed anti-SDF protests since the beginning of 2022 in protest against the deteriorating living situation and fuel shortage.
The residents also protested against the corruption of SDF institutions, demanding the strengthening of Arab representation in the SDF institutions as well as demanding the release of detainees.
On 1 March, a member of the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) was killed, following a quarrel between him and a group of demonstrators from Abu Hamam village east of Deir Ezzor, after Asayish attempted to disperse an anti-SDF demonstration in the village.
This was preceded by clashes in the town of al-Busaira, east of Deir Ezzor city, on 14 February, between the members of the region’s tribes and the SDF fighters against the backdrop of the latter’s arrest of young men from the Ghadban and al-Jamil tribes.
Arab officials “do not represent their region”
What raises questions when talking about continuous demands to increase the representation of the Arab component is whether the presence of some Arab personalities within the SDF institutions does not meet the aspirations of the region under difficult conditions that the entire Syrian map suffers from.
The SDF’s military and civilian institutions include many Arab personalities that the residents of the region ignore when they demand the strengthening of the Arab component in these institutions, including “Abu Khawla,” the leader of the Deir Ezzor Military Council.
Expert Muhannad al-Katee says that no entity or personalities working with the SDF can have credibility or reliability, even among Arabs, given that they are known as “opportunists,” as he described it.
The obvious thing is that there is no ideological relationship between the Syrian individual and Abdullah Öcalan the Turk, so these Arab representatives working in the SDF cannot gain any acceptance or confidence in the street, according to al-Katee.
Based on information obtained by Enab Baladi, which it verified with its correspondents in eastern Syria, the SDF assigns Arab figures with administrative or leadership tasks at various levels, but at the same time, it is working to limit these figures’ roles and ensure their loyalty first.
The SDF did this in Raqqa governorate with the co-chair of the Executive Council in the Autonomous Administration, Abdulhamid al-Mahbash, who is known in the province to receive his orders from Hussein Kojer and Amina Ossi, who held leadership positions in the PKK, according to Enab Baladi’s sources.
It is known about these two leading figures in the PKK that they spent more than ten years in the Qandil Mountains, and they are among the leading cadres of the party.
Dr. Hussein Kojer served as the representative of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the Kurdistan region of Iraq before being addressed by pro-SDF media outlets as a leader in its forces and then as deputy co-chair of the Executive Council of Autonomous Administration.
The SDF is also working to appoint a person from the foreign members of the PKK as the first responsible for large areas within its areas of influence. For example, in Deir Ezzor governorate, the Deir Ezzor Civil Council supervises only the service work, but the council’s decisions are issued by a person unknown to the people of Deir Ezzor, called “Baran.”
The notables of Deir Ezzor had previously requested to meet “Baran” several times but were unable to do so, according to what one of Deir Ezzor’s figures said during the video recording published by the al-Sharqiya Correspondent network.
SDF seeks to “democratize Syria”
Mahmoud Barakdan, a senior commander in the SDF, denies all accusations against the US-backed forces as a “separatist” entity that seeks to strip a piece of land from Syria since its founding in 2016 noting that these are “tendentious” accusations.
In an interview with the Kurdish Hawar news agency, which is close to the SDF, Barakdan said the SDF is struggling in Syria to “democratize the country.”
Barakdan added that all nationalities and ethnicities, including Arabs, Kurds, and Assyrians, in Syria enjoy all their rights, which he considered as evidence that the SDF did not intend to put forward a partition plan.
The areas and nature of geography and societal diversity differed in the SDF-controlled areas during the years of the Syrian revolution, as the area of its control extended between 2012 and 2015 to 12 percent of the area of Syria, within Afrin region, Ain al-Arab (Kobani) and its countryside, and two-thirds of al-Hasakah governorate, according to Omran Center for Strategic Studies.
The Charter of the “Social Contract” did not address the borders of the “Federation of Northern Syria,” as stated in its repeated accounts that the SDF entity relies on “the concept of political and administrative decentralization within a united Syria.”
The Omran Studies Center said in a study that the concept of political decentralization is characterized by a lot of ambiguity, as it is noted from its reading that there is a confusion between the rights of entities with a confederal structure, which is, in fact, a union of states, and federalism, which is a loose term that cannot be limited to a specific model.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, the political analyst Majed Alloush said that the SDF’s problem, which has become “insoluble,” is that it is “an ideological entity whose priority is to implement an ideological idea.”
Instead of this relatively new entity seeking to invest in the elements currently available to it, it seeks to create new artificial realities in order to approach its desired ideological goal.
This endeavor led to the emergence of many sub-problems, the first of which is the political confusion that the SDF suffers from in order to “survive,” waiting for an opportunity that may not come, and it is likely that it will never come after the dramatic developments in the Syrian file during the last month, according to Alloush.
When the SDF seeks to weave threads with the Syrian regime to please Moscow at present, or when it seeks to crystallize a unified Kurdish position in response to Erbil and Washington or to bypass the criticism directed at it within the Kurdish community, we see it today in dialogue with the Kurdish National Council, pacifying Turkey.
At other times, the SDF sends “slithering messages” to Turkey to avoid its anger and then returns to harassing it at other times by bombing the areas of influence of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) or with limited military attacks to appear as a “national liberation movement,” according to the researcher.
According to Alloush, the ideological obsession of the SDF has been controlling its decisions and has led to political confusion in it, even in its dealings with the components of society in its areas of influence.
What the SDF must learn today is to build a different model based on positive reality and create partners.
This is done by involving local forces in administration and development through local elections that produce real representative forces to find ways of joint cooperation, as today the SDF can be satisfied with its defensive measures and controlling the security situation in its areas of influence and under its direct supervision, says Alloush.
On steps of Syrian regime
The SDF imposed a siege on the villages of al-Safafna, al-Arqoub, al-Marashda, and al-Susah in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor about two weeks ago, and it is still continuing until the moment of this report, in conjunction with a massive ongoing campaign of arrests in the area.
The security campaign launched by the SDF in the eastern countryside of the province came due to the ongoing popular demonstrations and protests in the area calling for an improvement in the living situation and the release of detainees.
During the last demonstration that took place in the village of Darnaj, east of Deir Ezzor city on 25 March, the demonstrators burned an SDF military vehicle, which resulted in a security response that marred the regime’s security movements on many occasions.
The Sawt al-Sharqiya network said on 28 March via Telegram that the SDF arrested a person and seized his car in front of his house in the al-Marashda neighborhood of Darnaj village.
A day preceded by the arrest of the child Sultan al-Farhan, who is from the town of al-Susah, for unknown reasons during the last raid campaign, according to the Sawt al-Sharqiya network.
The local Naher Media network said that the SDF raided the town of al-Safafna amid a security alert for its forces in the towns of al-Susah, al-Marashda, and al-Arqoub, with a curfew imposed and the electricity supply being cut off in the area, without knowing the reasons.
In turn, the local Al-Sharqiya 24 network published a video of heavy gunfire that it said came from SDF checkpoints in the village of Darnaj, east of Deir Ezzor, coinciding with its imposition of a total curfew in the village.
These events in the village of Darnaj were preceded by two days of protests by the residents of the village after Friday prayers, during which the protesters burned tires and blocked the highway in front of SDF vehicles, in protest against the poor living conditions and the high prices of food and fuel, according to the local Euphrates Eye news network.
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