Does AANES attempt to skin northeastern Syria off the national identity?

Demonstration in Qamishli condemning the imprisonment imposed on the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan - September 24, 2023 (Hawar News Agency)

Demonstration in Qamishli condemning the imprisonment imposed on the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan - September 24, 2023 (Hawar News Agency)


Enab Baladi – Reham al-Sawadi

“A plane flew by night, with soldiers, with horses, with Ibrahim Hananu, his son riding ahead of him…”, is one of the songs that Syrians have recited since their early childhood, glorifying Ibrahim Hananu, one of the most important leaders of the Syrian revolution against France, of Kurdish origin, who fought for the land of Syria, rejecting any guardianship or foreign rule.

Syrian people take pride in numerous other Syrian symbols like Hananu, such as Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, Yusuf al-Azma, and Ramadan Shlash.

The state of division on the ground and at the political level has opened the gateway for the spread of ideologies from outside borders, as is the case in northeastern Syria, where the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have emerged, the military wing of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), which is accused of being managed by foreign figures and not carrying a national Syrian agenda.

With the region under the control of Kurdish groups that have external extensions, foreign symbols of people who do not belong to Syria’s history and identity began to appear, spreading in streets and schools and within schools’ curricula, indicating the existence of attempts to skin northeastern Syria off the national identity.

The PKK is present

The circles affiliated with the Autonomous Administration hold seminars and conferences introducing leaders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and commemorate the death of its figures in various areas of its control.

The latest was in conjunction with the 12th annual commemoration of the “assassination” of Sakine Cansız, alongside two companions from the Women’s Movement, Fidan Doğan, and Leyla Söylemez in Paris, with the attendance of local committees and educational and civil society institutions, considering her a symbol of “resistance.”

Cansız, or “Sarah” (a nom de guerre), was a founding member and leader in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, while Söylemez, or as known as “Ronahi,” was a regional director in the Youth of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party organization, and Doğan was a Kurdish activist and a member of the PKK.

Enab Baladi previously reported on AANES forcing its employees to participate in marches calling for the release of the Turkish national leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Abdullah Öcalan, under the threat of dismissal for those who abstain.

Since its control over the area, AANES has compelled shop owners and merchants to close their shops every year on the anniversary of Öcalan’s arrest by Turkey and hints at holding accountable those who abstain or directing accusations against them as being “traitors or agents.”

In schools

More than once, the residents of the areas of Qamishli and Deir Ezzor under the influence of the Autonomous Administration have demonstrated, demanding the cancellation of AANES’ curricula, considering them “ideological,” not taking into account the culture of the region, and that its scientific content is “poor” and not recognized locally or internationally.

The curriculum announced by AANES contains religious content that the residents of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa governorates find contradictory to their beliefs and culture, such as comparing the Prophet Muhammad with Buddha (a symbol of Buddhism) or comparing him to Zoroaster (founder of Zoroastrianism), and extracting the common attributes between them.

The curriculum also included sayings attributed to the founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Abdullah Öcalan, and they were included among the wisdoms and sayings of other well-known philosophers and writers such as French philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre, Spinoza, and others.

The curriculum repeatedly talks about freedom and its concepts, but most of these concepts are derived mainly from sayings attributed to “the thinker” Öcalan.

The Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) organization documented, on April 12, 2021, the detention of seven teachers in the city of al-Darbasiyah on charges of teaching the Syrian regime’s curricula without “official approval,” followed by the arrest of other teachers on the back of their participation in a demonstration demanding the release of their colleagues, by the General Security Service affiliated with Internal Security Forces (Asayish).

In the same report, the organization documented the arrest by Asayish forces of eight other teachers in the city of Amuda and 15 teachers in the towns of Rmeilan and al-Ma’bada on February 2021, on the background of them teaching the official Syrian curricula through special courses for middle and secondary school students and later released them.

AANES’ Authority of Education and Training in northeastern Syria adopts three educational curricula in their areas of influence: the Autonomous Administration’s curriculum, the regime’s curriculum with modifications to some of its materials, and the UNICEF curriculum.

The Authority of Education and Training in the Euphrates Region published a video of students at Shahid Seydo school in the city of Ayn al-Arab/Kobani singing “Ey Reqîb,” with one of the Autonomous Administration’s flags belonging to the Democratic Society Movement raised.

“Ey Reqîb” or “Hey Guard” is a poem written by Kurdish poet Dildar while he was in one of the Iranian prisons in 1938, and was adopted as a national anthem for the Republic of Mahabad that emerged in northwestern Iran and lasted for 11 months, and is now the national anthem in the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

Also, the widespread display of photos of Abdullah Öcalan in schools affiliated with AANES is not hidden.

Directed media

Several agencies, channels, and newspapers operate in the areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration, and they are considered close to the Syrian Democratic Forces and its civil umbrella, AANES. Examples include the Hawar News Agency and Ronahi TV.

These media outlets prioritize the news on the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as campaigns demanding the release of its leader Abdullah Öcalan, and demands for communication with him at the top of their agendas.

On the other side, there are recurring cases of the arrest of journalists by the SDF in northeastern Syria. A recent case involved the arrest of staff from the Baz News Agency by the Asayish (the security organization) in al-Hasakah governorate and the closure of its office there, on charges of being fully affiliated with the Deir Ezzor Military Council, a claim that the agency’s management denies, considering the Council’s support as partial and does not mean affiliation.

The Kurdish journalist Barzan Hussein was also arrested by the Asayish in the countryside of al-Hasakah governorate on July 18, 2021.

The rights organization Front Line Defenders condemned the arrest of Barzan Hussein at the time, considering it “retaliation for his legitimate and peaceful media activity and his defense of the rights of the Kurdish people,” according to the organization.

In early June 2023, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reported that masked men affiliated with the SDF arrested the media activist Hossam al-Qass after attacking him in a marketplace in the center of al-Malikiyah city, following his criticism of forced conscription by SDF through his Facebook page.

In July 2021, the Autonomous Administration issued a statement denouncing accusations by human rights organizations and global journalistic organizations of the SDF’s violation of journalists’ rights in its areas of influence, describing them as “campaigns that try to target (the Autonomous Administration) and distort facts”.

Ideology and AANES

Ideology is the science of ideas, and it has come to be particularly associated with the science of political sociology. The concept refers to the beliefs espoused by a particular group or society reflecting their interests, social and ethical concerns, religious beliefs, political and economic ideology, and at the same time, their rationale.

Several factors contribute to reinforcing an ideology within a society. These include the spread of new ideas, philosophies, and social movements that influence people’s beliefs and values, as well as demographic shifts (population numbers, age, and gender), which contribute to changing people’s thinking about identity, equality, and social justice.

The Star Union adopts such movements in northeastern Syria, calling for Öcalan’s freedom and organizing seminars discussing “Öcalan’s philosophy” and the role of women in his ideology.

The Star Union was founded in 2005 by women’s unions and bodies aiming to “build a democratic ecological society with gender liberation in western Kurdistan and Syria”.

The education system plays a role in influencing people’s thinking, values, beliefs, and transferring them to the next generation. Media also significantly impacts the spread and formation of ideas and ideologies within society.

Muhannad al-Katea, a researcher in social and political history from Qamishli city, told Enab Baladi that the phenomenon of the proliferation of “strange” flags, banners and symbols is common in all regions of Syria, whether in areas of the Autonomous Administration, regime and Iranian influence, or even opposition areas and Turkish influence.

Al-Katea believes that AANES is trying to impose a reality on the region by spreading such images and flags, and by changing the names of streets, public facilities, and administrative sectors.

The ideas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party have not been accepted by the people of northeastern Syria, evidenced by the intermittent clashes between the SDF and the local population, who still see the PKK as a “foreign and strange organization,” according to al-Katea.

Previously, the commander of the SDF, Mazloum Abdi, in a speech to the news website Al-Monitor, regarding the spread of images of the PKK leader, explained that Öcalan is a symbol for the Kurds in northern Syria and other places. However, the SDF does not have any plans for other parts of Kurdistan, whether it be in Turkey, Iraq or Iran. Instead, they are “concerned with Syria and the future of all its peoples.”


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