YPG on the Syrian Democratic Force, US Weapons & Amnesty Report
Amnesty report: Syria: US ally’s razing of villages amounts to war crimes.
A fact-finding mission to northern Syria has uncovered a wave of forced displacement and home demolitions amounting to war crimes carried out by the Autonomous Administration led by the Syrian Kurdish political party Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat (PYD) controlling the area, said Amnesty International in a report published today. The Autonomous Administration is a key ally, on the ground, of the US-led coalition fighting against the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
WASHINGTON DC – The United States has expressed concern about allegations of human rights violations by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) against non-Kurdish minorities in northern Syria.
Amnesty International published a report Monday claiming that YPG forces displaced non-Kurdish residents in some villages and demolished their houses. It said the acts were “amounting to war crimes.”
“We take these allegations quite seriously and we’ve made clear to all the actors that these – such behavior, frankly, is unacceptable,” Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the State Department, said in a briefing on Tuesday.
“We’ll look closely at all these accusations to determine whether there’s any veracity to the claims,” he added.
“We call on those who actually are or will participate in administering these areas to do so inclusively and with respect for all groups regardless of ethnicity, and we’ve been very clear about that for the past five, six months in speaking about the YPG and its actions in northern Syria as well as the case of Syrian Arabs and other groups and Turkmen who are fighting to – against ISIL there,” Toner said.
This has been taken extremely seriously as the reply issued today from the YPG shows:
YPG General Commander Hemo on Syrian Democratic Force, US Weapons & Amnesty Report.
In an exclusive interview, Sipan Hemo, General Commander of the YPG comments on variety of issues. Below are the large summary of his remarks. (Extracts)
After the Russian intervention the balance of power has changed, actors have changed. This happened a bit quickly. The change is also reflected on the ground. Large assaults and fierce battles are now taking place around Hama and Idlib. Regime forces are being air covered by Russian warplanes. And around Aleppo, ISIS is taking the advantage and making territorial progress against so called moderate Islamist factions or FSA brigades. So these Islamist forces are now face to face with a breakdown in terms of morale, as they are losing territory. It is not clear whether they can recover or completely be defeated. It is clear though that opposition forces have now unfortunately received a huge blow by this Russian intervention and ISIS’s taking advantage of it around Aleppo. ISIS is capturing more villages as I speak to you in those areas.
Our units, as you know, have actually been, for the last two months, in conflict with some Islamist factions including Ahrar-ash Sham and Jabhat al Nusra. But the new situation has led to a declination of these forces that have been attacking us. However, we are not willing to take advantage of this situation because we do not wish to see the opposition forces get weaker or lose more ground.
In fact, there have been claims made in our name. Many times, journalists ask what side we are on. I want to make this clear that from the very start of the Syrian revolution we didn’t want to take sides with anyone. We have a stance of our own. We name this as the third road. We formulated this idea as being on our own side. We have our own solutions and projects to propose. Secondly, our war against ISIS bought about a new situation. It has enabled relations and cooperation with the US-led coalition. And for the last past we are effectively cooperating with the Coalition.
When it comes to interventions, I can tell that people of Syria is not to be blamed. Unfortunately the war going on in Syria is about the international and regional powers’ interests. They are responsible. Both global powers and regional states like Turkey, Saudi, Qatar and Iran are responsible. They shed Syrian blood. So in response to this question I say, to stop the bloodshed and for the advancement of democracy in Syria, all powers should share responsibility. When asked whom we work with, I say it clearly, we have been fighting ISIS officially in cooperation with the coalition for a year. And our work together has made even more progress.
The number of weapons airdropped to SDF was a limited. It was not an amount that can make a big strategic differences on the ground. But we see this as very important. It is important to us as YPG. Because with this new support, the cooperation we have had for a year has reached a new level. And we hope to increase our work together even more, we hope to work strategically. So what we received was not big. But it is big for a new start.
As far as the structure of the SFD concerned, we hope that YPG spearhead that assault. YPG has a significant role to play. It is a long time that we have been fighting ISIS. In Syria, as you know, many factions have been formed. And they have been defeated in the face of ISIS. FSA, some other Islamist groups, etc. have been defeated. So at the end, the train & equip program too didn’t work. But on the other hand YPG has proven to be successful. Yes there were other groups fighting ISIS but with little success. So at a time when Syria was passing through most turbulent times, we got closer to some groups to form a new force, a bigger one, one that can serve all Syrians that can play a role for democracy in Syria. So this new force, Syrian Democratic Forces include all communities of Syria. It includes Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and Turkomens and… in the coming days there will be a declaration in front of the press. We hope this becomes a new start, a new step. At the same time we call upon everyone who believes in democracy for Syria, who believes in Syrian nation, to join SDF for the sake of democracy and to stand against and fight extremist forces like ISIS and give a calm country back to Syrians.
We saw the report of the Amnesty International. I can tell you that the timing and wording of this report is a bit suspicious. At a time when we are forming a new alliance with Syrian pro-democracy forces, and getting ready to wage a big war against ISIS this report is released. Report comes right after the coalition forces are giving us a significant aid. Hard to think it is all a matter of coincidence.
We call on the international community and the United States as well not to take this report serious. Because this is not what is happening on the ground. But again we are officially calling on independent bodies to come and see what is going on the ground.
Now, let me be clear; we have liberated some 1500 Arab villages. Some of this villages became war zones between us and ISIS. Battles took days in some villages. I am not saying there has been no harm to those villages. But they are not more than 4 or 5 villages. We have 1500 Arab villages liberated and people in them live in peace now. If it was true, why are these 1500 villages still standing? Apart from that, there are Arabs who were brought to Rojava by the Baathist regime and settled throughout the Kurds’ lands. These Arabs too in Jazira are leading respected lives. If we had an intention of driving Arabs away, we would have driven those Arabs first. I think whoever is discontent with ISIS defeats has some share in this report because we have success against ISIS. And all the world sees our effectiveness and success over this terrorist group. We have proved in practice, in liberating Rojava regions too.
One more point, 30% of YPG made up of Arabs. If allegation in the report were true did these Arabs with us committed those atrocities too? If such things were true, would they fight alongside us in Jazira and Kobane? We believe such reports want to harm our image. In our opinion, Syrian National Coalition and forces behind it has a lot to do with this. Because, at the start, for example, they couldn’t digest our liberation of Tal Abyad. So they have been spreading such rumors on purpose. But we will continue our struggle for democracy in Syria in the face of all accusations, off all such things they want to square us with. And we are open to accountability. We are respectful to human rights. Any independent body can come and investigate. We are liberating 1500 Arab villages, this report should have thanked us. We have liberated so many people. We liberated Shengal [Sinjar] and many Yezidi women. There are other interests in this report. Our units are here, anyone can come and investigate and talk to Arabs and Turkomens as well.
Note the significant openness, “we are officially calling on independent bodies to come and see what is going on the ground.
This is also important, from here.
The @amnesty report does not prove that the #YPG committed forced displacements”
@amnesty have issued a VIDEO report about #YPG ‘forced displacements’ in the Kurd self governing territories recovered from #ISIS.
Here is the report:
It’s clear from the report that some local Arab and Turkman families were forced out of their homes and that many homes were demolished, and one whole village, was razed.
Apart from threats of property destruction – no actual personal violence was said by the villagers to have been engaged in by the Kurd fighters – or even threatened!
Clearly displacements occurred, but the report does not prove that they were done by the #YPG as part of official policy, which leaves several options open.
One – the displacements could have been by a local renegade Commander who had some personal agenda – perhaps a bribe from a local landowner, family, or clan, of whatever ethnicity, who wanted to steal the villager’s land.
In war these things, and much worse, can happen.
There is verbal, but no video or photographic evidence, of official YPG soldiers forcing the displacements.
In North #Syria, many serious criminal acts and rackets were perpetrated on local civilians by armed groups posing as #FSA, or groups, who were #FSA in name and uniform only, but rarely ever fought and often looted and stole.
Two – given that forced civilian displacement is not official #YPG policy or practice – any more than it is or was for the #FSA – another more likely possibility is that this displacement occurred from orders of an over zealous YPG Commander, who feared ongoing #ISIS Commando raids, and knowing this town had some #ISIS supporters as confirmed in the video report by the villagers, adopted an altogether over zealous ‘clearance’ policy of his own.
I think this is the most likely explanation.
Forced displacements can occur in this war if the village is used as base for #ISIS covert Ops which was not unusual as #ISIS mounted many murderous raids deep into #YPG held #Rojava territory and even reached#Kobane city itself and perpetrated monstrous war crimes on town civilians.
We need to keep some perspective here.
They are the boldest and bravest of warriors but are honorable soldiers and do not execute prisoners.
Always their first concern in battle has been for civilians and for preserving life.
In this situation, war crimes can only be imputed against the #YPG if the forced civilian displacements were carried out as a matter of official YPG policy or practice.There is zero evidence of this in the amnesty report.
The fault of the amnesty report [by the woman who appears to have reached the conclusions in the report] it that it does not make this clear – sure she uncovered some renegade or overzealous acts but she does not, nor could she, prove these acts to be part of official YPG policy and practice.
Kurd’s do not have a monopoly on virtue however, and some rare Kurd Commanders may have personally contravened official YPG policy and practice and individually acted immorally or inhumanely or over zealously, and the later I think, is the most likely explanation in this case.
One thing is crystal clear.
Nor does any evidential or legal issue arise of the Kurd’s engaging in ‘ethnic cleansing’, as was made emphatically clear, in the Report of the #Syria Observatory of Human Rights in June:http://kurdishquestion.com/index.php/kurdistan/west-kurdistan/interview-with-rami-abdulrahman-of-sohr/1002-interview-with-rami-abdulrahman-of-sohr.html …
If all the combatant groups, in the living hell on earth that is the #Syria civil war, had acted as honorably and as humanely as soldiers, as the Kurds have – the Syria civilian death toll would be less – by several hundred thousand men, women, and children.
I am writing in protest at the publication of a report from your organisation called ‘We had nowhere else to go – Forced displacement and demolitions in Northern Syria’.
As a British humanitarian who has spent 5 and half months with the YPG in Rojava, I’m utterly bemused by your 32 page report published Oct 2015.
I feel compelled to write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of foreign volunteers that have joined the YPG and the YPJ. Who are not only fighting on the frontline but are working hard alongside the Kurds in the hospitals and in the refugee camps.
In the time that I was in the country I had full access to the entire region, including the frontline. In fact, I would have been present at many of the events and locations mentioned in your report. I have never seen any evidence of deliberate property damage or forced evictions.
I just wanted to quickly deal with the two main points of your report:
• There were occasions when civilian were asked to leave an area where there was fighting. This was done with their safety in mind and once an area is secure civilians are allowed back. I saw many villages of all ethnicities deserted because of fighting and then populated again once the fighting had moved on. When I was in Til Tamir (an area mentioned in your report) my commander would often share our supplies with locals from the nearby Arab villages.
• When we entered a village sometimes we had to use people’s properties. This involved fortifying them with sandbags and earth (using diggers). This was as a necessity of war and because of the risk of an ISIS attack. There was never a deliberate policy to damage property.
The report relies on unreliable witness testimony. If I’m being generous then perhaps civilians – confused and scared- being asked to leave an area and seeing diggers fortifying their homes could be mistaken about what’s happening around them. At worse these reports are a deliberate attempt to discredit the YPG/YPJ.
It’s upsetting for me to read this report because I know that the YPG has an excellent relationship with the Arab communities in Rojava. In many of the places mentioned in the report Arab YPG members would have been in the units liberating the areas. Before every major operation we are briefed about the rules of engagement – we were under no illusion that wrongdoing (including the accusations in the report) could lead to imprisonment. When you consider what the YPG is up against, then the high standards that it expects from its fighters are even more remarkable. We must be the only group operating in Syria that abides by the Geneva Convention!
Apart from the complete untruths, this report has another reason to be unwelcome for those that are fighting for democracy and equality in Rojava. The report has been jumped on by Turkish nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists to provoke sectarian violence and destroy the trust that YPG has fought so hard to build.
Instead of relying on third party testimonies. Why don’t you come to Rojava to meet some of the people fighting on the frontline? The PYD has publically called for support from the international community to help it develop its growing democracy. The Kurds have been open and transparent with all international organisations and have been praised for their efforts in this regard.
I want you to look again at the report and retract it from circulation. As part of your investigation do go to Rojava and see for yourself the excellent work that people are doing for the region. Like me you will come away inspired.
A petition of protest: here.