Syria: Kurdish-Assyrian alliance against ISIS

Kurdish forces of the People's Protection Units (YPG) are continuing to press gains against ISIS in northern Syria—even as the "Islamic State" is defeating government forces in both Syria and Iraq, taking the cities of Ramadi and Palmyra in recent days. On May 19, the YPG reported taking a number of villages and farms in the southern countryside of Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain) in northeast Syria's Hassakeh governorate. The YPG advance was supported by US-led air-strikes. (ARA News, May 20) The gains come as ISIS continues its campaign of ethnic cleansing against Assyrian Christians in Hassakeh. The YPG has formed an alliance with two Christian military formations, the Syriac Haras al-Khabur and Assyrian Military Council, now fighting ISIS for the towns of Sere Kaniye and Tel Temir. (ARA News, April 23)

On April 29. the YPG General Command issued a statement honoring the Assyrian commander of Haras al-Khabur, David Jendo, after his assassination by presumed ISIS militants. "We in the General Command of the YPG, the Syriac Military Council and Haras al-Khabur forces consider this to be a crime against all the ethnic and religious groups in the region, especially simce the assassination coincided with the anniversary of the Assyrian genocide of Sayfo," the statement read. (ARA News, April 30) (Sayfo is the Assyrian word for the genocide carried out against their people by Turkish forces in World War I.)

Amid these developments, Syria Direct on May 20 cites the Assyrian Democratic Organization Facebook page to the effect that Christians are being forced to flee Hassakeh by Kurdish militia forces, with a home blown up in Amouda. It is strongly implied that the YPG was behind the bombing. This strikes us as highly incongruous with all other reports we are getting from Hassakeh. Syria Direct's link to the Facebook page in question does not work; nor can we find any "Assyrian Democratic Organization" Facebook page (only a Wikipedia entry that is mirrored on FB). The Assyrian Democratic Organization's own website does not seem to contain this report.

Up till now, we have found the Syria Direct website trustworthy. We hope they have not got so caught up in the Arab-versus-Kurdish divide-and-rule stratagem as to be spreading disinformation… We appeal to both Syria Direct and the Assyrian Democratic Organization for some clarity.


  1. Assyrian claims against Kurdish militia

    A version of the Syria Direct report seems to have also run in Arabic on A Google translation of the text indicates it blames the supposed anti-Assyrian attacks on Asayish, which is the "police" wing of the YPG, responsible for internal security. 

    The American Mesopotamian Organization claims that the assassinated Assyrian commander referenced above, David Jendo (which they render Dawed Antar Gindo), had been threatened by the YPG leadership after he protested YPG "looting" of Assyrian villages.

    We do hope someone can clear the air on this.

  2. Syria Direct replies on Assyrian claims against Kurdish militia

    Keenan Duffey, managing director at, replied on Facebook to our query about the claim of YPG perseuction of Assyrians. He provided the links that did not work on the original page where the claims were reported. Here is the Assyrian Democratic Organization Facebook page. Here is the ADO post (in Arabic) about the persecution claims. We would still like to know if these claims have been reported elsewhere, and how they square with widespread reports of a Kurdish-Assyrian alliance against ISIS.

  3. Syria Direct: claims against YPG ‘merely talk’

    Syria Direct on May 27 ran a brief interview with Akram Salih, a reporter for the pro-opposition Orient News embedded with the YPG, who refutes the charge that the YPG are expelling Arabs from territory liberated from ISIS. He calls it "merely talk" by "media activists" who are not actually on the ground in Rojava. He adds that "it's the total opposite of what's going on," and that the YPG is in fact providing emergency aid for the inhabitants of liberated territories.

  4. Turkish media jump on cleansing claims against Syrian Kurds

    Turkey's semi-official Anadolu Agency June 13 cites unnamed officials in southeastern Sanliurfa province to effect that 15,000 Assyrian, Arab and Turkmen civilians have crossed the border from Syria in recent weeks. Implied but not explicitly stated is that they have fled attacks by the Kurdish YPG militia. We are told, again citing anonymous officials, that the refugeesa re not Kurds, and that the exodus has coincided with the YPG offensive against ISIS in the region. The unnamed governor of Sanliurfa is quoted saying: "Ninety-eight percent of the region is made up of Arabs and Turkmens, but the PYD [Democratic Union Party] is changing the demographics of that region with aims to establish a Kurdish state by forcing Arab Syrians to migrate to Turkey," 

    State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke is spooked into a comment: "We're trying to obtain more information about what's happening on the ground. We have raised with the PYD our concerns about their human rights record, including intimidation of rival Kurdish political parties in the past.”

    Tellingly, Rathke denied that US air-strikes are contributing to the YPG advance. "Our air-strikes are focused on the fight against ISIL and not to any other purpose. So I want to make that aspect of it quite clear as well."

  5. Cleansing claims mount against Syrian Kurds

    Claims of YPG attacks forcing Arab non-combatants to flee into Turkey are now hitting mainstream sources, including AP, McClatchy and The Telegraph. The latter cites a statement making such accusations by a coalition of 15 Syrian rebel groups including "the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham and the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam." As we have noted, Ahrar al-Sham is backed by Turkey. So we urge: Consider the source.

    While we remain utterly skeptical about these claims, we urgently appeal to the YPG and PYD for clarity.

    1. Roy Gutman seeing the Bosnian war in Rojava?

      Note that the above-cited McClatchy story, "Ethnic cleansing charged as Kurds move on Islamic State town in Syria," is co-written by Roy Gutman, who won a Pulitzer for uncovering the Bosnia genocide in 1993, back when all the world was denying it. (He has done much good work in the Middle East since then.) So we are disappointed to see Gutman being thusly used by Turkish-instrumented propaganda. After his Bosnia experience, we understand his skepticism when ethnic cleansing claims are denied—and certainly no such claims should be dismissed lightly. But here there really is little to suggest they are credible–and much to suggest a disinformation campaign.

      The account even quotes Turkey's President Erdogan to the effect that the "West" is complicit in the cleansing as part of a pro-Kurdish agenda: "The West, which has shot Arabs and Turkmens, is unfortunately placing the PYD and PKK in lieu of them." 

      This is hilariously ironic. Erdogan is obviously using these claims to bring about a situation in which exactly the opposite happens: The betrayal of the PYD by the West, and their replacement by Turkish-backed Islamist factions.

      The report also states that the opposition Syrian Coalition has accused the YPG of "violations against civilians." It doesn't mention that this formation is based in Istanbul—or Erdogan's cynical embrace of the Syrian Arab rebels so as to play them against the Kurds.

      More credibly, the report quotes a displaced "member of the al Baggara tribe" who crossed from al-Fwaida village into Turkey after the YPG took the area around the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad from ISIS. He said: "They forced us from our village and said to us ‘this is Rojava’… They said ‘Go to the al Badiya desert, go to Tadmur, where you belong.'" Tadmur (Palmyra) is the central Syrian city recently taken by ISIS. Similar quotes from other refugees are offered.

      While we place more credence in the voices of refugees than in Erdogan, we do wish Gutman and his co-author Mousab Alhamadee had been more proactive in representing the Rojava authorities. The only such effort is the following line: "Shrfan Darwish, a YPG spokesman in Kobani, denied that the militia was conducting 'ethnic cleansing.' He said Kurds in Kobani gave a warm reception to Arabs who'd fled Tal Abyad after the Islamic State captured the town a year ago."

      Kurdish journalist Serdar Mullah Darwish is also quoted. He offers this trenchant observation: "When Kurds fled the city [Tal Abyad] in the summer of 2013, no one said this was the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds, despite the fact that all the fighters in the Islamic State were Arabs."

      We'll go further: Arab residents of Tal Abyad who had collaborated with ISIS and benefited from the jihadists' cleansing of the area's Kurds by grabbing houses and property might have every reason to fabricate reprisals.

      We caution Gutman against fighting the last war, so to speak. There is definitely ethnic cleansing underway in Syria and it demands the world's attention. The Syrian Observer on June 15 cites a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, enrtitled "The Holocaust of the Community," documenting 56 "sectarian massacres" committed since March 2011. But the report finds that 49 of the incidents were carried out by government forces. The remainder are attributed to ISIS and the Nusra Front.

      It would be a bitter irony if, amid all this horror, the most secular and progressive armed faction in the Syrian war, the YPG, were stigmatized as "ethnic cleansers"…