Albin Szakola & Ullin Hope

Kurds in northwest Syria declare
state of emergency

The Afrin Canton says Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are threatening the region.

YPG forces in the Afrin Canton. (Facebook/Self Administration of the Afrin Canton)

BEIRUT – The de-facto autonomous Kurdish region in northwest Syria has declared a state of emergency, warning that the Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham were threatening the area’s residents.


The Afrin Canton’s Executive Council gathered Tuesday for a crisis meeting during which the co-president of the body, Hevy Mustafa, “advised all authorities, directorates and institutions to announce a state of emergency.”


Situated in the northwest of the Aleppo province along Turkey’s border, the Afrin Canton is isolated from the other two cantons—Cizire and Kobane—that Kurdish authorities declared autonomous in January 2014.


The Afrin canton is dominated by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) which controls the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia forces that have regularly clashed with Islamist factions along the edges of the territory.


However, the recent bout of fighting between Jaysh al-Thuwar—a faction allied with the YPG—and Islamist and Free Syrian Army-affiliated groups near the strategic Aleppo province town of Aazaz has raised considerable concern in Afrin.


The fraught northern Aleppo front has grown increasingly volatile in the past week, with insurgents and activists alleging that Russia has been aiding a YPG offensive on Aazaz, a town that lies on a key rebel supply line running from Turkey southward to Aleppo city.


Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, in turn, claimed that Kurds are aiming to seize a swathe of territory along Turkey’s border to link the Afrin and Kobane cantons, a move—which if true—would challenge Ankara’s self-declared “red lines” in the region.


“Afrin under attack by terrorists”


Afrin co-leader Hevy Mustafa issued a startling warning during Tuesday’s meeting of the canton’s leaders, saying that the region was facing the “forces of terrorism.”


 “The goal of the attack the Afrin Canton is being subjected to by the forces of terrorism—Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, which are supported by the Turkish state—is to break the will of the Canton’s people,” a statement issued by the Afrin government quoted her as saying.


“[They have] done this by [enforcing] a systematic blockade and kidnapping defenseless civilians,” she added.


Mustafa added that Afrin moved to face this threat by establishing a local branch of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed coalition originally formed in October in northeastern Syria to fight ISIS.  


The SDF, which announced its creation on October 11, is dominated by the 30,000-strong YPG, but also includes Arab and Assyrian fighting groups.


On November 16, a collection of rebel groups in northwest Syria, including Jaysh al-Thuwar, announced they were going to start fighting under the banner of the SDF in the region, sparking mounting tension in northern Aleppo.


A Jaysh al-Thuwar spokesperson claimed that Nusra vociferously opposed it joining the SDF, and was blocking the coalition’s efforts to fight ISIS in northern Aleppo.


“Nusra and Ahrar a-Sham have accused us of apostasy, the same claim they make against all the SDF factions,” Khaled al-Zino told Syria Direct.


According to Jaysh al-Thuwar, Nusra gave the group a 48-hours to withdraw from the western Aazaz countryside on November 22. The following day, steadily worsening clashes erupted between the two sides.


Jaysh al-Thuwar’s opponents in northern Aleppo have accused the group of fighting on behalf of and alongside the YPG, while the coalition insists it is defending itself against “barbaric attacks” perpetrated by Nusra.


The Marea operations room—a collection of Free Syrian Army-aligned factions—says that Nusra has no presence in the area, although the SOHR has reported the involvement of the Al-Qaeda affiliate in fighting with Jaysh al-Thuwar.


Afrin Kurds reiterate support for Jaysh al-Thuwar


The Afrin canton reiterated its support for Jaysh al-Thuwar in its Tuesday declaration, stressing the closeness of the YPG’s alliance with the rebel group.


“The terrorist groups have found that the project to build a democratic Syria starts from the Afrin Canton, therefore they have directly attacked Jaysh al-Thuwar,” the Afrin co-leader said.


“Attacking Jaysh al-Thuwar means attacking the Canton and striking democratic forces,” she declared.


Although the YPG late last week stressed it was involved in the fighting between Jaysh al-Thuwar and factions around Aazaz, the Afrin statement said the YPG had entered the rolling battles.


“The YPG intervened because it supports all serious opposition forces that [favor] the building of a democratic Syria,” Afrin co-leader Hevy Mustafa said, adding that the Kurdish militia had fought to defend the village of Maryamayn, which was briefly seized by its foes over the weekend.

YPG forces in the Afrin Canton. (Facebook/Self Administration of the Afrin Canton)

The terrorist groups have found that the project to build a democratic Syria starts from the Afrin Canton, therefore they have directly attacked Jaysh al-Thuwar.

  • dutchnational

    The so called moderate islamo fascists jihadis were attacking the new SDF coalition, leaving their back open to attack from IS. Now al those islamists, FSA or otherwise, run the risk of being destroyed by Russia from the air, IS from the east, SAA from the south and SDF from the west, with thanks to Turkey who made it all possible. If they want to survive, they might consider, if really moderate and secular, realigning themselves by joining SDF.

    December 2, 2015