Albin Szakola & Ullin Hope

Kurds battle Assyrians
in Syria’s Qamishli

A fighter from the pro-regime Assyrian Gozarto Protection Forces was killed during fighting with Kurdish internal security members.


BEIRUT – Clashes have erupted between Kurdish security forces and pro-regime Assyrian militiamen in northeastern Syria's Qamishli, where the Syrian government maintains one of its last armed bastions in the de-facto autonomous Kurdish Cezire canton.  


A dispute between the Kurdish internal security (Asayesh) and the Gozarto Protection Forces (GPF) over a checkpoint in the Wusta quarter of Qamishli on Monday turned into a firefight that left at least one person dead.


The GPF on Tuesday morning announced that one of its fighters, Henry Dawud, was killed in the clash, while one other person was injured. The Asayesh, for its part, said in a statement that two GPF fighters were killed, while five others were wounded.


GPF casualty

A picture of GPF fighter Henry Dawud. (image via GPF's Twitter account @GozartoPF)


Meanwhile, the Kurdish Xeber 24 outlet cited sources close to Asayesh as saying that two members of the Kurdish security force were injured in the fighting, with the outlet stressing its report was based on preliminary information. 


The Asayesh later announced that its two wounded officers were in "good" condition.


Intermittent clashes have continued into the morning, according to local outlets in the region.


A popular pro-rebel Facebook news page based in Hasakeh said that a loud blast was heard in Qamishli on Tuesday morning, adding that dozens of Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG) fighters as well as Asayesh members had mobilized near the city's Hadaya Hotel, which the Asayesh uses as an HQ.


Xeber 24's report on the fighting—which was republished on the Facebook page of the Democratic Union Party that controls the YPG—also said that fighting was ongoing, while Kurdish forces in the center of Qamishli and surrounding areas were "fully mobilized."


Conflicting reports emerged over who started the fighting, with an Assyrian outlet claiming that Asayseh troops attacked the GPF "in large numbers" after the militia attempted to set up checkpoints.


Assyrian Democratic Organization News said the GPF was attempting to close of the Wusta area of the city out fear of that the Assyrian quarter, which was hit by ISIS bombings on December 30, would be targeted by another terrorist attack.


However, the Asayesh claimed in an official statement issued Tuesday afternoon that GPF members had opened fire first after Kurdish forces moved to stop the Assyrian militia's attempt to set up checkpoints. 


"Members from the pro-regime [GPF] had cut off roads, set up barriers and harassed people in the Wusa neighborhood of Qamishli," the Asayesh alleged.


Both Kurdish security forces and pro-Assad forces maintain an uneasy power-sharing agreement in Qamishli, which has been marred by previous rounds of deadly clashes between the two sides.


The GPF, which only has a presence in Qamishli, is affiliated with the Syrian regime, unlike the larger Assyrian Sutoro militia that fights alongside the YPG in northeastern Syria.


Sutoro, which is the armed wing of the Syriac Security Office, considers the GPF to be a "breakaway" force, while the Qamishli-based militia announced in December 2013 that it has no connection to Sutoro.


The GPF has tried to strengthen its presence in the Hasakeh province—where the Kurdish YPG has consolidated its foothold—however the pro-Assad Assyrian militia's attempts have failed.


The Syrian regime has kept up public appearances of maintaining control over the northeastern Syrian region, even as the Kurds have moved increasingly toward autonomy amid tense non-aggression agreements with the remaining Syrian regime forces.


In January 2014, Kurdish authorities declared the formation of three self-ruled cantons (Cezire, Afrin and Kobane) under the Democratic Self-Rule Administration of Rojava, which has been dominated by the Democratic Union party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG) militia forces.


The political reorganization was not recognized by the Syrian regime; however, it has become a de-facto reality, especially since pro-government forces withdrew from most Kurdish-populated regions in 2012, with the exception of Qamishli and the provincial capital Hasakeh 75 kilometers to the south.


Syria's Kurds have been militarily ascendant in the past few months, rolling back ISIS in the Hasakeh province as well as in the Kobane region.​

Both Kurds and pro-regime forces maintain an uneasy power-sharing agreement in Syria's Qamishli. (image via albaath.news.sy)

The GPF on Tuesday morning announced that one of its fighters, Henry Dawud, was killed in the clash, while one other person was injured.