In a new report for ANF, Dildar Aryen highlights the progress the Rojava Revolution has made in 2013 and the important developments over the past year. What follows is the first part of that report, translated into English, in which Aryen discusses the progress of the YPG/YPJ and their important victories in 2013.
The Success of the YPG: In one year 5 cities, 5 towns and around 100 villages liberated
The People’s Defense Forces (YPG) has been strengthened with the goal of defending the gains of the July 19th revolution. The decision to extend and consolidate the YPG was taken at a conference at the beginning of the year and its organization has extended even to the village-level. Over the course of the year it has exhibited a strong resistance to many, multi-sided attacks. The YPG liberated 5 cities, 5 towns and around 100 villages in 2013 and cleaned much of the region of gangs. It also provided a space for the political organization of women in the area of defense: 5 female brigades were formed and the resistance they exhibited and the victories they achieved had a significant effect in the regional and international arena.
Three years on from the Peoples’ Spring and the revolutionary process that was started in Syria by the people in 2011, interventions into the country in 2013 by regional and international forces opened the way for further death, pillaging and destruction. As the regime continues to hold onto power and the opposition is unable to achieve any unity, radical forces operating in the name of Islam have taken a prominent place in the conflict. Six million people were forced to leave their homes; in now destroyed cities hunger, sickness, kidnapping, torture, rape and other violations of human rights have reached extreme levels. However in Rojava the revolution that began on July 19th, 2012 has continued to work toward the construction of democratic autonomy and in 2013 this work has become systematic. One of the important elements of this system was the formation of a defense force.
Organization around a defense force began following the regime’s massacre of protesters in Qamişlo on March 12, 2014. The YPG was founded in 2011 and officially announced upon the July 19th, 2012 Revolution. In 2013 it has become the important defense force in the region.
At a conference held at the beginning of the year — January 1-5th — a delegation of 336 local commanders and fighters from Dêrik, Dirbêsiyê, Qamişlo, Serêkaniyê, Amudê, Kobanî, Efrîn, Heleb, Bab and many other areas gathered in Derika Hemko to discuss the future of the YPG. The delegates decided to form a unified defense force that would take as its principal rule the embrace of all the peoples of Western Kurdistan.
At the same conference a decision was taken to open training camps in all major areas of Rojava under the name of “Martyr Xebat Academies” and a new flag was designed that would symbolize all the people Western Kurdistan. The organizers of the YPG also promised that their struggle would be in accordance with the principals of the Geneva Convention and the YPG proclaimed themselves a party to that convention. On October 11th of this year representatives from the YPG and the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ) met with the Geneva Call, an international organization headquartered in Switzerland, where they signed a number of agreements concerning the clearing of minefields and the protection of women and children with the possibility that more agreements could be reached in the future.
The formation of the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ) was announced
Women who had been active in the YPG since its founding began to work on their own autonomous organization. Women’s brigades were founded in Kobanê, Dirbêsiyê, Qamişlo, Dêrik and Efrin, and at a conference that took place in Derik between April 2-4 the formation of the YPJ was officially proclaimed. A decision was also taken to organize training camps for women under the name of “Martyr Şîhan Defense Academies” and immediately after the conference two such academies were opened in Efrin and Derik.
Large Scale Offensives and Great Resistance
In 2013 Rojava experienced a great deal of organization in the area of defense as it witnessed more attacks than in any previous year. Various regional, international and local forces opposed to the construction of a system of democratic autonomy attacked the revolution on multiple fronts, and were repeatedly pushed back by the forces of the YPG/YPJ.
Girzîro and Serêkaniyê
On January 9th in the village of Girzîro in the district of Girkê Legê YPG forces, at the request the local people who had been oppressed by regime soldiers and their supporters, demanded that soldiers tied to the regime leave the area. When the soldiers responded to the request the following day – January 10th – by opening fire clashes began and continued until January 15th. Over the course of the fighting one soldier was killed and eight supporters of the regime were wounded. Four soldiers and seven regime supporters were also taken prisoner by the YPG.
As the YPG surrounded an Syrian Army Battalion in Girzîro, 1,500 members of opposition elements took advantage of the fighting and a local cease-fire and crossed over from Turkey into the city of Serêkaniye on January 16th as part of a large-scale offensive. However YPG/YPJ forces, fighting on two fronts, managed to repulse the attackers.
In Girzîro, which is located in an oil-producing region, regime soldiers finally left the village on January 21st after 11 days of fighting and encirclement. The YPG captured a large quantity of military supplies and took 70 soldiers prisoner. In Serêkaniye after 15 days of fighting, the attacking elements were forced to pull back to the neighborhoods of Mehetê and Ebra on the border with Turkey and to request a cease-fire. A council of all ethnic and faith communities in the city agreed to the cease-fire on the condition that the gangs pull out of the city. The YPG captured a large number of vehicles, ammunition, and two ambulances. Around 100 gang members were killed in the fighting. 9 YPG fighters and 6 local civilians were also killed.
Çilaxa, Tirbespiyê and Rimêlan
As the people of the region, together with the YPG, continued to resist attacks from opposition gangs, the clearing of remaining regime elements from certain city centers began. On February 21st, local people together with the YPG took over all administrative centers in the city of Çilaxa, in the district of Girke Legê, and drove regime forces from the area. Administrative of the city was turned over to the People’s Council formed by the YPG.
On March 1st, residents of the city of Tirbespiyê – where Kurds, Arabs, and Assyrians live together – requested help from YPG/YPJ forces in expelling the small amount of regime elements still in the city center. Following the expulsion the city was transferred to local administration. Following the liberation of the city members of all local ethnic groups poured onto the streets in celebration. The following day, March 2nd, YPG forces began an operation to liberate the oil-producing city of Rimelan. By the end of the day the city was under the control of the YPG. 15 police officers, 13 soldiers and two state-security officials were taken prisoner.
Halep, Efrin, Til Temir
While fighting in the Cizre region continued, regime and gang forces targeted the Aleppo neighborhoods of Eşrefiye ve Şêxmeqsud. On March 28th regime forces bombed both districts, killing a large number of civilians. Following this attack, gangs also began to move into the area and the YPG and the El-Ekrad Front – a fighting force formed largely of local Kurds – showed a great deal of resistance. Thousands of residents were forced to flee to the cities of Efrin and Kobani and a large number were kidnapped on the road by different gangs. An embargo was put in place around these neighborhoods, as well as around Kurdish villages close to Aleppo, in order to force local residents to leave. After fighting that continued until October, both neighborhoods were firmly under the control of the YPG.
As international forces began to put an embargo in place around Rojava, gangs close to Efrin stepped up their attacks. On May 25th these gangs began attacking villages in the Şêrawa township in the district of Efrin, exposing the local population to much hardship. Only after much fighting were the gangs pushed back by the YPG.
Also in May the YPG suffered and repelled numerous attacks by gangs on the city of Til Temir.
Serêkaniyê Entirely Liberated
As the people of Rojava prepared to celebrate the one-year anniversary of July 19th Revolution, gangs launched another offensive against Serêkaniye. On July 16th gangs attacked a YPG patrol in the Mehetê neighborhood and kidnapped one fighter. The YPG responded with a comprehensive operation that lasted two days. On July 17th the YPG captured the city’s border crossing and pushed the gangs out of the city entirely. 25 gang members were captured and two YPG fighters were killed during the operation.
Til Ebyad, Til Hasil and Til Eran
Gangs which had suffered heavy loses in the Cizre region set their sights on towns and cities around Aleppo and Rakka with large Kurdish populations. On July 18th gangs attached to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front surrounded the local People’s House (Mala Gel) in the district of Til Abyad (Girê Spî) in Rakka province and threatened locals. Two days later on July 20th gangs attacked these districts, kidnapping hundreds of civilians and destroying the People’s House along with many civilian homes.
The El-Ekrad Front responded to these attacks and fighting broke out. After this fighting YPG forces also moved to respond to the attacks and to protect local civilians. Heavy clashes took place in Til Ebyad and surrounding villages until July 23rd. Numerous villages were liberated and scores of gang members killed. Although outbreaks of fighting continue, the area is largely under the control of the YPG. Şervan Muslim, the son of Salih Muslim, was killed in one of these clashes in October.
Massacres Against Civilians
After heavy losses in fighting with the YPG, gangs turned their attention to Kurdish civilians. On July 28th gangs attacked the towns of Til Hasil and Til Eran in Aleppo Province- both of which have large Kurdish populations – and began to massacre civilians and destroy their houses. In five days more than 70 civilians were killed and hundreds forced to flee their homes. Many were also kidnapped by the gangs, where they suffered under harsh conditions and torture. Fatwas were released by clerics sympathetic to the gangs, fighting in the name of Islam, condoning the murder of Kurds and the looting of their property.
YPG Revolutionary Operations Begin
After failing to move into Efrin and Kobanê, gangs heavily supported by foreign powers launched a major offensive in the Cizre region of north-east Rojava. Targeting the areas around Rimêlan, Tirbespiyê, Dêrik, Girklê Legê, Çilaxa, Til Temir and Serêkaniyê, the gangs began their offensive at the beginning of September. Gangs targeted local populations with propaganda in an attempt to drive them from the region. Where this failed gangs bombarded civilian areas in attempt to depopulate them. Thousands of people were forced to flee across the border to South Kurdistan.
The YPG/YPJ showed great resilience and local civil-society organizations and political parties were also organized for defense. Locals joined the YPG/YPJ in large numbers and the General Command of the YPG announced that resistance would continue until the region was entirely cleared of gangs.
‘Revolutionary Operation of the Martyr Çekjîn’ in Tirbespiyê
After this announcement YPG/YPJ forces began a series of revolutionary operations that would last a total of three months. The first move too place at the beginning of September under the name ‘Revolutionary Operation of the Martyr Çekjîn’ in the region of Tirbespiyê. The operation liberated the villages of Harika, Himara, Çêlekê, Qesrok, Xirbet Bîr, Imarat and Hedad. Two gang headquarters in Tahûnê and Mezra Kelemun were also captured by the YPG. Fourteen gang members were killed in the fighting.
The later operation continued in the Girkê Legê region. In the course of the operation the villages of Xwêtle, Cedan, Sukeriyat, Rimêlana Elşêx, Rimêlana Başa, Sefa, Mizêrta, Şemam, Xemo, Büyük Baqila, Küçük Baqila, Xirab Bajar, Büyük Tilelo, Küçük Tilelo, Tileloya Xemer, Siwêdiya Ereban, Meheta-17 and Meheta-20, Seharîc, Sidêriyê, Mişêrfa, Xedan and Siriyê were liberated. In clashes near Qamişlo the village of Iwêna was also liberated. In two days of relentless fighting in Çilaxa, Serêkaniyê and Girê Sipî 177 gang members were killed.
The Second Phase of the Operation
The second phase of the ‘Revolutionary Operation of the Martyr Çekjîn’ was given the name the ‘Operation of the Martyr Dilovan.’ The operation began in the middle of September and killed 300 gang members in three days. As a result of the fighting the strategically important village of Elok near Serêkaniyê was liberated. The third part of the operation, which began on September 24th, saw fighting in Serêkaniyê, Tirbespiyê and Girê Sipî. The villages of Derdara and Hemîd in Serêkaniyê were liberated and 37 gang members were killed.
The Third Phase around Girkê Legê and Tirbespiyê
The ‘Revenge Operation for the Martyrs of Çilaxa and Tirbepiyê’ took place between October 12-29th with the goal of liberating of the villages between Girkê Legê and Rimêlan and Çilaxa and Tirbespiyê. Despite the YPG’s declaration of a ceasefire for Eid al-Adha starting on October 14th, gangs attacked YPG positions in the area of Til Elo and fighting broke out. Eighty four gang members were killed in the fighting. On October 20th a suicide bomber attacked a YPG position in Tirbespiyê, killing six YPG fighters. In response to the attack the YPG launched a series of operations in which they liberated the villages of Mezra, Sîha, Sidêdiyê, Werdiyê, and Bûsa – all attached to the town of Til Koçer – as well as three hamlets and 10 military positions.
Til Koçer Liberated
The fourth phase of the operation liberated the strategically important Til Koçer Border Crossing, as well as the city of Til Koçer and the villages of Mehmûdiyê and Cihêşê. In addition the grain silos in Tilelo, Tilelo Xemir, Yûsiviyê, Girêfatê, Aşağı Girhok, Elî Axa, Cinêdiyê, and Ebû Hecer as well as the Dicle Oil Center fell under YPG control.
After the liberation of Til Koçer the ‘Operation of the Martyrs of Serêkaniyê’ was launched with the goal of clearing the highway between Serêkaniyê and Til Temir. As a result of the operation, which began on November 3rd, the villages of Mişrafa, Esfer Necar, Micêbra, Katofa Bakur, Katofa Başûr, Edûlê, Hilwa Çeçenan, Til Hirmit, Cikêma, Swami Elsefih, Tildiyab, Esediyê, Bîr Nûh, Qisêr, Bîr Elzad, Siyade, Helebiyê, and Moyerd were liberated a number of gang positions fell to the YPG. Separately the operation succeeded into capturing a long-term gang headquarters and offensive position between Til Xelef and the town of Menacir. The mostly Arab town of Ebu Raseyn, between Serêkaniyê and Til Temir, was also liberated.
The Villages Around Qamişlo
The ‘Revenge Operation of the Martyrs of Qamişlo and Kobanê’ began on November 14th with the goal of liberating the villages of Qamişlo and Tirbespiyê. As a result of the operation the villages of Iwêna Selîm, Küçük ve Büyük Riheya köyleri, Şêbana, Riheya Zahir, Tilîd, Mihemed Diyab, Mihemediyê, Sofiyê. Mera, Taya, Ebû Meqrin, Mezlûma, Xirbet Elsim, Miqrinyat, Xirbit Cihaş, Nebûa, Bizona and Xirbet Eltêr were liberated.
29 Villages Liberated around Til Temir-Haseki
Following this operation a suicide bombing attack against a YPG position in the village of Xêbiş near Til Temir on November 20th killed 8 YPG fighters. As a response to the attack the ‘Operation of the Martyrs of Til Temir’ was launched on November 25th by the combined forces of the YPG/YPJ with the goal of clearing gangs from the Til Temir-Haseki road. The town of Tiwêna and 29 villages to the west of Til Temir were liberated.
The Powers behind the Gangs
It emerged over the course of the year that various local, regional and international powers were behind the gang attacks in Rojava. Turkey, which had previously opened their borders to such gangs, is known to have supplied them with weapons and supplies. Documentary evidence recovered in liberated areas also shows that many of the gang fighters were Turkish citizens. The confessions of members of various Turkish religious societies (cemaat) sent to fight in Rojava have also been recorded.
In a former al-Nusra headquarters in Serêkaniyê later captured by the YPG, American, Egyptian, Lebanese and Libyan passports were discovered. The passports reveal that almost all of the fighters entered Rojava after first entering Turkey. The YPG also captured two foreign ambulances in the fighting, one belonging to Turkey and the other to France.
According to documents recovered by local security forces in Kobani in February shows that at a meeting in the Turkish city of Urfa a decision was taken to open border crossings to such gangs, to supply them with weapons, and to bring the area under control of religious extremists.
On July 26th a meeting of around 70 commanders of the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups took place in the Turkish city of Antep, according to documents later leaked on the internet. Officials from Turkish State Intelligence (MIT) were also known to have taken part, and plans were drawn up to attack Kurdish areas. Two days later, on July 28th, the massacres in Til Eran and Til Hasil took place.
Later a proclamation published in the name of al-Nusra claims that the organization has signed an agreement with Turkey in which the latter agreed to supply the organization with chemical weapons. Soon after trucks loaded with chemical weapons material were seized in the Hatay and Adana, and those arrested were later released. A weapons market with supplies from the Ukraine is also known to have been established in Kilis, where weapons are transferred to gang members.
On May 19th 70 suspicious persons wanting to cross from South Kurdistan to Rojava were taken into custody by the YPG. In the course of the investigation it was revealed that some of the individuals detained were members of Kurdish political parties and received weapons training. Following this incident the Sêmalka Border Crossing was closed by the government of South Kurdistan.
While certain Kurdish groups were attempting provocative acts, a bomb attack took place in Efrin. In the investigation that followed numerous members of the parties under question were taken in custody and confessed to having received support from Turkey and South Kurdistan. Once again on June 27th a group known as “Brigade 313,” composed of members of certain Kurdish parties and supported by Turkey, began a series of provocations in the city of Amudê, including an attack on a YPG patrol returning from an operation. One YPG fighter was killed and YPG units and local security forces launched a major operation in the city in which many were arrested. Five civilians also died in the fighting.
Effects of the Resistance
As a result of the resistance that the YPG showed in the face of numerous offensives they have inspired a great deal of trust in the local people, including those of other ethnic and religious groups who were originally mistrustful of the YPG. In fact as participation in the YPG/YPJ has grown, YPG brigades have also been formed of Arab residents of the cities of Serêkaniyê and Til Temir, as well as the town of Ebu Raseyn.
After the capture of the Til Koçer Border Crossing, which echoed around the region, thousands of people who had fled to South Kurdistan returned to Rojava. In liberated areas People’s Councils have been formed from local Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and Chechen communities.
When the gang offensives were broken, work on the Government of Democractic Autonomy has sped up and Asuri, Arab, Assyrian and other communities, who were previously leery of the project, have also begun to take part.