The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian front of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), is the leading group in the administration of the Kurdish areas in north-eastern Syria. The PYD and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have become the preferred instrument of the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS) and as a by-product have been assisted in conquering some Arab-majority zones of northern Syria—and perhaps soon of eastern Syria. The PYD/PKK has always treated all dissent harshly and the Kurdish opposition in recent days has reported an escalation in repression by the PYD, which the West—as has become a habit in cases of PYD misbehaviour—has made no public protest about.
THE PYD’S AUTHORITARIAN REGIME
The PYD regime promulgated a law on 13 March, based on a previous order, “Decree Number Five” of 15 April 2014, demanding that all “unlicensed” political parties register with the authorities within twenty-four hours or “we will be forced to close the office and duly transfer the official to the judiciary.”
The Kurdish opposition, including the Kurdish National Council (KNC), also known by its Kurdish acronym ENKS, objected to this ruling on three grounds:
- First, as the KNC office in Berlin put it to me, nobody has elected the PYD. The PYD announced its interim administration in November 2013 after the areas were handed to them in July 2012 by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the hopes of keeping the Kurds out of the then-widening revolution.
- Secondly, this vetting procedure is not objective. Though PYD claimed at the foundation of its government to be ruling in alliance with fifty other organizations, these groups “either have close ties to the PYD or are unknown,” KNC Berlin says. This law, for example, says that “no political parties can have any ties to foreign parties,” KNC Berlin went on, which could be used to ban the Kurdistan Democratic Party-Syria (PDK‑S), the sister party of Masud Barzani’s Iraqi-Kurdish KDP. “It can be safely assumed, however, that the PYD will not employ the law to ban itself, even though it is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is based in Turkey.” (Indeed, while the nature of the power centres in the PYD-run areas remains secret, there is little mystery: it is widely suspected that “real power is wielded by shadowy military commanders who have fought with the PKK in Turkey”.)
- Which means, third, this was a clear attempt to criminalize all political actors except the PYD and in effect formalize the one-party regime.
The next day, 14 March, according to a statement released by the KNC/ENKS today, a series of attacks against them by the PYD began. By now, the PYD “have abducted and arbitrarily detained” at least forty KNC members in more than nine cities across the area controlled by the PYD, which is often called “Rojava”. “In addition to the detentions, attacks against offices of the KNC and its member parties have taken place,” the statement added. “More than twenty offices have been torched or demolished, and subsequently were sealed up by PYD security forces.” Shortly before these attacks, the PYD had closed down the office of a Christian group, the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO) in Hasaka.
On 4 March, the PYD arbitrarily detained thirty-six politicians, most of them PDK-S members. Around the same time, the headquarters of three opposition parties in Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ayn) and Qamishli were sacked by the PYD.
On International Women’s Day (8 March)—heavily exploited by the PYD, which uses its female fighters as a central point of its propaganda, framing its state-building project as a fight against IS and using the language of universalist liberal values—the PYD’s (male) police forces, the Asayish, stormed IWD meetings and arrested numerous people.
During one of the IWD events, Dr. Khaled Issa, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party (PDPKS), was stabbed by a mob of PYD youth. A number of women were arrested the next day as they tried to organise an IWD event independent of the PYD and the offices of the PDPKS were put to the torch.
This morning, in conformity with its promise, the PYD burned to the ground the office of the Kurdish Women’s Union or HJKS in Derik (Al-Malikiya) because it did not have a license that only the PYD can issue.
The persecution of dissent by the PYD is hardly new. In 2011 and 2012, the PYD was accused of murdering Kurdish politicians Mishal Tammo, Nasruddin Birhik, and Mahmud Wali (Abu Jandi). The current vivacity in oppression can probably be dated to August 2016, when the PYD arrested a dozen Kurdish opponents, kidnapped several more over a series of days, and beat and imprisoned those who protested about it. Ibrahim Biro, the overall head of the KNC, was expelled from the PYD-ruled areas into Iraq and told he would be murdered if he returned.
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