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الصعود الهش للحزب الديمقراطي الكردي pyd
الصعود الهش للحزب الديمقراطي الكردي pyd
Virus Fears Spread at Camps for ISIS Families in Syria’s North East
Virus Fears Spread at Camps for ISIS Families in Syria’s North East

الصعود الهش للحزب الديمقراطي الكردي pyd

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الملخص التنفيذي

مع انخراط النظام السوري والمعارضة السورية في معركة كرّ وفرّ، أحكمت القوات الكردية سيطرتها على أجزاء كبيرة من شمال البلاد. ويسيطر اللاعبون الرئيسيون في هذه القوات، أي حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي الكردي pyd وجناحه المسلّح، قوات الحماية الشعبية، الآن على ثلاثة جيوب غير متصلة في المناطق ذات الأغلبية الكردية على الحدود التركية، والتي أعلن حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd في تشرين الثاني/نوفمبر 2012 إقامة إدارة مؤقتة فيها لكردستان الغربية. إن قيام إدارة كردية أمر غير مسبوق بالنسبة لسورية وكذلك بالنسبة للحزب، الذي يتفرّع عن حركة التمرد الكردية في تركيا المعروفة بحزب العمال الكردستاني، والذي يستمد منها الدعم الأيديولوجي، والتنظيمي والعسكري. لكن من غير الواضح ما إذا كانت هذه خطوة أولى نحو تحقيق الاستقرار والتطلّعات الكردية بالحصول على الاعتراف، أو مجرّد هدنة في حين تستعر الحرب الأهلية في أماكن أخرى من البلاد. لن يقرر حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd وحده مصير شمال سورية، لكنه يمكن أن يحسّن فرصه بتوسيع القبول الشعبي به والتعاون مع القوى المحلية الأخرى.

رغم جميع النجاحات التي حققها حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd، فإن صعود نجمه متوهَّم في جزء كبير منه، ويمكن أن يعزى ليس إلى قوّته هو بل إلى صلاته بالقوى الإقليمية الأخرى. وقد تتمثل أهم هذه الصلات في تحالفه بحكم الأمر الواقع مع النظام، الذي سلّمه المناطق واستمر بتقديم الدعم المادي لهذه المناطق. كما تعود مكاسب الحزب إلى الدعم الذي يتلقاه من حزب العمال الكردستاني. حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd هو عملياً جزء أيديولوجي، وتنظيمي وعسكري من هذا التنظيم اليساري الذي ينضوي نظرياً تحت مظلة اتحاد الجاليات الكردية. وهو يستفيد أيديولوجياً من سمعة عبد الله أوجلان، الزعيم المخضرم للحزب. وبدعم من حزب العمال الكردستاني، أصبحت قوات الحماية الشعبية أقوى قوة عسكرية في المناطق التي يسكنها الأكراد، وتمثَّل أحد نجاحاتها في منع المقاتلين الجهاديين من دخول هذه المناطق؛ وقد يكون وجود هؤلاء المقاتلين الجهاديين هو السبب الأكثر أهمية في المحافظة على توحّد الأكراد في هذه المناطق.

لكن المفارقة هي أن هذه العوامل نفسها، والتي تعتبر حاسمة لنجاح حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd، تشكّل هي نفسها نقطة ضعفه. أولاً، فقد قيّد إرث حزب العمال الكردستاني حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd بثقافة سلطوية متصلّبة وبرنامج غامض لا يتوافق مع التطلعات الشعبية. إن أسلوب الإدارة ثقيل الوطأة يؤدي في أحسن الأحوال إلى قبوله على مضض في أوساط جمهور يبدو جيله الشاب، على وجه الخصوص، متطلعاً إلى شيء مختلف.

ثانياً، لقد كان للشكوك التي تدور حول تعاونه مع النظام أثراً سلبياً على شعبيته؛ حيث احتفظت سلطات دمشق بوجود خفيف لكن حازم في المناطق التي يسيطر عليها حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd، الذي يذكر أنه يعمل في أغلب الحالات تحت السطح. حتى مع تخلّي هذه السلطات عن السيطرة على بعض أصول الدولة (خصوصاً المباني الإدارية والأمنية) للحزب، فإنها احتفظت بسيطرتها على موارد الدولة، وتستمر في توزيعها، والتي من دونها سيتلاشى مشروع كردستان الغربية.

ثالثاً، لقد أدى تنافس حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd على الهيمنة مع قوى كان يمكن أن تكون حليفة له، وأهمها الحزب الديمقراطي الكردستاني بزعامة مسعود برزاني، رئيس حكومة إقليم كردستان العراق، إلى عدم ارتياح شعبي وإلى إنهاك الحزب، ما سمح لقوى إقليمية ـ خصوصاً تركيا وإيران ـ باستغلال الأطراف المختلفة لتحقيق مصالحها الخاصة. يحتفظ برزاني بعلاقات جيدة مع أنقرة وواشنطن، وبالتالي لم يُترك لحزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd من حلفاء سوى دمشق، وإيران، وإلى حد ما، الحكومة التي يقودها نوري المالكي في بغداد.

هذه التحدّيات تطرح أسئلة حول عمق واستمرارية مشروع كردستان الغربية. بالنسبة لأنصار حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd، فإنها نواة الحكم الذاتي الكردي في المستقبل. أما بالنسبة لمنتقديه، فإنها لا تعدو كونها قشرة جوفاء، وأداة في يد النظام. من الصعب تحديد الطريق إلى المستقبل بالنسبة لكردستان الغربية. إن اعتمادها على النظام ينفّر أطرافاً كثيرة، إلاّ أن أي خطوة للتقارب مع شركاء أكراد ولاعبين آخرين يخاطر بزعزعة سيطرته على الأرض من خلال تقويض علاقاته مع دمشق.

من غير المرجّح الحصول على الحقوق الكردية ـ ناهيك عن تحقيق الاستقرار المحلي بعيد المدى ـ من خلال تخلي حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd عن حلفائه الطبيعيين مقابل شراكة مصلحية مع نفس النظام الذي حرم الأكراد من هذه الحقوق لفترة طويلة. ما يحتاجه جميع سكان شمال سورية، الأكراد وغير الأكراد، هو استراتيجية مشتركة للتعامل مع دمشق ومع الأقليات الأخرى في المنطقة. وهذا يتطلب أن يقوم حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي pyd بما يلي:

  • تقليص اعتماده الكبير على قوّته العسكرية وعلى النظام وبدلاً من ذلك توسيع قاعدة أنصاره بين السكان الأكراد وغير الأكراد، إضافة إلى الشرائح الأكثر براغماتية داخل المعارضة السورية؛
     
  • إعداد استراتيجية، بالمشاركة مع القواعد المؤيدة له، لإيجاد بديل للنظام كمقدّم للخدمات، وضمان وصول المنطقة إلى الموارد؛
     
  • تنويع العلاقات مع القوى الأجنبية لتقليص قدرتها على استغلال التوترات بين المجموعات المختلفة لمصلحتها.

بالنسبة للشركاء المحتملين، وللحزب الديمقراطي الكردستاني على وجه الخصوص، فإن ذلك سيعني التخلي عن سياسة عدم الانخراط مع حزب بات يعتبره كثيرون متواطئاً مع النظام. لن يكون توحيد شمال سورية مهمة سهلة، إلاّ أن المزايا التي يمكن أن يحققها ذلك تفوق صعوبة المهمة، والتي تتمثل في التحرّر من نظام من المرجح أن يعود إلى توجيه اهتمامه الوحشي ضد شمال البلاد.

أربيل/بروكسل، 8 أيار/مايو 2014

A general view of al-Hol camp in al-Hasakeh governorate, Syria, 8 August 2019. AFP/Delil SOULEIMAN

Virus Fears Spread at Camps for ISIS Families in Syria’s North East

Disease has long been a daily concern at al-Hol, a detention camp in north-eastern Syria for families of ISIS militants, but now each death raises anxiety about COVID-19. With repatriations on hold, the UN and other international bodies must step up medical and humanitarian aid.

When someone dies at al-Hol, a detention camp in north-eastern Syria that holds mostly women and children related to ISIS militants, the blame turns rapidly to COVID-19. Fears are mounting about the illness, even though there are no confirmed cases, and even though untimely death is already common, due to harsh living conditions and other infectious diseases that kill dozens of people on average each month.

Scary rumours started spreading in al-Hol early in March, when a three-year-old child and a seventy-five-year old woman, both Russian citizens, died. It was definitely COVID-19, some women maintained. Others said the child had died of tuberculosis and the woman of a heart attack. As camp authorities instructed residents to stay in their tents and shops in the camp’s market began to shut, women started stockpiling food and water. When guards dug a perimeter trench, one frightened woman blurted out that they were readying mass graves. A deep disquiet arose as well in Roj, a smaller detention camp close to the Iraqi border. Women in both camps began calling and texting relatives abroad if they felt sick, frantically recounting their symptoms. “We’re having conversations about how we expect to die here”, one wrote.

Crisis Group has been unable to visit the camps under present conditions. But from telephone calls and WhatsApp/Telegram messages with camp residents and their relatives as well as with UN officials and humanitarian organisation staffers, a vivid sense of panic emerges.

As in all displacement camps in Iraq and Syria, people live without clean water, adequate food or reliable medical services – much less soap, hand sanitisers or protective gear. Al-Hol and Roj hold 66,000 and 4,000 women and children, respectively, most of them relatives of ISIS militants but some former affiliates of the group themselves. The majority are either Syrians or Iraqis, with the numbers roughly split, and around 13,500 are from other countries. Their hazy legal status as neither combatants nor civilians, and the stigma attached to them, discourages some UN aid bodies from providing any service at all. It also puts doctors and guards in the position of looking after women whom they view as unrepentant ISIS militants.

Should this virus hit places like al-Hol, we risk being in a position where we are just going to watch people die.

As of now, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in either camp, though there are no testing kits, either. But with a key border crossing from Iraq, Faysh Khabour, closed because of the virus, cutting off aid supplies, and medical capacity in the region direly limited, the outlook is bleak. “They already have a hard time isolating tuberculosis cases, so forget social distancing”, Fabrizio Carboni, regional director for the Near and Middle East at the International Committee of the Red Cross, told Crisis Group. “Should this virus hit places like al-Hol, or much of north east Syria, we risk being in a position where we are just going to watch people, the most vulnerable, die”.

Winter scene from al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria in March 2020. This photograph was shared with support group members by a camp resident who wished to remain anonymous.

Since the last ISIS strongholds in Syria fell in early 2019, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led militia that partnered with the U.S.-led coalition, has largely been left to deal with tens of thousands of ISIS detainees and affiliated family members. Many of the detainees’ home countries refuse to take them back. In addition to al-Hol and Roj, which mostly house women and children, the SDF struggles to guard, care for and feed thousands of men and boys crammed into makeshift prisons. It receives some U.S. funding, but its resources are woefully lacking. The anti-ISIS coalition has been slow to deliver extra support – more training for guards and new equipment – that it promised for overseeing detainees. Humanitarian workers describe these sites as ridden with tuberculosis and perilously overcrowded, with one speaking of “dramatic mortality rates”.

Following ISIS’s defeat the authorities inherited a fragile health system and destroyed infrastructure.

On 30 March, ISIS detainees rioted and overran a prison in Hassakeh city, ripping off doors and taking control of one floor of the facility. It took nearly a day for the SDF to quell the uprising and determine that no one had escaped. The militants had been compelled to break out, SDF authorities later said, partly by fear of contracting the virus in such cramped quarters. The prospect that something similar could happen at al-Hol, where tensions flared regularly between militant women and camp guards even in pre-pandemic times, worries Western officials, as well as the Autonomous Administration of north-eastern Syria, the political entity that governs the SDF-protected region.

The strain of guarding so many detainees is overwhelming the Autonomous Administration. Badran Çiya Kurd, one of its senior officials, told Crisis Group that it must look after not just camps like al-Hol but also a native population of over five million (a recent UN estimate cites three million), as well as a million internally displaced Syrians. Following ISIS’s defeat, he said, the authorities inherited a fragile health system and destroyed infrastructure, the overhaul of which required massive international support just to meet the population’s basic needs, let alone ward off a pandemic. The camps, he continued, would be hardest hit, because of overcrowding and lack of facilities and preparedness: “Any spreading of the virus will lead to unprecedented catastrophe”. Much of the north east’s population relies on daily jobs to get by, forcing workers to choose between self-isolation measures and survival. The area has also suffered from Turkey cutting the water supply it controls from Allouk station, a step emanating from disputes between Ankara and the SDF over the exchange of water and electricity between regions the two respectively control. The water is now flowing again, but it has yet to reach civilians in a number of areas. The loss of the Yaroubia border crossing with Iraq earlier in the year (a January UN resolution failed to re-authorise its use), Çiya Kurd said, was now causing intense hardship, reducing the movement of humanitarian aid into the area, in a manner now compounded by the recent COVID-related closure of Faysh Khabour.

As camp managers struggled in late March to get a doctor into Roj, citing increasing demand for medics in the area, women took to selling each other goods at inflated prices as anxiety grew in both camps. Huddled on the dirt floor in her six square meters tent in with her four children, a 31-year-old French woman texted from al-Hol to her mother back home that she feared they’d had their last full meal for a while. A Syrian woman wrote that she felt ill, had no tent for shelter and worried about who would care for her two boys if she died. Another Syrian woman said a local NGO came to instruct women on how to wash their hands properly. But usually, she added, there isn’t enough water in al-Hol for regular hand washing. “We don’t understand what is going on, so people are scared”, she said. “It’s hard to breathe”, another woman in Roj said by text to Alexandra Bain, director of the Canada-based Families Against Violent Extremism, “and we have heavy coughs”. In exchanges Bain showed to Crisis Group, women in the camps, using shared phones, described “never-ending coughing”, fever and successive days without access to a doctor or basic pain medications.

The messages paint a picture of an area already acutely lacking in medical personnel and supplies, where need is greatest in hospitals and camps recede in priority, and where nervous doctors reprimand women for asking about the virus. Sometimes the messages are punctuated by asides (“Ahhh, my daughter just vomited”); sometimes by desperation (“some people here want to take their own lives”); and sometimes by resignation (“if corona hits here, we are done for”).

An Iraqi refugee carries her child as she walks around in a camp in al-Hol, Syria, 13 March 2017. AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN

Though the majority of these camps’ inhabitants are children and women under 50, a great many may already suffer from pneumonia, chest infections and tuberculosis. These “co-morbidities”, says Will Turner, emergency operations manager at Médecins Sans Frontières, put the camp population in elevated peril from the coronavirus. The danger is highest in areas like the “foreigners’ annex”, where non-Syrians and non-Iraqis are housed. Due to difficult access negotiations between aid groups and camp authorities, the annex has received no direct medical services in months. Even trying to pass COVID-19 health advice into the annex is a challenge; the camp does not officially permit women detainees to have mobile phones and will not allow the distribution of flyers inside.

The “foreigners’ annex” has received no direct medical services in months.

As of mid-March, at least two countries had active repatriation plans under way for the foreigners in the camps, one for a small number of detainees and the other for a significant number that – in a rare occurrence – included men. Getting to this stage typically requires ceaseless and multi-layered political wrangling – within home governments, and between those governments and north-eastern Syria’s governing authorities. But for now, COVID-19 has disrupted these plans. “This definitely means a halt to repatriations”, one Western official told Crisis Group. “[No one] can commit resources to repatriation now or for the foreseeable future”.

It is likely that COVID-19 will afflict the whole of the north east, indeed all of Syria, including regions under state control and the rebel-held pocket of Idlib. The authorities in the north east cannot be expected to bear the entire burden of this escalating and enormously trying humanitarian crisis. The majority of the population in al-Hol and Roj are children, and whether they are Iraqi, Syrian or of some other nationality, their well-being and that of their caregivers needs safeguarding.

The U.S. should push both the Iraqi authorities and the Autonomous Administration in the north east to agree to a regular, two-way humanitarian exemption to the temporary border closure at Faysh Khabour, so that aid groups working across the Iraqi border can maintain their activities and supply lines in both directions. To be persuasive to the Iraqi and SDF authorities alike, this request should be accompanied by delivery of humanitarian aid and COVID-19-relevant kits and equipment for the populations in Syria’s north east and Iraq proper, including other displaced persons camps. International bodies, in particular the UN, should make a major push to provide health education and test kits. The SDF, for its part, should continue to release as many Syrians from al-Hol as possible, reducing the camp’s congestion. But one border crossing is not enough: the UN Security Council should also consider immediately re-authorising the use of Yaroubia as a humanitarian access point into the north east. Waiting for the next resolution on the logistics of aid delivery into Syria, likely this summer, would result in a damaging delay. Moscow should reverse its earlier position and refrain from opposing the reopening of Yaroubia, as Damascus has not permitted the delivery of health supplies through its territory in a way that would compensate for its closing.

The UN Security Council should consider immediately re-authorising the use of Yaroubia as a humanitarian access point into the north east.

At no time in recent months have prospects for the men, women and children detained in these camps looked more uncertain. While the Autonomous Administration is seeking to step up the release of Syrian detainees at al-Hol, for Iraqis and other non-Syrians the chances of leaving do not look good. The painfully slow process of repatriation by home governments, already so fraught within states’ domestic politics, is now frozen, and it will take a monumental effort to make it a priority again anytime in the near future. Which is why women’s anxiety about the virus, together with the symptoms they are presently experiencing, merges with a more generalised panic about the future.