Kurdish militiamen and residents have wrested control of yet another town in northeastern Syria near the Turkish and Iraqi borders, in what an activist said was part of an anti-Turkey “dirty game” by the regime.
Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday outside the town of Derik’s security headquarters, the last building abandoned by the army and police, blasting out Kurdish music and hearing speeches in the officially banned Kurdish language.
“We tried to tell Assad's people to leave peacefully. We are a peaceful people”, said Abdi Karim, a 56-year-old officer in the People’s Defense Units (YPG), the militia involved in regaining the town.
The takeover came just days after Kurdish residents backed by militia from the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) took control of three other towns near the border with Turkey as pro-government forces pulled out without a fight.
North and northeast Syria are home to most of the country’s two million-strong Kurdish minority, whose militias operate independently of the rebels’ Free Syrian Army (FSA).
“There are differences between Kurdish anti-regime forces and the Arab opposition, mainly over the question of Kurdish nationalism and recognition of Kurdish as Syria’s second most widely spoken language,” independent Kurdish activist Massud Akko said.
On the ground, YPG member Karim made clear the separation. “If the FSA comes as a guest, we will allow them,” but the non-Kurdish rebels would not be permitted to take over the town, he said.
“We will protect our people from the Turkish, the FSA and Assad,” said Karim.
Akko said Assad's regime forces were handing over territory to the PYD deliberately, saying this explained the relatively peaceful takeover of towns in the region.
“The regime’s handing over of institutions to the PYD is a dirty game,” he said. "It is a message to Turkey, because Turkey is helping the Syrian opposition.”
“I am not saying the party is collaborating with the regime. But the two sides do tolerate each other,” Akko added.
“The Kurds do not have the military capacity to take control of the Kurdish areas. The province of Hasakeh, for one, is Syria’s second-largest region (after Homs).”
Kurdish civilians backed by militia have quietly taken control of a string of towns in Hasakeh, leaving just two of its main cities under the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The YPG is one of several Kurdish anti-regime groups in the region. It is seen by some as affiliated with the PYD, but officials in Derik from the two organizations said they are independent of each other.
Armed YPG members were among those celebrating the regime forces’ departure from Derik. They sported headscarves with the yellow, red and green associated with Turkey's rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
In a jubilant mood, others waved PKK flags and held aloft the red, white and green of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region.
“When Bashar al Assad was here there was no justice. He had a big problem with Kurdish people, he wouldn't accept the Kurdish language,” said Abdulgafu Omar.