Amnesty: Kurdish civilians under fire by Syrian opposition in Aleppo

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Kurdish civilians are seen in the besieged Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo. Photo: ARA News

ARA News 

ALEPPO – Amnesty International said they have documented serious violations of international law by armed groups in Aleppo against the Kurds, killing and injuring more than 800 civilians in indiscriminate shelling. 

The violations are mainly carried out by groups that are part of the Aleppo Conquest coalition. It includes Division 16 that has fought heavily with Kurdish groups.

The Aleppo Conquest coalition is comprised of some 31 armed groups that co-ordinate attacks against Syrian government forces, ISIS and the Kurds in Aleppo governorate.

“These include attacks between February and April 2016 in which indiscriminate shelling and the use of improvised explosive weapons killed or injured approximately 800 civilians living in Sheikh Maqsoud, a [Kurdish] residential neighbourhood held by the People’s Protection Units,” Amnesty said.

Amnesty International welcomed Aleppo Conquest’s statement of May 2016 affirming the armed groups’ commitment to respect international humanitarian law and announcing that it would investigate the attacks, but it is not aware of what steps have been taken since.

Especially the Kurdish neighbourhood Sheikh Maqsoud has suffered, and  has been surrounded from the west and north by Division 16 since 2015, Amnesty said.

A worker of a local field hospital provided Amnesty International at least with names of 25 abducted civilians that were captured by Division 16 between 2012 and 2016.

“Residents of Sheikh Maqsoud have to go through the neighbourhoods of Aleppo city that are under the control of Division 16 before arriving at Afrin [a predominantly Kurdish town in the northern part of Aleppo governorate]. Many people were abducted between 2013 and 2015 so people eventually stopped taking the risk,” the worker told Amnesty.

“A new route opened to Afrin from Sheikh Maqsoud after the Syrian government regained control of parts of the north of Aleppo governorate in 2016,” he said.

Amnesty International managed to talk to two women who were abducted by Division 16. Lamia told Amnesty how her mother Farida Sleiman was abducted by Division 16 from Sakan al-Shababi neighbourhood in Aleppo city, and went missing since 21 August 2013.

“My mum left Sheikh Maqsoud in the morning to attend a dental appointment in the part of Aleppo city that was under the control of the opposition. She left and never came back,” she said.

“Three days following my neighbour’s release, my brother went to Sakan al-Shababi to ask about our mother. He called me saying that he was able to locate the detention centre run by Division 16. It was the last time I heard from him,” she said.

“To date, we don’t have any news about their fate and we are too afraid to approach Division 16,” she added.

Hussam, a Kurd, recounted how his mother, aged 60, was abducted by Division 16 in early 2013.

“My mother and my sister were on their way to Afrin when they were abducted at a checkpoint in al-Ashrafieh neighbourhood,” he said. “The taxi driver warned my sister that they were approaching a checkpoint controlled by Division 16. The group took them as soon as they found out that they were from Sheikh Maqsoud,” he added.

“A Kurdish man released a few months ago told me that my mother and two other Kurdish women were working in the kitchen in one of the detention centres under Division 16. I am happy that she is alive but I am afraid to go and ask about her,” he said.

ARA News also managed to talked to other Kurdish civilians who were captured by the Free Syrian Army in the past.

Ahmed Mahmud (29), a Kurd from Kobane, was arrested by notorious Division 16 field commander Khaled Hayani a few years ago and stayed more than two months in prison.

Hayani was killed last year in fighting with the Syrian government. 

“We were arrested by the FSA in Aleppo when we wanted to buy cars,” he said. “When they asked us where we were going, I said Manbij, we couldn’t say Kobane because we would be arrested, but because my ID said Kobane, we got captured,” Mahmud told ARA News. 

As a result, all of their cars and money were stolen. “They accused us of two things: either you are a PKK-member, or you are part of the Syrian regime,” he said.

For more than two months he stayed in a FSA prison was tortured daily. When he was released, the FSA group asked thousands of dollars.

“35,000 dollars and my car were gone. They are just thieves and looters, it’s not a revolution, a revolution is not like this, they looted all stores in the markets of Aleppo,” he said.

According to Idris Nassan, a former official in the Kobane administration, initially many Kurds supported the Syrian revolution and protested against the Syrian regime in 2011. “We were cheering for the FSA and asked them to protect us,” he said.

But increasingly the groups became influenced by Islamism and lost their secularist background, and Syrian opposition leaders made racist comments against Kurds, and as a result protests in Kurdish areas stopped.

“The groups were increasingly controlled by religious ideas and chauvinism and we gave up on this revolution. I call it a crisis now, not revolution anymore. The demands of the people were for freedom, democracy and secularism, and not for a caliphate or Islamism,” he told ARA News. 

Another problem he said was the support from regional countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for Islamist groups. “This is the big problem, Turkey only supports Islamists, who are also getting paid by Saudi and Qatar,” he said. 

“In Aleppo and Idleb today, armed groups have free rein to commit war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law with impunity. Shockingly, we have also documented armed groups using the same methods of torture that are routinely used by the Syrian government,” Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

“States that are members of the International Syria Support Group  including the USA, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are involved in negotiations over Syria, must pressure armed groups to end such abuses and comply with the laws of war. They must also cease any transfer of arms or other support to groups implicated in committing war crimes and other gross violations,” Philip Luther concluded.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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