Self-Administration shuts down offices of political opposition in northeastern Kurdish canton as rivals blast ‘illegitimate’ move

AMMAN: Security forces loyal to the dominant Kurdish political party in Syria’s northeastern Al-Hasakah province are closing down nearly all offices and headquarters belonging to their political opponents.

As of Wednesday afternoon, at least 16 offices of political groups opposed to the PYD in several towns had been shut down by Asayish police forces and had their doors sealed with red wax, a member of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Syria told Syria Direct.

“Only one KNC headquarters is still open, in Qamishli city,” said Roula Sabri, a member of the KNC and a leader of the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria party. “According to the information available to us, it could be stormed in the coming hours.”

The KNC is the main political opposition to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which leads the Self-Administration governing Kurdish-held territories, including the Jazira canton in Al-Hasakah, in northeastern Syria. The Asayish are the Self-Administration’s police force.

The closures came after the Self-Administration’s Internal Affairs Entity issued an ultimatum to unlicensed political organizations in Jazira province—which include the KNC—on Monday afternoon, giving them 24 hours to apply for licenses or authorities would be “forced to close the offices.”

 The co-heads of the Internal Affairs Entity in Jazira Canton speak at a press conference on Monday. Photo courtesy of Internal Affairs Entity.

A 2014 law requires that all political parties in territories governed by the Self-Administration apply for a license. However, for the past three years, the KNC and its allies have not done so.

“For three years, we called for them to apply for licenses and gave them a chance to do so voluntarily,” Kanaan Barakat, the co-head of the Self-Administration’s Internal Affairs Entity, the body that issued the 24-hour ultimatum, told Syria Direct on Wednesday. “The canton is subject to laws that must be applied.”

Representatives of four political parties did apply for licenses to operate in the canton within the 24-hour window, the Self-Administration reported on Tuesday. The KNC and a number of other PYD-opposed parties chose not to.

“We held a meeting to discuss it,” KNC member Sabri told Syria Direct. “We refused this decision and will refuse all of their decisions because they are illegitimate.”

“We are licensed by our people, and the Kurdish street,” said Sabri. “We don’t need their licenses.”

As a result, when time ran out on Tuesday evening, the Asayish began shutting down offices and headquarters belonging to the KNC, Yekiti, KDP and other parties and their affiliated organizations in towns throughout the canton.

The closures are not the first time that the PYD-led Self-Administration and the KNC have been at odds. The Self-Administration has sporadically arrested political opponents in the territories it governs in recent years.

The move by the Self-Administration to enforce the three-year-old political parties law in the territories it controls comes two weeks after violent clashes broke out between the KNC-aligned Rojava Peshmerga and PKK-affiliated Sinjar Resistance Units in Shingal, Iraqi Kurdistan.

The PYD, the strongest component of the Self-Administration, has close ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, while the KNC is backed by Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Arrests and office burnings

Amidst the crackdown on unlicensed political organizations, several people were arrested and a number of offices were reportedly attacked and burned, according to sources on the ground.

Internal Affairs Entity co-head Barakat confirmed to Syria Direct that “two or three” people were arrested for resisting the shutdown of the offices, adding that they “will be soon released.”

Among those reportedly detained was Abdelwahhab Karami, the KNC leader in the town of Amouda.

A number of headquarters were also reportedly attacked and burned in attacks by “individuals in civilian clothing,” KNC member Sabri told Syria Direct. In the past week, seven additional locations linked to opposition parties in Jazira canton were also burned, she said.

An unidentified explosive was reportedly detonated outside the KNC office in Girke Lege, also known as Muabadah, on Tuesday evening.

“Our forces and supporters did not burn or attack the offices, and those responsible have been arrested,” Interior Affairs Entity co-head Barakat told Syria Direct. “The security situation is unstable in Syria, and these things would happen in any state living in these circumstances.”

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.