All eyes are on the Tell Abyad area, north of Raqqa province, which will seemingly be the most important part of the conflict gripping the region. Its border with Turkey extends over more than 125 kilometers [78 miles] and is a route for many illegal travelers.
Some parties dream of annexing this region to the alleged Kurdish entity. This has been exemplified by the (photographed) map that was circulated by some Kurdish parties after their meeting a few days ago. In the map, the Tell Abyad area is part of Western Kurdistan and is a link between areas harboring Kurds in the two countrysides of northern Hasakah and northern Aleppo.
Not only did the importance of the Tell Abyad area emerge during these days, but the area has also been the main target of opposition militants. Controlling Tell Abyad [which has been held by the Islamic State (IS)] implies opening and securing supply lines (ammunition, medication and armament) with Turkey.
At the end of September 2012, the city was controlled [by the opposition] after the border gate with Turkey was opened for dozens of cars and hundreds of insurgents. Subsequently, the opposition pursued control of the rest of the towns in the region, most notably those that would secure the eastern line and the road to the Ras al-Ain city in Hasakah province, only for the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) to control it at a later stage.
The Tell Abyad region is estimated at about 10,000 square kilometers [3,861 square miles], which is equivalent to the area of Lebanon. In early 2011, the region’s population exceeded 200,000. Its administrative border extends from Ayn al-Arab District (Kobani) westward/Aleppo to the border of Ras al-Ain/Hasakah eastward. Tell Abyad is inhabited by interconnected Arab tribes, mostly the Qais tribe, locally pronounced as Jais.
In the city of Tell Abyad and the near countryside, there are Christians, mostly Armenians, who came to Syria during the Turkish massacres against Armenians early last century. Arabs and Kurds live in the western villages of Tell Abyad up to the Beghdik village. Tell Abyad is located near the village of Khan Jaradi (Bandar Khan), which is inhabited by the Jaradi family that belongs to al-Boujrada tribe. These are mixed and overlapping Arab-Kurdish villages, and there is affinity as well as economic relations among their Arabs and Kurds, similarly to the city of Tell Abyad, where markets and trade movements are operated by Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens and Christians.
The western countryside’s inhabitants constitute a mixture of Kurds, Arabs and Arab tribesmen while the northern countryside that stretches from Tell Abyad to Ras al-Ain in Hasakah is inhabited by Arab tribes.
The tribesmen live on the Turkish side along the borders. Even this area is Arab and is part of Upper Mesopotamia. It is also one of three Syrian governorates — Sanjak of Alexandretta, Kilikia and Upper Mesopotamia — under Turkish control.
Nobody can change these facts despite all the media campaigns, among others, that the area is facing, not to mention the field preparations that some dissident Kurds have been working on. According to media sources, during the meeting that included several Kurdish parties in Qamishli in Hasakah days ago, it was announced that the representative of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) Nouri Brimo presented a map of Syrian Kurdistan to the participants in the meeting. The map linked the three Kurdish self-rule regions from Upper Mesopotamia in northeast Syria, near the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, to Kobani and Afrin in northern Syria near the Turkish borders. There were also demands to ensure a safe passageway between Upper Mesopotamia and Kobani.
In parallel, on the second day of the meeting, Kurdish activists began a campaign to “confirm the Kurdish identity of Tell Abyad” and to consider it part of the Syrian Kurdistan region.
The map that Brimo presented included the whole Tell Abyad area and a large part of Raqqa's northern countryside, including Tell al-Saman areas that are about 40 kilometers [25 miles] away from Raqqa. This means that the map stretches around 70 kilometers [43.5 miles] along the Turkish-Syrian border. It is enough to note that the number of villages that are administratively part of Tell Abyad exceed 630, among which 27 are Kurdish villages.
The battles between the joint forces defending Kobani in the eastern countryside (YPG [People's Protection Units], the peshmerga and Raqqa Revolutionaries’ Brigade) are considered by some Kurdish politicians a prelude to tightening control on Tell Abyad and joining it to the Syrian Kurdistan Region. This is happening under the umbrella of the anti-Islamic State alliance.
In contrast, many of the area’s notables and tribal leaders have declared that any advance by the Kurds to control the area will result in a battle with the Arabs there, especially in light of IS’ withdrawal and retreat, as well as the departure of its foreign members’ families in Tell Abyad toward the city of Raqqa.
In anticipation of this situation, the general commander of the Raqqa Revolutionaries’ Brigade, Abu Issa, said a few days ago that only the Raqqa Revolutionaries will enter Tell Abyad. Yet, developments on the ground indicate otherwise, and perhaps most important among these is the Turkish military's actions. These included the evacuation of the Turkish border region of civilians and the deployment of the Turkish army on the border. This warns of a possible and imminent Turkish military intervention in the event of a Kurdish advance using the war on IS as a pretext to take control over Tell Abyad and to annex it to the region [Syrian Kurdistan]. This is at a time when many Kurdish politicians and people are against this project.
In a statement issued Feb. 15, the Syrian National Youth Party rejected the statement that was issued following a meeting between the Kurdish Democratic Union of Syria, headed by Salih Muslim, the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party, headed by Salah al-Darwish, and the Kurdish opposition factions that met in Istanbul. They considered that the new political regime in Syria must be a federal regime that classifies the Kurds as an ethnicity with a geographic and human unity.
The Syrian National Youth Party, which is licensed by the Syrian government and led by Prewin Ibrahim, who is a Kurd from Qamishli, confirmed that “the Kurds are part the national fabric.”
Nevertheless, according to some of the area residents, the Turkish move on the border will be in collaboration with some of the armed opposition factions based in Turkey. Their entry, alongside the Turkish army, which may content itself with backup, will prompt many of the area residents to join them, and to unify against IS on the one hand, and against the Kurds’ expansion towards the city on the other.
At the opposite side, an IS defeat in Tell Abyad, which it took control of in January 2014, would be the harshest against the organization, given its geographical location on the Turkish border. Thus, the door would be closed to those willing to join this organization from abroad.
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