Popular protests in areas of SDF control in the Deir Ezzor countryside have continued for months, becoming more organized and making clearer and bigger demands as they have gone on.
Demands for services and livelihoods, such as the provision of fuel, electricity, and food, have developed into protests against Kurdish control and demands for self-rule.
Areas of protests
The area of the protests has expanded and begun to spread towards different cities and municipalities. Protests that began in early April in the villages of Kasra, Mahaymida and Junaynah in western Deir Ezzor quickly spread to the villages of the northern and eastern countryside.
During the height of the protests, demonstrations were recorded in the villages of Daman and Hasayn, the city of Al-Busayrah and the townships of Shuhayl, Tiyana, Abu Hardoub, Kasra and Mahaymida, and internal roads were cut off throughout Deir Ezzor.
Recently, the protests have moved to the countryside of Al-Hasakah Governorate, where demonstrations took place in the southern villages, especially the village of Alwa Shamsani.
Ahmed Salim Al-Nasr, a protestor from the village of Kasra, said that the protests would continue until the people’s demands were met, and there is a coordinated effort to increase the protests throughout the countryside of Deir Ezzor, Al-Hasakah and Raqqa, all under SDF control.
Salim added that ‘the protests have taken place completely peacefully, and there are no current intentions to achieve our demands militarily.’
Causes of the protests
There are many reasons behind the outbreak of protests, the most important being the deterioration of living conditions in the areas under SDF control, where there has been a rise in the prices of food and fuel.
Furthermore, arbitrary arrests of civilians on various charges, such as working with ISIS or Turkey, continue. Detainees have reportedly been subjected to torture, with three civilians killed in detention last April alone. Many detentions have been recorded among the residents of camps in the Deir Ezzor countryside, and these people have not been permitted to return to their villages, such as Albagouz and Sousse.
Bureaucratic and financial corruption in the districts of SDF civil councils, the policy of mandatory conscription and a lack of an Arab stake in the administration of the region are other sticking points.
Over the past two months, the SDF has held two meetings with prominent tribal figures to try to bring the protests to a halt. The first one was in the area of Aziba, west of Deir Ezzor, with elders of the Baqqara clan, while the second was in the area of Muamil, north of Deir Ezzor, with elders of the Bakir clan.
The SDF requested the attendance of representative protestors at the Muamil meeting, but they refused and instead sent a 10-point summary of their demands:
- Halting the security apparatus’s arbitrary campaign against innocent people
- Freeing those detained on fraudulent reports and concocted accusations of working with ISIS or Euphrates Shield
- Releasing women and children from the region who are being held in camps
- Halting cooperation with the regime and the smuggling of oil
- Activating the role of the region’s leaders in the SDF
- Treating the people of Hasakah and Raqqa well and allowing them to enter and exit the region without a sponsor
- Eliminating mandatory conscription
- Eliminating the role of cadres present in the civil council and activating the role of heads of committees and the head of the civil council
- Providing fuel and electricity
- Not suppressing demonstrators
- Ending the problems of the military leadership with civilians
Amid the protests in the region, the Al-Akidat tribe held a tribal meeting in May in Shuhayl. Representatives of all the tribe’s components joined the meeting under the supervision of Jamil Rashid Al-Hafel, one of the most prominent tribal elders.
The meeting ended with the tribe’s declaration of its demands, comprised of five items. The coalition must hand over the administration of the region to its people, free those held in SDF prisons under fraudulent reports, cease arrests, eliminate camps and allow residents to return to their villages. The last demand, emphasizing the need to expel Iranian and Russian militias from west of the Euphrates, is the most important. The Akidat tribe stated its willingness to cooperate with the coalition to achieve this matter militarily and politically.
SDF responses and attempt to exploit the regime and Russia
Neither the Autonomous Administration nor the SDF responded, even in the media covering these protests. Instead, the responses came from accounts of associated activists, attacking the demonstrators and accusing them of being from ISIS or Arab chauvinists ‘employed’ by the Assad regime, Iran and Turkey. The protestors confronted this situation with ridicule, questioning who – referring to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units – is embracing the Assad headquarters in Hasakah and Qamishli, supplying oil to the Assad regime, and negotiating with it.
In their media, the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia tried to exploit the situation by saying they were behind it or to convert it to their advantage, claiming that the aim of the protestors was to expel the US-Kurdish ‘occupation’ of the region, and that the Syrian army and its allies would enter as an alternative.
The regime’s attempt to exploit the situation compelled the protestors to confirm their rejection of the entry of the army and its allies, since they consider the American presence the sole guarantee against an attack against them by militias of the regime and Iran. In turn, they held the American regime responsible for the activities of the SDF using American support as cover for repression
‘An explosive situation’
The head of the Independent Arab Current, Mohammad Al-Shaker, said that the reality of the Arab component east of the Euphrates is bitter, ‘the result of marginalization and exclusion by the Kurdish component that dominates the administration of the region and its wealth.’
He added that ‘the continued exclusionary approach against the Arab component may lead to an explosive situation in the region and the outbreak of a nationalist conflict between Arabs and Kurds.’ He stressed that ‘the explosion of the situation would put the region in great danger, namely the potential for the regime and Iran to exploit the tension and attempt to assert dominance over East Euphrates or even to create an unstable environment through its security operations that brings ISIS back to the forefront in the region.’
Regarding possible solutions, Al-Shaker noted: ‘The solution lies in handing over the administration of the region to its people, activating a participatory role among components and equitably distributing the wealth in these areas.’