A fighter from the People's Defense Units (YPG) in Aleppo, Syria. April 2013. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region –A Kurdish fact-finding mission says in its report that it found no evidence to back media claims of Kurdish massacres by jihadi groups, which are mixed up in Syria’s messy civil war.
According to a report by the nine-member committee, most witnesses said they had seen between 17-25 bodies, after clashes erupted this summer between the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and jihadi fighters of the Jabhat al-Nusrah and Islamic State of Iraq.
The report has not been officially released, but an advance copy was obtained by Rudaw. It says that only a few people reported seeing as many as 80 bodies after the clashes.
“Those who spoke to the committee did not estimate the death toll at 450 persons,” says the mission, referring to media reports which had been released by the PYD, whose affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and de-facto control of Syria’s Kurdish regions has raised tensions with the majority of other groups.
Things also are complicated by claims of the PYD’s backdoor connections with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which the Syrian opposition is fighting to topple. Until the recent clashes with the PYD, the Kurds had largely stayed out of the civil war.
Reports of a mass killing surfaced after media footage of an alleged Kurdish massacre – reporting that 450 villagers had been murdered by jihadis -- was released by the PYD, and shown by Iranian and Russian media. The film was later shown to be false, and unrelated to the Syrian war.
But Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani urged the formation of a committee to conduct a thorough investigation. The team, from the main Kurdish political parties across the Middle East, was entrusted with ascertaining PYD claims of a massacre.
The committee spent five days visiting several locations in Syria’s Kurdish regions, and interviewing dozens of people from places where the massacre had allegedly happened.
Team members interviewed at least 50 people, including men, women in children, from Tel-Haran and Tel-Hasil, two locations where the PYD had claimed the killings had happened.
The report said that the committee could not actually visit the two areas due to war and security risks, but still managed to interview people from both places from other locations.
The findings also noted that the team had failed to visit the town of Amude, where the PYD’s armed wing, People’s Defense Units (YPG) in July opened fire at fellow Kurdish protesters and killed seven.
“Two of the committee members affiliated with the PYD and PKK refused to visit the area on the pretext that what happened there was an internal problem and there was no need for the committee to investigate it,” the report indicated.
It described Syrian Kurdistan as a “dangerous place,” adding that, “Instability and lack of security forces many to leave their homes and businesses every day.
“The situation is particularly dangerous for the Christians, as dozens of them have been kidnapped, including 48 in Hassaka and 15 in Qamishlo in the past two months,” the team writes.
It says that the following groups have been involved in attacks against the Kurds: The al-Nusrah Front, Islamic State of Iraq, the Sham’s Freedom Fighters and the Salahaddin Ayubi Divisions.