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‘They Held a Knife on Our Necks’

“I was not scared from the beginning and I am still not scared,” said Walat. “I fight to protect my people, my life here and the land I am standing on.” Photo by Carl Drott
“I was not scared from the beginning and I am still not scared,” said Walat. “I fight to protect my people, my life here and the land I am standing on.” Photo by Carl Drott


By Carl Drott

DERIK, Syrian Kurdistan—Walat and a fellow Syrian Kurdish fighter had little time to react when they were attacked in late July by al-Qaeda forces on a frontline close to the Syrian-Kurdish border.

Walat, 27, who has been fighting for the Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG), said the attackers came in tanks and armored personnel carriers and were from Jabhat al-Nusrah, one of the many al-Qaeda affiliates fighting in the increasingly comples Syrian civil war.

“As soon as they reached our positions, they got off the tanks and started shooting. My friend had to retreat through a tunnel and I stayed to give him covering fire,” said Walat, who like most fighters goes by a nom de guerre.

While his friend managed to get away, Walat himself was captured and beaten with rifle butts by his Islamist captors. Together with a female YPG fighter who was captured in the same battle outside the village of Yusifiye, he was taken to an underground prison in the area of Souk al-Hurra in Til Kocer.

The female fighter was placed in her own cell, while Walat was locked up with a fellow YPG combatant who was captured in an earlier battle.

Over the next few days, the Kurdish prisoners were beaten, terrorised and threatened with a knife.

 “They were beating and terrorising us,” said Walat. “Sometimes they held a knife to our necks and told us that they would cut them.”

The leader – or emir -- of the unit that captured Walat went by the name of Ahmad al-Shami, his last name indicating he was a Syrian, most likely from Damascus.

Walat remembers that while some of the Islamist fighters were Syrian nationals, others had come from countries like Egypt and Tunisia. He said there were even a few Kurds from Turkey or Iraq among the Islamists.

After three or four days the beatings and threats ceased. During common visits to the bathroom, Walat discovered that there were also civilian men and women in the prison. He later learned that they had been abducted from the town of Serekaniye (Ras al-Ayn) because their sons had joined the YPG – a clear violation of international law.

On September 3, nearly six weeks after his capture, Walat was blindfolded and -- together with his two fellow fighters and seven civilians – was transported to an unknown village, where a meeting had been arranged with the YPG. There, the 10 prisoners were exchanged for 14 fighters from Jabhat al-Nusrah.

In spite of his ordeal, Walat says he will continue to fight alongside the YPG.

“I was not scared from the beginning and I am still not scared,” he said. “I fight to protect my people, my life here and the land I am standing on.”

On the day after of the prisoner exchange, the YPG launched an offensive against Til Kocer and its surrounding villages.

According to a source in the Kurdish units the town serves as the main supply base in northeastern Syria for Jabhat al-Nusrah and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), another al-Qaeda affiliate.

During intense fighting that lasted over a week, the YPG managed to inflict heavy losses on the Islamists, but failed in repeated attempts to capture Til Kocer.

In the pre-dawn hours of September 11, Jabhat al-Nusrah and ISIL launched a counter-offensive against Yusufiye and other villages north of Til Kocer that had been left with only modest protection. Nine Kurdish fighters lost their lives and twenty more were wounded in this night alone.

The date of the attack was probably chosen to mark the 12th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States.

The Kurdish fighters have fought intermittently against both regime and opposition forces since early on in the Syrian conflict, but in general they have tried to avoid confrontation with both sides.

Syria’s Kurdish areas had remained relatively safe until July this year, when Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched major attacks from the south.


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Rebaz | 5/10/2013
Stay strong my Kurdish sisters and brothers in West Kurdistan. This war in Syria is now between terrorists and dictatorship forces. The longer they fight each other the better because they are equally evil.
Ari | 5/10/2013
How long more will the KDP not help our Kurdish brothers and sisters in Rojava??
Slemani | 5/10/2013
@Ari, The KRG under the rule of the PDK hosts all PKK members. The KRG hosts over 200 thousand refugees from Rojava. Barzani united the Kurds in Rojava with forming the High Kurdish Concile. The KRG sends goods to Rojava. And refugees from Rojava get military training to protect Rojava, but the PYD closed the borders to them. So Ari, who are you jash to deny all this facts? First look to Öcalan who sells the rights of the Kurds to Turkey for a sandwich. Öcalan said that his mother is a Turk and that he will do everything to serve Turkey. Öcalan is a tool of the Turkish secret service.
Polla | 5/10/2013
Ari, the Terrorists attcked Hewler because of the help that Rojava receives from the KDP. Who united the Kurdish parties in Rojava, who helps the Kurdish refugees, who sends goods and weapons, it is the KDP. What do the PKK do or ever did for Basur? Nothing, they just make propaganda against the KRG and destroy the unity.
Rojcan | 6/10/2013
Slemani it is fact that the KDP closed the boarder with Rojava dont get things confused.Polla last time i checked these radicals groups called for a war with all KURD'S, last time i checked there is no such thing as a syrian-kurd, turksih-kurd,iraqi-kurd, or a iranian-kurd. With this being said unlike President Barzani, even these terrorist see all Kurd's as Kurd's.Also the inaction taken by the KDP to support their brother's in Rojava lead to these extremist to have a upper had and attack the people of Helwer. And when it comes down to saying that Ocalan is a tool for turkey, can we go over again why the boarder to Rojava is closed? or to the fact that the KRG authorized attacks on an female Guerilla battalions coming in from the north into Kandil. I am not trying to play the blame game here, and no my ego isn't hurt over anyone talking about another man. This little rant is to go over the facts and let that guide us. It does not matter what part of Kurdistan you hail from, or political party you hold close. It matters that we stay Kurd's. This meaning we do not see the boundaries created by the occupiers. We stay together as one till OUR UNIFIED dream of Kurdistan is fulfilled. And we view the facts to make ethical choices to differentiate ourselves from those who we've been struggling long to get rid of. At the end of the day patriot isn't one who stands by their party, but by their people and nation.
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