YPG fighters near the Akcakale crossing gate between Turkey and Syria, last June. AFP file photo.
GAZIANTEP, Turkey – Several Syrian opposition groups based in Turkey warn they fear that the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) will try to capture the region of Azaz and displace Arabs and Turkmens there.
“We are well prepared with ground troops and will resist YPG’s advances towards Azaz,” Abdullah Khalil, a colonel from the Sham Legion, also known as Faylaq al-Sham, an alliance of moderate Islamist rebel groups, told Rudaw a day after he came back to Turkey from Azaz.
“We fear YPG will try to push back Arabs and change demographic balance,” he said.
YPG forces are trying to capture the Syrian region of Azaz, which Ankara has declared as the “red line” that the Kurdish forces must not cross.
Turkey has reportedly assisted more armed fighters to enter Syria through its borders and aided their travel to areas north of Aleppo. One of these groups are the Sham Legion, logistically supported by Turkey.
“Turkey is facilitating us and gives us right to use its territory,” Khalil said. The colonel was in Azaz to “supervise fighting and military operations against YPG in outskirts between Tel Rifat and Azaz.”
Other Syrians in Gaziantep, a southern city in Turkey harboring many Syrian refugees, share the views of Khalil.
Abo Firas, a spokesperson for the Al Shamia Front, part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a Turkish and Western-backed military group, said he believed that YPG intends to connect its Afrin Canton with Kobane by taking over Azaz.
"YPG dreams of creating a greater Kurdistan, uniting Kurdish enclaves to one unity," Firas told Rudaw, stressing that the Front is not against Kurds as such.
"If they take over Azaz, they will punish Arabs arbitrarily by accusing them of supporting the ISIS (Islamic State), as they did in Tal Abyad," Firas added.
In October 2015, Amnesty International published a report accusing YPG forces of committing human rights violations, including forced displacement of non-Kurds and the demolition of their homes in Tal Abyad.
It was not possible to get a comment from YPG, despite repeated attempts. But the Kurdish Units earlier dismissed reports accusing Kurds of ethnic cleansing.
Back in October, YPG released a statement replying to the Amnesty report saying it ”would never tolerate or condone violations or abuses (that) might be carried out by its fighters regardless of their position or rank.”
A Syrian-Kurdish refugee journalist in Gaziantep, Bakr Sidqi, dismissed the accusations against YPG.
“Ethnic cleansing will not be committed in Azaz. It’s not even a Kurdish city, so why should YPG take over Azaz?”
"Turkey is supporting the groups that will stop YPG in Azaz, because Turkey will prevent the Kurds from gaining a contiguous area in Syria," Sidqi told Rudaw. Turkey fears that if the Kurds in Syria get their own coherent autonomous area Syria, then the Kurds in Turkey will be inspired to have the same.”
The United States also discouraged the YPG from making advances toward Azaz last weekend.
”The YPG needs to stop its own actions on the ground that we believe raises tensions,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.