Requirements for candidacy and voting in the municipal elections in March 2015
KURDWATCH, July 12, 2015—On March 13, 2015, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) carried out municipal elections in the canton of Jazirah. More than one hundred thousand eligible voters reportedly cast their votes. Voter turnout was given as fifty percent. KurdWatch is releasing the requirements for candidacy and voting published by the PYD‑affiliated Hawar news agency.
The first striking feature of the document is that the wording is frequently unclear. Essential provisions also run contrary to democratic principles. In other words, regardless of how the elections are actually carried out, these provisions point to significant shortcomings. For example, it remains unclear how the members of the committees that supervise the polling places in an electoral district are selected. The context suggests that they are employees of the PYD-appointed transitional administration. As the document makes clear, all of the election observers at the polling places are also employees of this administration. This is problematic, especially because these employees are almost exclusively PYD sympathizers. People who are critical of the PYD do not have a chance of being accepted into the administration. Thus none of the organizers at the polling places are politically independent. The fact that the candidates are allowed to have representatives present at the counting of the votes has but a limited impact on this, since only candidates of the PYD and the parties affiliated with it took part in the elections. Moreover, it remains unclear what exactly the roles of the election observers and the representatives of the candidates are. The document gives no indication of their responsibilities and rights.
The possibility of filing an objection against the counting of the votes must also be evaluated critically. Anyone who doubts the results of the election has the right to file an objection with the appellate court in al‑Qamishli by way of the Election Commission. A receipt for a deposit of 100 000 Syrian lira must be enclosed. If the objection is accepted and decided in favor of the petitioner, the amount deposited will be returned to the depositor. Otherwise the amount is retained. At the time of the elections on March 13, 2015, 100 000 Syrian liras were equivalent to about 450 euros. That is more than one and a half times the monthly salary of an elementary school teacher in Syria. As the money is lost if the objection is overruled, the high amount is clearly intended to ensure that objections are never filed.
The procedure for announcing the election results also lacks transparency: The published election provisions only provide for announcing the names of the successful candidates in the individual polling places. That means that merely reading the names could be sufficient. A generally accessible written announcement of the election results, including the votes received by the individual candidates, is not mandatory. In fact, KurdWatch could not find a written announcement of the election results.
ʿAmudah: Law on compulsory military service passed
KURDWATCH, December 22, 2014—On July 13, 2014, the legislative council in the canton Jazirah, which was appointed by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), passed a law on compulsory military service entitled »Duty of Self-Defense«. The law states that each family supply a »volunteer« between the ages of eighteen and thirty, who will serve six months in the People’s Defense Units (YPG). Anyone who does not voluntarily fulfill this duty will be forcibly recruited.
This regulation violates fundamental human rights as it forces people to join a party militia. For contrary to PYD claims, the YPG is not an army legitimized by the state. Since the law has passed, there has been massive forced recruitment [further information]. A young man was shot while trying to escape military service[further information]. The number of men who have left the country in order to avoid being recruited by the PYD is unknown. Moreover, contrary to the adopted regulation, both minors [further information] and women[further information] have been kidnapped. The regulation is also problematic because numerous provisions are unclear, and therefore open the door to arbitrary interpretation. For example, what is meant by the provision that »every family« must supply a fighter for the YPG? Does this refer to households or the nuclear family of parents and children? And what are the criteria according to which the YPG will select a family member to recruit if a family does not supply a »volunteer«? Does it follow from the wording used Article 3, according to which the regulations described apply to all males between the ages of eighteen and thirty, that ultimately anyone in this group may in fact be enlisted in compulsory service? Do the recruits receive sound training or can they immediately be deployed to the front, for example against the Islamic State?
The fact that such fundamental questions are not addressed makes it clear that this law is not about defining clear regulations and hence legal certainty, instead this law is only concerned with conferring superficial legitimacy to the PYD’s despotism.
Law on Political Parties for the cantons of Jazirah, Kobanî, and ʿAfrin
KURDWATCH, September 30, 2014—On April 17, 2014, the legislative councils for the transitional administration, appointed by the Democratic Union Party, (PYD), passed a law on political parties for the cantons of Jazirah, Kobanî [ʿAyn al‑ʿArab], and ʿAfrin. The law defines the conditions under which parties can be registered. It sets a period of forty-five days and in that time all parties must apply for authorization. Until now none of the parties of the Kurdish National Council have complied with this demand. Both the Kurdish National Council and the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria have rejected the law. In a statement on August 28, 2014, the Kurdish National Council described the law on political parties as the most dangerous of the PYD laws, alongside the law on compulsory military service. Indeed, the law creates a »legal« basis for the persecution of other parties by the PYD. It is particularly problematic that the commissions that authorize the parties are not an objective authority. Instead they are comprised of government representatives from the three cantons. These governments were neither elected nor appointed by a representative delegation of Kurdish parties, but rather originated from the transitional administration established in November 2013 in a manner that was not transparent. According to the PYD, the transitional administration was established by fifty organizations, but these organizations were never made public. The few groups that were named either have close ties to the PYD or are unknown.
The policies defined in the law suggest a democratic procedure. The reality, however, is that the PYD makes decisions about what other parties receive authorization. The PYD’s previous policies vis-à-vis other parties make it clear that it will not authorize any party it sees as serious threat. This fear of competition is made clear in provisions such as the one that no political parties can have any ties to foreign parties. This provision can be used to ban parties like the Kurdistan Democratic Party – Syria (PDK‑S), the sister party of Masʿud Barzani’s Iraqi-Kurdish KDP. It can be safely assumed, however, that the PYD will not employ the law to ban itself, even though it is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is based in Turkey.
The provision that parties may not maintain military forces is also telling. What is formulated as a reasonable measure to demilitarize society, is in fact intended to secure a monopoly on the use of force for the PYD’s People’s Defense Units (YPG) in PYD-controlled areas. If parties do not apply for authorization, the PYD will, with reference to the law, justify the persecution of these groups and their members as a legitimate state act against illegal activities.
Al-Hasakah: Requirements for opening an internet café
KURDWATCH, July 3, 2014—The attached document is a form issued by the local council of al‑Hasakah, a body of the PYD‑appointed local administration in the Jazirah. It governs the requirements for opening and operating internet cafés and must be filled out by the operators of these cafes. The document makes clear that for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), like the Baʿth regime, access to information is first and foremost connected to control, not to ensuring freedom of information. For one, the approval of an internet café is tied to the approval by the Asayiş, the security service of the PYD. From the point of view of the PYD, the approval of an internet café is not a simple administrative act, but a question of security. The fact that users must identify themselves with their identity card and that their names are recorded further speaks to this point. The requirement regarding the installation of devices to receive and send data is ambiguous: It remains unclear exactly which devices require consultation with the authorities.
Air Force Intelligence Service protocol on contacts between the Syrian government and the PYD
KURDWATCH, March 31, 2013—KurdWatch is releasing an Air Force Intelligence Service protocol from November 3, 2011, according to which representatives of the regime met with the chairman of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Salih Muhammad Muslim, at the end of October 2011 in Damascus in order to convince him to work together. He is quoted as saying that the PYD or rather the National Union of Forces for Democratic Change, of which the PYD was a member, does not advocate for an overthrow, but rather for a reform of the government. Should Bashar al-Assad step down and then renew his bid for the presidency, he would vote for him. According to the document, Salih Muhammad Muslim further stated that he would try to convince the Kurds to do the same, because Bashar al‑Assad is the best person for Syrians in general and especially for the Kurds. In a conversation with KurdWatch on March 30, 2013, Salih Muhammad Muslim stated that he could not recall the meeting described. He said that during his time in Damascus and beyond, he maintained no contacts with the government. Furthermore, he stressed that the PYD has been calling for the fall of the government since September 17, 2011. He also said that he has never spoken out for the re-election of the president. KurdWatch will soon release the complete interview.
Second cooperation agreement between People's Council of West Kurdistan and Kurdish National Council
KURDWATCH, December 4, 2012—On July 11, 2012, representatives of the People's Council of West Kurdistan and the Kurdish National Council (KNR) signed a second cooperation agreement intended to govern relations between the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the parties of the KNR in Syria. The agreement came about following talks in Salahuddin (Kurdistan/Iraq). As with the first agreement of June 11, 2012 [Download PDF], the talks were held at the invitation of the president of the region Kurdistan/Iraq, Masʿud Barzani. To date, the PYD has not implemented point 5 of the agreement, which calls for a general ban on violence. KurdWatch releases the text of the cooperation agreement.
Closing statement of the Kurdish Patriotic Conference in Syria on October 26, 2011 and Declaration of the Kurdish National Council's assembly on April 21, 2012
KURDWATCH, October 2, 2012—On October 26, 2011, the Kurdish Patriotic Conference, out of which the Kurdish National Council emerged, was held in al‑Qamishli [further information on the conference]. The closing statement adopted at the conference was affirmed by the Kurdish National Council on April 21, 2012 [further information]. Moreover, an interim political program was adopted. The new program differs from the old in that it no longer explicitly calls for the Kurds' right to self-determination and for political decentralization. KurdWatch has published the original text of the closing statement of October 26, 2011 and the decisions of April 21, 2012.
Closing statement of the Syrian National Council's first conference in Tunis
KURDWATCH, September 30, 2012—During the first conference of its general committee on December 17 and 18, 2011 in Tunis [further information on the conference], the Syrian National Council adopted a program that includes ideas for a solution to the Kurdish question in Syria. KurdWatch has published the original text.
Cooperation agreement between the People's Council of West Kurdistan and the Kurdish National Council
KURDWATCH, July 1, 2012—On June 11, 2012, the People's Council of West Kurdistan and the Kurdish National Council signed a cooperation agreement. The People's Council of West Kurdistan is a PKK body that was founded on December 16, 2011 and also represents the PYD. The agreement is intended to improve relations between the Kurdish National Council and the PYD. The PYD party congress accepted the agreement in principle. At the same time, it demanded the establishment of a Supreme Committee with representatives from both sides, as is provided for in the agreement. According to a statement by the congress, as soon as the committee has been established, the PYD will comply with its decisions. Irrespective of these developments, the PYD has still kidnapped numerous dissident activists since signing of the agreement. KurdWatch is releasing the text of the cooperation agreement.
National Charter on the Kurdish question in Syria
KURDWATCH, May 17, 2012—On March 27, 2012, the members of the Kurdish National Council (formerly the Kurdish Patriotic Conference) as well as other Kurdish delegates at an oppositional conference in Istanbul walked out in protest against the Syrian National Council's stance on the Kurdish question [further information]. Following this, the Syrian National Council reformulated its position on the Kurdish question on March 31, 2012. KurdWatch has released the text.
Decrees on the state of emergency, Supreme State Security Court, code of criminal procedure, and the right to demonstrate
KURDWATCH, June 30, 2011—In reaction to the unrest ongoing since March 2011, President Bashar al-Assad issued multiple decrees on April 21, 2011. Decree 161 abolishes the state of emergency. Decree 53 dissolves the Supreme State Security Court. Decree 55 amends the code of criminal procedure, and Decree 54 issues new guidelines to the right to demonstrate.
The abolishment of the state of emergency, which has been in force since 1963, along with the dissolution of the Supreme State Security Court, is one of the core demands of the Syrian opposition. However, the adoption of these decrees has not led to an actual improvement of the human rights situation or to a strengthening of civil rights. In particular, the powers of the different intelligence services have not been curtailed in any practical way, as shown by their actions regarding the demonstrations critical of the regime. (See below for more on this matter.) Whether the courts responsible for political proceedings after the dissolution of the Supreme State Security Court will dispense more lenient sentences than their predecessor remains to be seen. The same is true of the question of whether the civil courts will rule very differently in political cases than the military tribunals did while the state of emergency was in effect.
Decree 55 relegates the investigation of criminal cases pursuant to numerous articles of the penal code to the law enforcement authorities. Previously, the intelligence services were responsible for these kinds of investigations. Also listed are all of those articles that have been used to indict and sentence politically active Kurds in the past. If the decree were actually to be implemented, it would represent a noteworthy curtailment of the intelligence services’ authority to exercise power. Until now, there has been no evidence to indicate that the intelligence services will actually relinquish control over these investigations to the regular law enforcement agencies.
Decree 54 is intended to regulate the right to »peaceful demonstration«. This goal has not yet been reached. Even though demonstrators have hardly used violence in the ongoing protests, thousands of protestors have been arrested and in many cases tortured, especially by the intelligence services. Additionally, according to reports of the opposition, up to 1,500 people have been killed. Numerous people in the Kurdish areas have also been charged due to their participation in unauthorized protests. Indeed, in contradiction to the provisions of Decree 54, the demonstrators have not been registering their rallies. Among the main demands of the demonstrators are the resignation of Bashar al-Assad and the Baath government. The leading role of the Baath party in state and society is, however, written into the constitution. Since, according to Article 3 of the Decree, demonstrations are not permitted to infringe on the principles of the constitution, demonstrations which demand an end to Baath dominance or which criticize the privileged position of the Baath party are thus not able to be approved. The demand for the resignation of al-Assad would fall under Article 374 of the penal code (defamation of the President) and would thus infringe on prevailing laws in a similar fashion. The problem is located less in the wording of Decree 54 than in the accompanying legislation. This also applies when it reads, that in addition to individual citizens, properly authorized parties, mass organizations, trade unions, and NGO’s have the right to register demonstrations. In Syria there are almost no independent NGO’s; legal parties, mass organizations, and trade unions are government organizations.
Al-Hasakah province delegation sends demands to President Bashar al-Assad
KURDWATCH, June 21, 2011—Kurdish and Arab representatives of al-Hasakah province gave President Bashar al-Assad a list of demands regarding the province on April 5, 2011. The total of 34 demands pertains mainly to specific economic and agricultural problems and issues. Genuinely political demands are rare, although one of the few exceptions is the naturalization of the unregistered stateless, maktumin. Considering this, the demands are strikingly different from those made by the predominantly young demonstrators in al-Qamishli and other cities in the province. Over the past weeks, these demonstrators have demanded a fundamental democratization of Syria.
The demands are interesting in that they highlight the various forms of economic discrimination to which the inhabitants of al-Hasakah province, both Kurds and Arabs, are subject. Worthy of note is the underdevelopment of the region’s infrastructure. The demands point to the fact that products grown in the region cannot be processed there. The necessary infrastructure – mills, canning factories, oil and gas refineries – does not exist and building permits are not being issued. Moreover, the demands make clear that al-Hasakah has a poorer position relative to other provinces. For example, while the owners of agricultural land generally receive deeds of ownership, this is not the case in al-Hasakah. While agricultural opportunities make al-Hasakah a potentially rich region, these problems along with years of drought have resulted in an overall precarious economic situation.
The paper was, among others, signed by:
Hamid Sulayman, representative of the Shaykhan-Kiki tribes
Samir al-Basha, representative of the Kojari tribes
Muhammad Khallu, representative of the Mersinan tribes
Mahmud al-Basha, representative of the Milli tribes
ʿIsa Saʿdun, representative of the Milli tribes
Muslih Shukri Daqori, representative of the Daqori tribes
Ahmad Daham al-Hadi, shaykh of the Shammar tribe
ʿAbdulʿaziz Muhammad al-Mislit, shaykh of al-Jiburi tribe
Hilu al-Hilu, shaykh of al-ʿUdwan tribe
Nuri at-Tallaʿ, shaykh of al-Baqqarah tribe
Muhammad ʿAbdurrazzaq at-Taʾi, shaykh of the Tayʾ tribe
Shaykh Husayn al-Hajji, leader of the Bani Sabʿah tribe
Shaykh ʿAbdulkarim Salih al-ʿUbaydu, representative of the Harb tribe
Bashar Daham, shaykh of ash-Sharabin tribe
ʿIsa Sulayman Hajj Saʿdun, leader of the Bahdinan tribe
Mor Eustathius Matta Roham, Syriac-Orthodox archbishop of Jazirah and the Euphrates
ʿAbdurrahman al-ʿAbdullah, mufti of al-Hasakah province
Muhammad Ibrahim al-Basha, lawyer
Yunus Hajj Ahmad
Muhammad Ahmad Hajj Mansur
The complete list of demands can be downloaded as a PDF.
Interrogation protocols of PKK activists from Political Security Directorate and State Security
KURDWATCH, March 31, 2011—KURDWATCH is releasing five protocols of interrogations that members of various Syrian intelligence services conducted with members of Yekîtiya Star, the women’s organization of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), as well as with a sympathizer of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In contrast to previous cases, KURDWATCH has made these documents anonymous in order to protect those interrogated from being stigmatized as traitors. During the interrogations they disclosed—almost certainly under torture—at times detailed information about party structures and other party activists.
The protocols offer insight into the structures of the PYD/PKK, as well as the Syrian state’s policies towards this organization. For example, the protocols confirm that, contrary to what many activists have claimed, the PYD and PKK are identical. The PYD is the Syrian branch of the PKK. The imprisoned female activists all worked for Yekîtiya Star, the women’s organization of the PYD, and, according to research by KURDWATCH, their convictions in Syria were the result of this work. At the same time, the activists mention in the interrogations that they were trained in the camps of the PKK, made propaganda for the PKK, and explained the »teachings« of Abdullah Öcalan to other women. Moreover it becomes clear that the PKK still commands a considerable network of supporters and sympathizers in Syria. The protocols refer not only to the multitude of people who have been recruited in Syria since the 1980s, but also mention the numerous allies who to this day house supporters of the PKK or assist them by other means. The number of female activists mentioned in the protocols alone may be higher than the entire number of women active in other Syrian-Kurdish parties. All of this points to the fact that the PKK continues to enjoy considerable acceptance within the Syrian-Kurdish population. This acceptance, Syria’s cooperative relations with Turkey in recent years, as well as the fact that the PKK is a tightly run cadre organization with armed fighters at its disposal explain why the Syrian state has taken such harsh action against the PKK. This policy began at the end of the 1990s with Abdullah Öcalan’s expulsion from Syrian and Lebanon—prior to this the PKK was able to train fighters there relatively unhindered—and is reflected in the high rates of arrests, convictions, and incidences of torture of PYD activists as compared to other Syrian-Kurdish parties. However it should be noted that there may be additional explanations for the multitude of human rights violations against PYD/PKK sympathizers. If, for example, the PKK does in fact have more sympathizers in Syria than any other party, this might also explain why there is a higher rate of arrest and torture among PYD supporters.
Despite the repressions described above, the PKK still enjoys a certain sphere of influence in Syria. Aside from an incident in early 2011 in which several PKK members were allegedly shot by the Syrian military at the Iraq-Syrian border, PKK supporters continue to illegally cross the Syrian border relatively unchallenged. This is confirmed by the protocols, in which activists describe their countless border crossings and mention how dozens of newly recruited PKK members are smuggled across the border together. It is clear that the Syrian intelligence services are aware of this border traffic. It remains open to what extent this »accommodation« rests on individual financial interests and structures that have developed or whether it shows acquiescence on the part of the state.
Ultimately the protocols show that membership in an armed cadre organization like the PKK means the loss of all personal autonomy. The cadres have no influence over where they will be sent or what tasks they will be assigned to perform. They are bound to the leadership in all aspects of their lives; without permission from the command, not even contact with parents or necessary medical treatment is possible.
Verdict against Walat and Salahuddin ʾAyyub Muhammad pursuant to Article 307 of the Criminal Code
KURDWATCH, December 8, 2010—On June 20, 2010, the single military judge in al-Qamishli sentenced Walat und Salahuddin ʾAyyub Muhammad to six months imprisonment each, pursuant to Article 307 of the Criminal Code. Due to mitigating circumstances, the sentence was reduced to four months. The charge pursuant to Article 288 of the Criminal Code was dropped on the basis of Presidential Decree No. 22, dated February 24, 2010. The individuals convicted are charged not only with the possession of (party) publications in the Kurdish language but also with making notes on these publications. The verdict makes clear that the possession of books or papers that express opinions that differ from those of the government - in this case regarding the events in al-Qamishli in 2004 - can lead to prison sentences, even if these opinions are in no way made public. As the verdict itself states, the punishment is intended to deter potential copycats.
Verdict against Muhammad Shaykhu ʿIsa, Khalil ʿIbrahim Muhammad, ʿAbdussalam Shaykhmus Mahmud and Rami Shaykhmus al‑Hasan pursuant to Article 307 of the Criminal Code
KURDWATCH, September 16, 2010—On January 17, 2010 the single military judge in al-Qamishli sentenced Muhammad Shaykhu ʿIsa, Khalil Ibrahim Muhammad, ʿAbdussalam Shaykhmus Mahmud, and Rami Shaykhmus al-Hasan to six months imprisonment each for »inciting sectarian strife« as a result of their participation in a minute of silence. The minute of silence was intended to honor the victims of the poison gas attack on Halabja. A translation of the verdict is now available as a PDF download.
Interior Ministry seeks 287 residents of al‑Hasakah province living abroad for »crimes against the state«
KURDWATCH, August 16, 2010—As previously reported, at the beginning of May lists with the names of people living abroad were forwarded to the civil register offices in al‑Hasakah province with the stipulation that those listed could only be issued identification papers and other documents if they reported to the State Security Service. In the meantime KurdWatch has obtained a copy of the complete list of all those affected from al‑Hasakah province—a total of 287 people—as well as a copy of the corresponding letter from the Syrian Interior Minister. From the latter it is evident that the people listed will receive no personal documents, neither in person nor via family members or attorneys. This also means that they cannot apply for a passport via Syrian agencies abroad, and, if they wish to marry, they will not receive any papers from the appropriate civil register office.
Contrary to previous assumptions, the list does not originate from the State Security Service, but from the Interior Ministry. Nevertheless the majority of the people listed must, in fact, appear before the State Security Service; other intelligence services are seldom mentioned. The Interior Ministry’s letter states that the people named, who have fled Syria and are hiding, were sought for »crimes against the state«. Indeed, the majority of those listed are politically active people—Kurds in particular are named, but also some Arabs and Christians. Some of them already left Syria as children. In light of this, the decision not to issue any papers to the group of people named must be understood as a sanction against people considered oppositional.
It is striking that not all people named on the individual lists from Amudah, al-Qahtaniyah, and al-Qamishli also appear on the complete list. This can presumably be explained by the fact that the lists were compiled on various dates unknown to us. As the lists are regularly updated »inconsistencies«, as described above, can occur.
A translation of the letter from the Interior Ministry and a translation of the complete list of names can be downloaded as a PDF file.
The case of Khalid Maʿmu Kanju
KURDWATCH, August 29, 2010—KurdWatch has at hand the protocol of the State Security Service’s hearing of Khalid Maʿmu Kanju, the State Security Service’s letter to the prosecution in Damascus, as well as the verdict against Kanju. Kanju was deported from Germany to Syria on September 1, 2009; in the meantime he has returned to Germany. From the documents it becomes evident that, among other things, Kanju was convicted due to his political activities in exile. Moreover the intelligence service protocol indicates that Kanju gave the names of friends and acquaintances who took part in campaigns in Germany that were critical of the regime. In a conversation with KurdWatch, Kanju explained that he had divulged the names under torture. He additionally reports that the State Security Service confronted him with information from his German asylum file. Thus the intelligence service knew that in his hearing before the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees he testified that during his military service he had passed secret information along to the US Embassy. He only confirmed this information under torture. Kanju suspects that the immigration authority of his district passed information from his asylum file on to the Syrian Embassy.
[The protocol of the State Security Service’s hearing]
[The State Security Service’s letter to the prosecution in Damascus]
Statute Number 41
Verdict against Mustafa Jumʿah Bakr, Saʿadun Shaykhu and Muhammad Saʿid al-ʿUmr for violating § 285 and 307 of the Criminal Code
Circular letter - No school reports for maktumin (2008)
Verdict against Faysal Sabri Naʿasu, Fanar Jamil Saʿadun and Nasr ud-Din Muhammad Barhik for violating § 288 of the Criminal Code
[Download PDF] [Download arab. original]
Verdict against Darwish Ghalib Darwish and Zaki Ismail Khalil for violating the press law
Decree No. 93 dated 8/23/1962 - Implementation of a general census in al-Hasakah province
Decision 768: Closure of Stores with Kurdish Names
Verdict against Mishʿal at-Tammu for violating § 285, 286 and 288 of the Criminal Code
Administrative Order 186: Transfer of Kurdish Teachers
University of Aleppo: Exmatriculation of Kurdish Students
University of Aleppo: Referral of Kurdish Students to the Disciplinary Board