A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS’ Backyard

Human Rights Watch has also raised some serious concerns about the PYD’s rule. In February, after a three-week visit, the group released a report on “Abuses in PYD-Run Enclaves in Northern Syria”, detailing how soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilian protesters in 2013; how 13-year-old boys and girls were serving in its military; and how a 36-year-old drug addict was beaten to death by the police, supposedly for cursing the name of Ocalan. In October, Amnesty International published even more troubling concerns, accusing the YPG of committing “war crimes” by razing entire Arab villages as punishment for harboring ISIS fighters – a tactic once used by the Turkish government against the PKK. “We have evidence they were cooperating with ISIS”, Hediye Yusuf told me when I asked about allegations of forced displacements, and she denied the claim that homes of civilians were ever purposefully destroyed. But she admitted that “we are in the middle of a war and a revolution, and we’ve made mistakes”. She pointed out that the PYD had fully cooperated with the Human Rights Watch investigation, and the perpetrators had been punished – one with a life sentence in prison. A Human Rights Watch adviser, Fred Abrahams, even applauded the PYD for its response to the report, which included a new law prohibiting anyone under the age of 18 from enlisting in the YPG or YPJ. Since then, underage fighters have returned to the battlefield. (During my visit, I attended a martyr’s funeral in Qamishli for a 16-year-old YPG fighter.) Also troubling is the cult of Ocalan. Today, according to several sources, the PYD co-chairman, Salih Muslim, a Syrian engineer who was trained by the PKK, is making some key decisions in Rojava. But even he describes his role as mainly implementing the ideas Ocalan communicates from prison.

Wes Enzinna in A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS’ Backyard (NYT)