Clashes in Shingal divide Yazidi, Kurdish community

A little girl holds a placard reading, "Enough to killing and blood-letting" in a demonstration in Afrin canton, Rojava, northern Syria, 5 March 2017, (ANHA)

Clashes between Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) affiliated Rojava Peshmerga forces and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) affiliated Shingal Resistance Units (YBS) on Friday resulted in the death of at least five Yazidi fighters and two PKK members. More than 20 other fighters were injured in the conflict, while three journalists, one heavily, were also wounded.

The clashes have attracted criticism from all sides with Yazidi and Kurdish parties across the Kurdish regions and Europe calling for an immediate cessation to hostilities. Demonstrations in Rojava, the Kurdish-led autonomous administration in northern Syria, as well as several European cities and Sulaimani in the KRG have called for dialogue and a retreat of peshmerga forces. A protest was prevented in the KDP-dominated Erbil, the capital of the KRG.

Accusations of which side initiated the clashes have been replaced by discussions of legitimacy and who has the right to presence in Shingal, an area still contested over by the KRG and the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.

Speaking on the incident, Kurdistan presidency spokesperson Omed Sabah claimed that Rojava Peshmerga, the armed wing of the Kurdish National Council (Syria) supported by Turkey and the KDP, had more legitimacy because it “included people from all parties and walks of life in Rojava and had been trained by the Kurdish Peshmerga ministry,” Rudaw reported.

Sabah also said that the groups affiliated to the PKK did not have the permission of the Peshmerga Chief of Staff nor the Yazidi Spiritual Council and Shingal Assembly to be in the area. “It is impossible to allow any party to freely challenge the political will of the Kurdistan Region,” he added.

Meanwhile 10 Yazidi organisations in the region and diaspora released a joint statement on Friday saying the Khanasor neighbourhood had been liberated from the Islamic State (IS) group by HPG (PKK’s armed wing) and YBS fighters following “a great struggle that saved hundreds of Yazidi families,” in 2014.

The statement also called the arrival of Rojava Peshmergas a “provocation” against Shingal and a “plan hatched in Ankara by the KDP and Turkish state to occupy the area”. Footage also emerged on ANF News Agency of Yazidi women resisting the advancement of some peshmerga forces.

Prominent Yazidi activist and a survivor of Islamic State capture, Nadia Murad, also made a statement calling on “all parties to self-control and follow a rationale policy to stop the current internal conflict which harms victims of Genocide.” She added that the IS group had not differentiated between Shingal and Kobane [in Rojava] nor between Kirkuk and Baghdad. “This terrorist organisation [IS] aims total destruction of all communities in the region and any internal conflict will serve their goals,” she concluded.

Peoples’ Democratic Party’s Yazidi lawmakers Ali Atalan and Feleknas Uca accused the KDP of escalating tensions and called on the Barzani-led party to concentrate efforts on defeating IS. The left-wing party’s spokesperson Osman Baydemir meanwhile had called for an “end to war between siblings.”

PKK affiliated forces in Shingal are thought to number around 1,500, while Yazidi forces under the umbrella of the Peshmerga Ministry are said to be in the region of 8,000 and are deployed in Shingal. The YBS and YJS in a recent statement welcomed the presence of local peshmerga forces but rejected the deployment of Rojava Peshmerga saying it was an invasion of the area. The statement said they were on alert and had the forces to respond to any attacks.

According to other commentators the Rojava Peshmerga were sent to Khanasor to be deployed at the border between the KRG and Rojava, a move deemed as being hostile because it would sever the connection between affiliated Kurdish forces in Shingal and Jazira canton in eastern Rojava.

The pro-KNC Yekiti corroborated the claim saying the Rojava Peshmerga forces were sent to protect the border and stop smuggling operations, but did not specify who the protection would be against.

The area has been quiet since Friday afternoon as both parties continue their anxious wait. According to reports diplomatic efforts are continuing for a solution to the crisis.