22/06/2015 - 00:00
Notes from Girê Spî/Tel Abyad; Turkmen, Arabs and ISIS

22 June 2015

ANF - Girê Spî - Ahmet Sümbül

The liberation of the strategically important town of Girê Spi (Tel Abyad) is revolutionary for the Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Assyrians and Chechens who have been waging a war of existence for the past 3 years. This victory both united the two cantons (Kobanê and Cizîr) and cut the main ‘breathing tube’ of ISIS to Raqqa, through which funds, jihadists and military equipment were being transported. The liberation of Girê Spi made everyone happy here except for ISIS supporters, and we can witness the discrepancy between the actual situation and the claims accusing PYD of carrying out an ethnic cleansing against Turkmen and Arabs. Many Turkmens and Arabs who were afraid of what would come next after the ISIS occupation are slowly getting rid of their fears and returning, which in turn brings social and economic life back to normal.


As we approach Girê Spi, we notice that the bridge on the Serêkaniyê road was bombed by ISIS. However, YPG-YPJ forces quickly repaired the bridge, which ensured the arrival of military vehicles at the town. We also notice holes on the road made by the explosions of ISIS landmines. Aware of this, YPG avoided using the asphalt road and passed through fields instead as it approached the town from the direction of Serêkaniyê. After the liberation of the town, YPG exploded the mines in safety. The first units to arrive at the town were the YPJ battalions composed of women.


All of the official apartments and houses used by ISIS are now under YPG control. ISIS emirs of Tunisian, Libyan and Saudi origin were staying in these houses with their wives and children. After the liberation of the town, these houses became the property of the people.

Official offices have not yet begun to provide services but there are efforts to overcome this problem. The first step is to establish Asayiş (Security) forces and set up a municipality.

ISIS gangs set up booby traps in many villages, businesses and houses before they fled the town, and minesweeping efforts continue in full force. Civilians are admitted to the villages after the removal of the mines in these areas.

The threat of ISIS is almost nonexistent but clashes continue in the region that is located 25-30 km to the south of the town. The cage that ISIS set up in the town square for public shaming of those who were caught smoking cigarettes is left untouched as a reminder, example of what has happened.

Thousands of documents were seized in houses occupied by ISIS gangs, and the cage set up by ISIS in the town square for the public punishment of those civilians who were caught smoking cigarettes is left untouched for exemplary purposes.

Thousands of documents were seized in houses occupied by ISIS, and some of these documents are temporary residence permits that Turkey issued to ISIS gangs.


We encounter hundreds of Arab youth that are fighting in YPG ranks. Majority of these fighters came from Cizîr canton and their time at YPG varies between 0 to 2 years.

YPG Battalion Commander Ahmet Aşukari points at Deham Hamit and Mustafa Muhammed, and says that they have been fighting against ISIS for two years now. Deham Hamit says that it is a duty to fight against the gangs and he joined YPG because it is the only force that truly attacks ISIS. We also run into several Chechen and MLKP fighters in the town.


As we walk through the streets of Girê Spi, we see furniture and private property that were taken away from civilians and stored in ISIS offices. Rugs, air conditioners, computers, electrical household appliances, toys and even wedding photos are some examples of such spoils.

Pointing at houses used by the gangs, YPG commander Ahmet Aşukari says that some gangs lived here with their multiple wives and children. One Tunisian emir married a 9 years old Êzîdî girl from Shengal and escaped with her before the liberation of the town. Aşukari feels guilty about not being able to save the girl.


Siluk, a predominantly Arab and Turkmen town located 18 km to the southeast of Girê Spi, experienced intense clashes and is filled with ISIS signs and banners. Majority of the civilians fled the town out of fear and many houses in the evacuated villages remain untouched due to ISIS landmines and booby traps.

Arabs that we see in Siluk talk to us briefly and do not want their names or photos to be publicized because they fear an ISIS retaliation if the town is occupied again. They express their fear of ISIS and say that the majority of the gangs here were foreigners from Tunisia, Libya, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia and Western countries.


We speak to Turkmens in and around Girê Spi after we hear about the claims that accused YPG of carrying out an ethnic cleansing targeting Turkmens and Arabs. Hamid Şêxo Mahmud is a Turkmen who had moved here from Azaz region nearly 30 years ago.

Mahmud says that he and his family escaped to Akçakale in Turkey 2 years ago when ISIS took over the town and had to live on the street for 5 days because nobody would rent them a house. Mahmud says that every house owner he spoke to would ask him to pay the first 6 months’ rent in advance but his family could not afford this, so they returned to Girê Spi after 5 days. ISIS gangs questioned Mahmud on why they had left, but did not harm him when responded that they had feared the air strikes.


Mahmud states that ISIS tried to abduct his 27 years old son Şêxo Hamid from his fertilizer shop last April. Şêxo Hamid resisted his abduction and was killed on the spot by the gangs. Mahmud said that his grandson was with Hamid when he got murdered, and still runs in fear every time he sees someone with a gun. Mahmud was offered compensation salary by ISIS but refused this dirty money.


Mahmud states that he served in the Syrian army during the 1973 war between Syria and Israel, and Israel was winning the war and had advanced all the way into Damascus. Mahmud says that he feels as if he was seeing Israeli soldiers every time he saw an ISIS gang, but emphasized that even Israel had not committed such atrocities.


Mahmud states that ISIS gangs came to their village and said that advancing PKK fighters would slaughter them all soon. Mahmud says he and his family went to the Turkish border and lived underneath the railroad tracks for 4 days. In the meanwhile, advancing YPG fighters asked Mahmud if they needed anything as they passed by the family. Mahmud says that this gesture helped them get rid of their fears and return to their home instead of going to Turkey. However, thousands of people were kept at the border near Mahmud and his family, and had many difficulties in this period. Mahmud says Turkish soldiers attacked the civilians at the border and two children were run over and killed by panicked adults. An older man named Abdülrezzak was show in the chest and the body of a child was found in the canal two days after the stampede.


Mahmud says that, contrary to what’s being propagated, YPG was helpful towards them. Mahmud shares the story of a YPG unit that stayed in the family’s house and left it when the family returned from the border. YPG fighters told Mahmud that they had eaten some yoghurt and vegetables that they found in the fridge, and asked Mahmud for his blessing and understanding. Mahmud says that unlike ISIS, YPG never harmed them and the claims against YPG are unfounded.


Mahmud emphasizes that ISIS committed crimes against humanity in Girê Spi and executed people everyday in the town square. In difficulty, Mahmud describes how the gangs used chopped-off heads as decoration in the town center’s ornamental pool, which damaged the morale of civilians. Mahmud says that ISIS whipped the husband of women whom the gangs viewed as indecently dressed, and he stopped going to the town in order to avoid such instances.


Turkmen woman Saliha Hasan says that they could not leave their houses unless they covered themselves fully. Hasan described how civilians were snitching on one another and ISIS gangs were giving sentences of 80 whips to the husbands of those women they viewed as indecently dressed. Hasan calls upon the world to take a stance against ISIS cruelty and says they would never leave their town.

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