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Protesters form coordination committee to manage uprising against Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa

TranslationEditor: Vera Halvorsen |
Translation: Muhammad Ghaith

Youths have formed a coordination committee to manage the uprising against the Syrian Democratic Forces in the city of Raqqa, Northern Syria. The youths describe the committee as being like one of the committees formed by activists at the beginning of the Syrian revolution.

Coordination committee formation and protests in city of Raqqa

Protesters took to the streets in the neighborhoods of al-Rumeila, al-Mushalab, and al-Mahatta to protest the presence of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the city of Raqqa, Northern Syria. Anti-Kurdish Labor Party (PKK) slogans covered walls in the neighborhoods. The SDF and their main component, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), are accused of affiliating with the PKK.

The activist Muhammad Uthman, one of the founders of the Raqqa Free Youth Coordination Committee, reported that the uprising against the SDF followed clashes between the SDF and the al-Thuwar ar-Raqqa Brigade in the al-Mushalab neighborhood. Uthman reported that the SDF targeted civilians’ homes using medium and heavy caliber weapons.

Uthman added that following the clashes, protests broke out against the YPG in the city. The protests continued and youths formed a coordination committee to organize the uprising and encourage people to participate.  

Uthman noted that dozens of people continue to participate in frequent protests, and hundreds of protesters participated. The protesters regularly chant, “PKK, leave Raqqa” and “Raqqa is free of the will of Assad and the SDF.”

The protesters wrote anti-SDF, YPG, and Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD)  slogans on walls, according to local activists and photos posted on social media.

Uthman noted that the members of the Coordination Committee are peaceful youths. Uthman stressed that the uprising will continue until the YPG leave Raqqa, and he called upon the International Coalition to drive the YPG out of Raqqa and let the people manage the city.

Uthman reported that the Coordination Committee includes 30 members distributed across three neighborhoods in the city. There are 12 members in the al-Rumeila neighborhood, nine members in the al-Mushalab neighborhood, and ten members in the al-Mahatta neighborhood.

The SDF establish checkpoints and patrol Raqqa to suppress revolutionary uprising

The SDF established 15 checkpoints in residential neighborhoods in Raqqa. The SDF established three of the checkpoints in the al-Rumeila neighborhood, which is the stronghold of the al-Thuwar ar-Raqqa Brigade. There is tension between the al-Thuwar ar-Raqqa Brigade and the YPG, and the SDF therefore patrolled Raqqa to increase security. The SDF used white vehicles, each vehicle carrying four fighters with medium and light caliber weapons, according to Uthman.

Uthman added that the checkpoints and patrols hinder the activists’ ability to organize protests, saying that the SDF continue the crackdown on the protesters and deploy fighters in between the protesters to “spoil the protests.”

Uthman noted that despite the existence of the al-Thuwar ar-Raqqa Brigade in the city, the brigade has not intervened yet and has “nothing to do with the uprising.” Uthman added that the brigade forces are focused in the al-Rumeila neighborhood due to popular support there.

The relations between the al-Thuwar ar-Raqqa Brigade and the YPG have deteriorated since the start of the military campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Raqqa. The al-Thuwar ar-Raqqa insisted on leading the campaign, “because they are an Arab faction, whose fighters are locals.” The YPG refused the brigade’s demand and lead the campaign instead. The tension between the two groups became violent, and the YPG arrested fighters from the brigade.

A local source, who prefered to remain anonymous for security reasons, reported that on June 4, 2018,  the Kurdish Autonomous Administration security forces (Asayish) arrested three youths from an internet cafe in Raqqa. The youths’ arrest came against the backdrop of protests.

In recent days, the Asayish and military police have arrested dozens of youths from Raqqa and its countryside for compulsory recruitment; however, tribal leaders called upon the SDF to stop the recruitment campaigns in the area.  

Local and international campaigns express solidarity with uprising in Raqqa

Syrian youths launched a campaign on social media to express solidarity with the Raqqa uprising. The youths raised signs, saying “Raqqa is free and the PKK must leave”, and added frames to their their Facebook profile pictures with the flag of the Syrian revolution and a phrase saying, “We stand with the youths of Raqqa against the PYD,” in reference to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party.

Solidarity campaigns spread among Syrian refugees in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, Austria, France, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, which hosts the largest number of refugees.

Uthman said that the campaigns provided moral support for the protesters to continue protesting. The campaigns also show that Syrian refugees have not forgotten their people in Syria.    

Uthman expects that the Arab tribes will play a vital role in the future of the uprising, and that they will continue to refuse the existence of the YPG in Raqqa. However, the Arab tribes have not intervened yet.

The Raqqa governorate has been controlled by a multitude of groups and armies since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. The Syrian government forces were the first to control the governorate before the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamist battalions gained control of the governorate. ISIS expelled the FSA and Islamist battalions from Raqqa and turned Raqqa into a capital for the ISIS Caliphate. The SDF expelled ISIS with the support of the International Coalition. As a result, 80 percent of Raqqa has been destroyed, and thousands of civilians have been killed and injured. Hundreds of thousands of civilians fled Raqqa due the power struggles.