Last week, an Aramean woman from Qamishli became terrified when she discovered that two Kurdish militiamen were digging a tunnel that ended up in the backyard of her house in the Gharbiye district. Aramean Christians across Northeast Syria have been complaining more than once about this military strategy that is being employed by the PYD/YPG Kurds.
The woman, whose name and identity will not be disclosed for security reasons, is a respected deaconess in one of the local churches in Qamishli. Her siblings met with the local YPG leaders, requesting them to close the hole and find another tunnel exit. The local Kurdish leadership, however, stated that it was not able to take a decision on this matter and that it had to send the family’s appeal to the leaders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq’s Qandil mountains because they are the ones in charge of these tunnel operations.
After the request was approved, one of the Kurdish representatives in Qamishli frightened the family, telling them: “These are our houses. In ten years, none of you will be left here and then your homes will be ours anyway.” This latest case has shocked the vulnerable Aramean woman who is afraid to stay at home alone and can’t sleep peacefully. The Arameans, who in the last years have been living under the Kurdish yoke in occupied Northeast Syria, have frequently been victims of the YPG’s scare tactics, intimidations, threats, oppression and (lethal) violence.
Local sources of the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) (“WCA”), who share their information and thoughts on condition of anonymity, stress that these tunnels are being dug in many lands which the Kurds have been confiscating and controlling. “Everyone knows about it, but nobody knows whether or not a tunnel has been dug under their own house,” an Aramean doctor said.
A tunnel abandoned by Kurdish forces in Tal Abyad in October 2019 | Source: Getty Images / NYP
WCA’s local sources further provided three main reasons why the YPG Kurds build bunkers and tunnels in which food, water, medicine and weapons are being stockpiled. First, it is because they prepare themselves for urban warfare in case of a military operation by Syria or Turkey. Secondly, they intend to bring such tunnels closer to the Turkish border or, where possible, expand them into Turkey by connecting border towns such as Qamishli with Turkey’s Nüsaybin, because this entire region is part of their envisioned Kurdish state that needs to be conquered. Thirdly, the YPG Kurds target the native Arameans and their ancestral lands so that the latter will be turned into war zones from which the defenseless Christians will inevitably want to flee.
This underreported story of an Aramean family bears striking similarities with the one reported by Anthony Loyd for the Times in February 2019. After visiting Qamishli, this English journalist and war correspondent recorded how the locals in the region are affected by the digging of tunnels beneath their properties and that the PKK is leading the extensive network of tunnels.
On 31 December 2018, a full month earlier, the Syriac Orthodox Bishop of Northeast Syria, H.E. Mor Maurice Amsih, also condemned the YPG’s attempt to dig a tunnel beneath the century-old Christian graveyard in Qamishli. That incident drew once again the ire from the Arameans. “How disgraceful that they respect neither the dead nor the living!” and “They keep destroying our homeland, heritage and final remaining presence so that they can rebuild and Kurdify it!” were a few of the many angry comments WCA received from its local sources. In view of these developments, a teacher from Malikiyah argues: “Look at what ISIS did to the Arameans in North Iraq and in our country. In every place they ruled, they began to dig underground tunnels for moving arms supplies and for sneak attacks. The Kurds are copying the strategy of ISIS, but sooner or later, they will also be defeated and every destruction will have been in vain.”
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