Syria: Islamists Seize Kurdish Village

Islamists urge Kurds to abandon national rights, join 'jihad'; comes as Kurdish militias rout Islamists elsewhere in northern Syria.

Contact Editor
Dalit Halevy and Ari Soffer,

Illustration: Islamist Syrian rebels
Illustration: Islamist Syrian rebels
AFP photo

An Islamist Syrian rebel brigade has uploaded a video to Youtube documenting the conquest of a Kurdish village, and demanding that Kurdish Muslims participate in "jihad". 

The documentary captures the seizure of Kurdish village al-Mursifeh by the Islamist "Champions Brigade", and reveals some of the military tactics used by rebels in the fight for control of the country.

After bombarding the village with heavy weapons, including Grad missiles, Syrian rebels push forward with the use of armoured vehicles, including at least one tank, eventually paving the way for infantrymen to overrun Kurdish positions.

Later on in the video a masked Islamist rebel can be seen berating a group of captured Kurdish fighters, "reminding them" that their faith is Islam and that as such they should be partaking in "the jihad" against the Assad regime, as opposed to fighting for Kurdish national rights.

The full documentary - in Arabic - is available below. 

Despite the fact that most Kurds are Muslim by faith, there is a greater groundswell of support for secular Kurdish nationalism than for Islamist ideology.

Kurdish fighters, under the banner of the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG), have been locked in a bloody struggle for control of parts of northern Syria against Islamist groups, including the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) and Al Nusra Front.

Syria's Kurds oppose both the Assad regime and the Syrian rebel movement, both of which are dominated by Arabs, and both of which, Kurds say, are committed to the forced "Arabization" of Kurdish regions.

Clashes escalated earlier this year after the YPG ejected Islamist forces from the border town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkish border, among other areas.

More recently - the capture of al-Mursifeh notwithstanding - YPG forces have scored a string of comprehensive victories, routing Islamist brigades and driving them out of large portions of the region. Following their military successes, Kurdish factions recently declared the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region - to the fury of Arab rebel groups, who accuse them of "breaking up" Syria and aiding the Assad regime by not joining forces with them.

But the struggle is about more than just ideology or ethnic sectarianism; Syria's Kurdish regions have large deposits of oil and other natural resources - a coveted prize for all sides in the bloody civil war.

Ethnic Kurds - who make up around 15% of Syria's total population - are the largest indigenous Middle Eastern nation without a state. Their homeland, Kurdistan, is currently occupied by Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and Kurdish rebels in each of those countries have fought several bloody campaigns against their respective occupying powers.

However, recent years have seen the Kurds making significant - if cautious - strides towards independence.

Iraq's Kurds enjoy autonomy under the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in the north of the country, and Syria's Kurds recently announced the formation of their own autonomous region in parts of northern Syria, known to Kurds as Rojova (or western Kurdistan).