SDF-controlled areas in 2021 | Nearly 230 deaths in over 340 attacks by ISIS cells…worsening crises and growing protests…nearly 860 arrests • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

SDF-controlled areas in 2021 | Nearly 230 deaths in over 340 attacks by ISIS cells…worsening crises and growing protests…nearly 860 arrests

SOHR calls for protecting civilians, guaranteeing their rights and putting an end to violations by “Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah”

Areas under the control of the “Autonomous Administration in northern and north-eastern Syria, AANES” (SDF-held areas) experienced in 2021 scores of incidents of security disorder and violations against human rights. In this context, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has monitored and tracked all key developments in SDF-held areas in this year.


In 2021, SDF-held areas have experienced several critical crises, including acute lack of water and bread and frequent electricity blackouts, as well as deterioration in education and prevalence of corruption in AANES institutions. These unwelcome developments spurred many residents in SDF-held areas to stage and participate in protests, expressing their rejection of the Autonomous Administration’s policies and mishandling of crises, demanding improvement of living conditions and calling upon the Autonomous Administration, the holder of power in that region, to guarantee people’s rights.




Nearly 230 people killed in escalating ISIS attacks


ISIS and its sleeper cells continued attacks in areas under the control of Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) in north and north-east Syria in 2021, carrying out several attacks and attempted assassinations using various methods, including shooting, using sharp tools and planting IEDs and landmines throughout SDF-held areas. On the other hand, SDF launched periodical security campaigns, with Coalition support, targeting ISIS cells and individuals accused of “dealing with these cells”. However, such campaigns remained timid and ineffective and could not put an end to ISIS’ escalating operations in the region.


SOHR activists documented over 342attacks in 2021 carried out by ISIS cells in SDF-held areas in Deir Ezzor, Al-Hasakah, Aleppo and Al-Raqqah, including armed attacks and explosions. According to SOHR statistics, the number of people killed in these attacks reached 228: 93 civilians, including nine women and five children, and 135 members of SDF, Asayish Forces, Self-Defence Forces and other SDF-backed military formations.


Here is a monthly breakdown of ISIS attacks and fatalities in SDF-held areas in 2021:


  • January: 51 attacks left 37 people dead: 16 civilians and 21 military personnel.


  • February: 63 attacks left 46 people dead: Ten civilians, including a child and two women, and 21 military personnel.


  • March: 41 attacks left 16 people dead: five civilians and 11 military personnel.


  • April: 31 attacks left 23 people dead: eight civilians, including a child and two women, and 15 military personnel.


  • May: 35 attacks left 21 people dead: four civilians and 17 military personnel.


  • June:21 attacks left 16 people dead: eight civilians and eight military personnel.


  • July:16 attacks left ten people dead: seven civilians and three military personnel.


  • August: 18 attacks left 12 people dead: six civilians, including a child and a woman, and six military personnel.


  • September: 12 attacks left eight people dead: six civilians, including a woman, and two members of SDF-backed formations.


  • October: 11 attacks left eight people dead: five civilians and three military personnel.


  • November: 29 attacks left 22 people dead: 15 civilians, including a child and two women, and seven military personnel.


  • December: 14 attacks left nine people dead: three civilians, including a woman, and six military personnel.



Security campaigns: Nearly 860 people arrested, mostly for “belonging to ISIS”


As a response to ISIS resurgence, Syria Democratic Forces, backed by the International Coalition, escalated their security campaigns throughout SDF-held areas in 2021, with the largest number of campaigns being carried out in Deir Ezzor and Al-Hasakah. The frequent security campaigns in 2021 led to the arrest of 858 people, including many civilians, for “dealing, belonging to and communicating with ISIS cells”. It is worth noting that 492 of these people were released after interrogation, while the rest, 366 people, remained in  SDF custody.


The monthly arrests are distributed in descending order as follows:


  • May: 306 people


  • January: 98 people


  • February: 69 people


  • August: 63 people


  • March: 58 people


  • June: 58 people


  • July: 51 people


  • April: 43


  • September: 39


  • December:31


  • October: 23


  • November: 19.


It is worth noting that the joint security campaigns by SDF and the International Coalition have left 23 people dead: four civilians and 19 ISIS members and cells. SOHR stresses that the prosecution of ISIS members and attempts to hinder their attacks can and will never justify the killing of civilians.



“Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah”: Blatant violations of children’s rights


Reprehensible practices by “Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah” (the Revolutionary Youth), which manifested themselves in the luring and recruiting of minors in their military camps, topped the events in SDF-held areas in 2021. These practices represented blatant violations of human rights and international charters signed by the Autonomous Administration and Syria Democratic Forces.


Despite the many calls of families for putting an end to the recruitment of their children, “Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah” (Revolutionary Youth) has been increasingly recruiting and involving children in armed conflict in areas controlled by the “Autonomous Administration” and SDF, disregarding the laws and international covenants that prohibit the exploitation of children.


A few examples of recruitment of children by “Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah”, among many documented by SOHR, can be highlighted as follows:


  • A 13-yaer-old boy known by his initials as H. N. From Kika village in Amouda countryside. He was taken to “Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah” camp in Al-Qamishli countryside.


  • A boy known by his initials as M. H. From Shaikh Maksoud neighbourhood in Aleppo city.


  • Three minor girls known by their initials as “A. A.”, “H. P.” and “A. K.” from Amouda city in Al-Hasakah countryside.


  • A minor girl from Plisia village in Al-Malikiyah (Dayrek) countryside.


We, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, renew our demands to both “Autonomous Administration” and SDF, the effective holders of power in that region, to stop taking advantage of disputes of children with their families and put an end to recruitment of children in the ranks of Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah. We also call upon “UNICEF” and all organisations concerned with the rights of the children to intervene immediately and put an end to violations against children and the recruitment of children into armed groups and to bring all minor recruits back to their families.



Alarming escalation of “honour killings”, amid total lack of accountability


In light of proliferation of arms throughout Syria, SOHR documented an alarming escalation of horrific murders under the pretext of “honour crimes” in SDF-held areas in 2021, while the murderers remain at large enjoying “freedom”.


The killing of a little girl known as “Ayda Al-Sa’ido” was the most dramatic incident ever in 2021committed under this category of crimes.


The girl whose murder has become a matter of public record was killed in  cold blood by her family, after she had ran away from home with her boyfriend whose frequent proposals of marriage the girl had been rejected by her family. According to SOHR sources, the girl was killed by her cousin who had also proposed to marry her, despite her refusal. The cousin chased the girl and her boyfriend and murdered the girl with the help of other tribesmen of the girl’s family, inside a house in Al-Malikiyya countryside (Dayrek) in northern Al-Hasakah, while the boyfriend managed to escape and hide in an unknown place.


SOHR activists obtained some video footages showing the barbaric crime and the horrific way of shooting the girl by the armed tribesmen. Local sources confirmed that the gunmen who took part in the crime intentionally posted the video in order to announce “cleansing the shame” according to their tribal beliefs.


A similar crime was also documented in July 6 when a man killed his daughter in Al-Hasakah city. Reliable SOHR sources reported at that time that a man strangled his 16-year-old daughter to death. It is worth noting that the girl had been raped by her cousin more than a year earlier, and her family killed her “illegitimate” baby.


The girl’s cousin was sentenced to 30 years in prison by a regime court for his crime, “the rape of the girl.” The father had held his daughter in a room in his house in Al-Klasa neighbourhood which is under the control of the Autonomous Administration in Al-Hasakah city. The father later strangled the girl to death and fled to regime-held areas in the security zone in Al-Hasakah city.


Also, in July, SOHR activists in Al-Raqqah city reported the death of a little girl affected by the burns she had sustained in her family’s house. The girl’s family had taken their wounded daughter to the National Hospital that rejected treating her due to “lack of beds” on the hospital’s burns ward. The family could not afford transferring the girl to a private hospital their poverty. Some wealthy people in the city intervened and offered to take the girl to a private hospital, but it was too late to rescue her. The girl later died of the burns she had sustained. It is worth noting that the hospital’s administration fired two doctors and three nurses, who were at the night shift in the National Hospital, over that incident.


Moreover, SOHR activists in Al-Raqqah city reported that a 14-year-old girl committed suicide by jumping from the fourth floor, fleeing domestic violence she experience by her father and step mother.


While on July 8, SOHR activists in Ain Al-Arab (Kobani)reported that a gang killed a woman and seriously wounded her brother and two of her sons, after they stole golden accessories, money and personal possessions on the road between Kobani and Al-Qamishli, while the family was heading to visit the sick father in Al-Qamishli. The victim was from Ashqanah village in Kobani countryside.



2021: A year of stifling crises and growing protests


Areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration in Al-Raqqah, Al-Hasakah, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor experienced many protests and demonstrations, criticising the poor administration of these areas by the employees, as well as mishandling of already deteriorating crises. The protestors’ demands were about the provision of basic essentials, release of detainees, control of prices, increase of fuel allocations, provision of job opportunities, and the sacking of former employees. During some protests, skirmishes took place between the protestors and security services, while security services attempted to disperse the protesters by force on several occasions.


In May, Syrian Observatory activists monitored growing public anger and discontent over a decision by the Autonomous Administration in northern and north-eastern Syria to raise the price of fuel, as demonstrations and sit-in protests took place in several areas, along with the closure of many shops in protest to the new prices.


Several demonstrations took place in Al-Shaddadi city, the 47th area, Al-Attalah village and other towns and villages in Al-Hasakah countryside, where the protestors blocked the roads using rubber tires. While in Al-Qahtaniyyah in Al-Hasakah countryside, all shops were closed. Also, many shops were closed in Ma’badah, Tel Hamis, and other areas in Al-Hasakah.


Moreover, a sit-in protest took place in Al-Malikiyah (Dayrik), where officials in the Autonomous Administration expressed solidarity with the people’s demands on social media, as the “Head of Qamishlo District” and the “Minister of Energy and Power” in the Jazeera region demanded that the authorities review the decision.


Hundreds of residents staged demonstrations in the towns and cities of Al-Qamishli, Amudah, Kirke Lake, Kobani, Al-Nashwah, Mufti, Al-Salihiya and Al-Marsho roundabout, denouncing the Autonomous Administration’s decision of raising fuel prices. The demonstrators demanded the “Autonomous Administration” revoked the decision.


SOHR activists documented the death of eight protesters, including a child, by Asayish forces gunfire while dispersing the protesters in Al-Nashwah neighbourhood in Al-Hasakah city and other areas in the southern countryside of the province. The Autonomous Administration later revoked decision No. 119 of the fuel price increase.


The fuel crisis in SDF-held areas coincided with ongoing commercial movement and fuel trade between SDF-held areas on one hand, and regime-controlled areas and Turkish-held areas on the other, as tens of trucks carrying fuel and other goods cross into these areas daily.



On the other hand, campaigns by the Self-Defence Forces to arrest young men who evade mandatory conscripting continued in 2021, despite rejection by the region’s residents of the determination of the Self-Defence Forces and SDF to drive young men to military camps by force. In Deir Ezzor protestors had demands a stop to forcing teachers, who had not served in the ranks of the Self-Defence Forces, to join military camps and exempt them from mandatory service.


On May 31, Manbij city and countryside experienced demonstrations against mandatory conscription, but the demonstrators were faced by gunfire which left several casualties, thus Manbij Military Council imposed a curfew in an attempt to contain the state of disorder which ignited following public protests over the death of a demonstrator in gunfire by Asayish Forces in Manbij countryside. Moreover, dramatic developments continued with the death of more demonstrators by Asayish Forces’ gunfire in early June. According to SOHR statistics, the number of demonstrators who were killed in gunfire by Asayish Forces in a few days reached six: four killed at Al-Khattaf checkpoint in eastern Manbij, one  in Manbij city, while the sixth was killed in Al-Hodhod village in Manbij countryside. These demonstrators were killed during demonstrations protesting mandatory conscription in the ranks of the Self-Defence Forces and calling for allowing the exportation of cement and increasing fuel amounts allocated to Manbij.


In light of these dramatic developments, tribes’ elders in Manbij area and representatives of the Autonomous Administration issued a statement following a meeting between the two sides to discuss the dramatic developments in the region. The two sides agreed upon the following main points:


  • The suspension of the Self-Defence Forces’ campaign in Manbij city and countryside and referring it to consideration and discussion.


  • The release of all detainees arrested during the recent actions.


  • The formation of commission in order to investigate the circumstances in which gunfire took place and hold accountable everyone found involved.



Nearly 40 people killed and injured in Turkish military escalation


With reports of imminent military operation by Turkish forces in SDF-held areas, which were circulated noticeably in the second half of 2021, Turkish forces continued their military escalation on areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration through almost-daily bombardment which was concentrated on the northern countryside of Al-Hasakah, exactly Tel Tamr and Abu Raseen, as well as Ain Issa countryside in northern Al-Raqqah.


The Syrian Observatory has documented the death of 14 civilians, including seven children and three women, in Turkish forces’ bombardment on SDF-held areas since early 2021. The Turkish bombardment also left 25 people injured, including women and children. The breakdown of fatalities is as follows:


  • March 14: A child was killed in bombardment by Turkish forces stationed in their base in Al-Yashily village on Al-Zanqal village in Manbij countryside in eastern Aleppo.


  • March 19: A young lady and a child were killed in rocket fire by Turkish forces on Al-Hadriyat village in east Ain Issa countryside in northern Al-Raqqah.


  • July 20: A civilian was killed in an attack by Turkish forces on M4 highway in Ain Issa countryside in northern Al-Raqqah.


  • August 4: Four persons of the same family: a man and three sibling children, were killed in bombardment on Al-Saffawiyah village in Ain Issa countryside in northern Al-Raqqah.


  • August 17: A woman and a little girl were killed in Turkish bombardment on civilian houses and residential neighbourhoods in Tel Tamr and Abu Rasinin Al-Hasakah.


  • December 21: Four civilians, including a woman and a little girl, were killed in rocket fire on villages of Abu Raseen (Zarkan) in Al-Hasakah countryside.



Critical low level of Euphrates river water in the first third of 2021 threatens food security in the Syrian Jazeera region


In early 2021, Turkey deliberately blocked the flow of Syria’s water share in Euphrates river, storing it behind dams constructed in Turkish territory. This situation led to a critical low level of water in the part running through Syria. The low level of water in Euphrates and Tishreen water dam led to decreasing hours of power availability and shrinking spaces of agriculture land on the banks of the two river and connected irrigation canals.


The decreasing water levels in the Euphrates river caused drought in large spaces along the river, exactly form the Euphrates dam in Al-Tabaqah to Al-Mansurah dam in Al-Raqqah, as Turkey aimed stifle and punish the Syrian Jazeera region. Accordingly, considerable damage plagued the farmlands in the region, affecting two and half millions of people, as well as the suspension of power generators, amid growing public anger.


According to the agreement reached between Syria and Turkey in 1987 regarding the share of each country of Euphrates’ water, Syria’s share of water is supposed to be 500 cubic meters per second (2500 barrels). However, less than 200 cubic meters of water reached Syria during the crisis in early 2021.


Not only did Turkey seize Euphrates’ water, but also it suspended pumping drinking water in Allouk station near Ras Al-Ain, cutting off water supplies to Al-Hasakah city and its surroundings. Despite calls and appeals for over a month, Turkey continued to suspend drinking water supplies to the over populated city which hosts displaced people who had fled from cities and villages near the Syria-Turkey border, fearing new military operation in the region.


We, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), call upon the authorities in SDF-held areas to fulfil people’s demands that call for development of social and living conditions and not punishing them for demanding their rights. We also call on the International Coalition and SDF to intensify their security campaigns against active and sleeping ISIS cells in various areas in east Euphrates to prevent the revival of ISIS which poses a threat to  local, regional and international security.


SOHR calls upon the Autonomous Administration in north and east Syria, Syria Democratic Forces and all relevant authorities to put an end to the ongoing violations by “Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah” (the Revolutionary Youth) in the east Euphrates region.


The Syrian Observatory would like to point out that all information and figures mentioned in this report have been documented and updated until the date of publication.

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