Feature: Syria's Kurds promote co-existence with Arabs in Aleppo's Sheikh Maksood neighborhood

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-13 06:19:23|Editor: Zhou Xin
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Photo taken on Oct. 11, 2017 shows a market in the Kurdish-controlled neighborhood of Sheikh Maksood in Aleppo city in northern Syria. Syria's Kurds try to promote co-existence with Arabs in Aleppo's Sheikh Maksood neighborhood. (Xinhua/Hummam Sheikh Ali)

ALEPPO, Syria, Oct. 12 (Xinhua) -- "No difference between Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians or Christians," read graffiti on a wall at the entrance of the Kurdish-controlled neighborhood of Sheikh Maksood in Aleppo city in northern Syria.

About 200 meters separate the checkpoint of the Syrian army from that of the Kurdish Internal Security Forces, known in Kurdish as Assayish, at the entrance of Sheikh Maksood.

The Kurdish checkpoint has two lanes for inspection, one for women and the other for men.

The Assayish men approach the comers to inspect their belongings, speaking in a relatively heavy Arabic if the arrival is an Arab.

After crossing the checkpoint, another graffiti on a wall welcomes the arrival with photos of Kurdish fighters surrounding a bigger one of Abdullah Ocalan, a highly influential Kurdish leader currently imprisoned in Turkey, and a line reads in Arabic "We are not lovers of destruction, not lovers of arms, but the lovers of peace."

In the middle of the graffiti, there is a flag of the Kurdish People Protection Units, or the YPG.

The enclave-like neighborhood is adjacent to former rebel-held areas in eastern Aleppo, of which the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and other ultra-radical rebel groups had been in control before they were driven out of Aleppo city late last year.

Being in the eye of the tornado, the Kurdish community in addition to the smaller Arab one opted to defend their neighborhood against the attacks of Nusra Front when it was nearby, and the YPG assumed control of that area before withdrawing toward the Kurdish-controlled Afreen area in the countryside of Aleppo, leaving the security issues inside Sheikh Maksood to the Assayish.

"Our job is to protect all of the components of the society here in the neighborhood and all of the components are protected by the Internal Security Forces (Assayish)," a member of the Assayish told Xinhua.

The withdrawal of the YPG happened after the situation became better when the Syrian government forces have taken over the former rebel-held part east of Aleppo in December of last year.

Still, the neighborhood is being run by a local movement called the Democratic Society Movement (DSM), which has been formed to organize the civil life inside the neighborhood during the war in Aleppo and is still carrying on with its duties.

For now, the Syrian government seems okay with the presence of the Kurdish control over that neighborhood at least until they have a dialogue with the Kurds on the future of their areas.

In a trip of Xinhua to this neighborhood, which is out of the government control, the people there spoke of how they defended their neighborhood against the attacks of Nusra and other radical militant groups.

Muhammad Sheikhou, the head of the DSM, said the Kurdish-run movement includes Arabs and Christians from the neighborhood.

"We have protected our neighborhood and managed to live together with all other components and up until this day we live here, and Sheikh Maksood should be an example to be followed in Syria in the co-existence between all of the social components," he told Xinhua.

Inside the neighborhood, photos of the Kurdish "martyrs" who died defending their areas against the Nusra attacks were posted on the walls and inside a center created for their families.

"I am so proud my son was one of those martyrs that have struggled to defend his honor and land, not only for his family but for all the components here," one Kurdish woman said, pointing to the photo of her son, who was among tens of other photos on the wall inside the center.

She and all of those who were interviewed in the neighborhood have stressed that there is no difference between Arabs and Kurds and that they are against separating from the motherland of Syria unlike what happened in Iraq's Kurdistan, where the Kurds have been trying to separate from Iraq through a recent vote that sparked regional and international criticism.

Another woman pointed to a few photos of "martyrs" who were Arabs from the neighborhood.

"We all gave blood, there is no difference between us ... we have lived all our lives together with the Arabs," she said.

Sheikhou, the head of the DSM, said: "We are with the unity of Syria and all of us are the sons of this homeland and we have no calls for an independent state for the Kurds and we are against such an idea but we are with the establishment of a federal rule so we need to solve our problems without foreign intervention."

His remarks collaborate with the demands of other Kurds, who make up around 10 percent of the Syrian population, to have a federal rule in areas under their control in northern Syria, known in the Kurdish language as Rojava.

Rojava is a Kurdish word short of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, a Kurdish-controlled region that constitutes of three self-governing cantons, namely Jazira Canton, which includes areas in the Hasakah province in northeastern Syria, the Afreen Canton, which combines areas in Aleppo province.

The third canton is the Euphrates Canton, grouping areas in northern Syria in Aleppo province and Raqqa.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said recently that the Syrian government is open to negotiations with Kurds over their demand for autonomy within Syria's borders.

"This topic is open to negotiation and discussion and when we are done eliminating Daesh (Islamic State), we can sit with our Kurdish sons and reach an understanding on a formula for the future," Moualem said.

Aside from politics, large swathes of the neighborhood seemed intact, while others, close to the frontlines, are largely destroyed.

The neighborhood has a school that teaches students both the Arabic and Kurdish languages.

One school student told Xinhua he was learning both languages among other subjects.

"I am happy I am learning Kurdish language along with the Arabic," he said, as in the prewar times the Kurds had only learned their language at home from their parents.

The marketplace in that neighborhood is also full of goods, which people say it enters the neighborhood from other areas in Aleppo through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

But for their daily movement, the people move out and into the neighborhood on daily basis, some to attend a school outside the neighborhood or a university, or even to attend their jobs in other Aleppo neighborhoods.

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